Holy Shark! Syfy Builds a Franchise Without Traditional Ads

Network relies on social, barter, word of mouth

Turns out your best marketing tool is word of mouth, especially if the mouth in question is filled with rows of gigantic, serrated teeth. 

Dave Howe, president of Syfy, attributed the most recent success to the marketing and PR teams who found innovative ways to talk up the flick, but noted that its stars got into the game in a big way, too.

Last night's Sharknado 2 pulled in 1.6 million demo viewers and 3.9 million viewers total, in addition to an incredible Twitter presence, turning yet another entry in an increasingly silly series of marine-life-attacks sci-fi movies into a bona fide telepic franchise. There's a third Sharknado on the way (you wouldn't believe the number of people at Comic-Con who asked director Anthony Ferrante if he could please make the next installment a musical) and a fourth would not surprise anyone.

Lead actor Ian Ziering "has been this incredible one-man publicity machine, which has been wonderful to watch. He has a real vision in terms of what is and isn’t going to work," Howe said. "He’s very articulate about how you have to treat it like it’s Shakespeare. You can’t wink at it or make fun of it, because that won’t be funny."

And what about the ads in bus shelters, on the subway or on billboards? Well, there weren't any.

"We didn’t spend any money on formal marketing for it," Howe said. "This was driven by PR and marketing and social media fueling the fire. And then an incredible number of brands got caught up in the fun."

There was plenty of product placement in the film—Subway spokesman Jared Fogle is seen sitting on subway platform eating a Subway sandwich in front of a Subway billboard, for example—and brands set out to protect their investment with some well-timed social media:

There was a bit of targeted social media and search placement, but the vast majority of the marketing was word of mouth, with "a year’s worth of stoking the fire with news and tidbits and things that kept the Sharknado fire alive," Howe said.

As a result, Sharknado 2: The Second One made Syfy the top cable network in prime time, as well as giving it the top telecast in all of TV yesterday, outstripping its sister broadcast net and new episodes of CBS's expensive miniseries Extant. 

Meanwhile, the social conversation continues. With more cameos than a Muppet movie—including Matt Lauer stabbing a shark with an umbrella—chatter about who will be in the next film has already begun. (Note: If you are a celebrity and you want to be in the next film, wander into a shot and someone will write you a line.) Also, there are a flurry of suggestions about the next subtitle, such as Sharknado 3-D, The Sharklorette and Sharks in Space. Adweek's vote: The Musical.