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Ron Burgundy’s Classy Marketing Tips for Authors and Freelancers

Carol Tice

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2

Writers, if you’ve been hibernating to stave off the cold weather, you may not be aware that comedian Will Ferrell has a new movie out.

And not just any movie — the sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The kicker: this solidly successful comedy was released way back in 2004.

Sounds like a marketing nightmare, hm? Long-forgotten comedy set in the long-dead world of ’70s TV news gets a sequel nearly a decade later.

It also sounds a lot like the scenario of many journalists I hear from who want to get back into freelance writing after a decade off to raise kids. Or authors who want to self-publish a book, but let their blog go dark for years and never network while they write it.

Can you jump-start your career and grab attention for your writing, even after a long lull? Ferrell has proved you can — if you are willing to market your wares like a coke-crazed gerbil.

Thanks to an exhaustive, highly creative marketing effort, awareness of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was sky-high before the movie opened earlier this week. A Google search on the movie title gets 293 million results.

How can you apply Anchorman 2 marketing techniques to your own freelance writing career, or use them to promote your book?

  • Start early. Anchorman 2 marketing began 20 months before the movie’s release, with Ferrell appearing in character on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show in March 2012. Besides planting seeds of early interest, starting early allows you more time to think up and execute on marketing ideas prior to launch (or premiere) day.
  • Be funny. We can’t all pull this part off, and obviously Ferrell is one of those people who’s funny just getting out of bed. But any writer can stand out by putting a humorous twist on how they promote themselves. There’s way too much seriousness in the literary world.
  • Have a theme. Anchorman 2 moves the Burgundy store forward to the ’80s, so the marketing milked this era’s cultural awfulness at every opportunity. Hokey ’80s songs feature prominently in the marketing, including a hilarious overdub of “Ride Like the Wind” with Ferrell as Burgundy adding his self-involved thoughts, and the whole cast singing “Afternoon Delight” at the movie’s Sydney premiere a few weeks back. Underlying message: The ’80s were stupid — and this movie will give you a chance to laugh about that.
  • Be different. It’s clear that at some early point, Ferrell and the movie’s marketing team sat down and looked at what other comedies were doing for marketing — and then decided to do many other things instead. There’s not nearly enough of this thoughtful zagging among authors and freelance writers. Is everyone else having book signings at bookstores? Maybe yours would work better in a bar, an art museum, or on a ferry.
  • Be available. Ferrell & Co. popped up on interview after interview, in all imaginable media. As someone who books guests for Freelance Writers Den meetings, I can tell you it’s amazing how many authors can’t even be bothered to return phone calls about interviews, much less show up and do them.
  • Take it to extremes. What would be an insane amount of effort that no one else would do to promote a movie? Something that will really drop some jaws and get people talking? How about writing an entire faux biography. OK, your average writer probably couldn’t get that excerpted by The New Yorker blog…but you get the idea. Ask yourself how much you care about the success of that new ebook…and then put some real creative energy behind promoting it.
  • Work hard. Ferrell didn’t do the minimum or phone it in on any of the movie’s marketing commitments. Dodge was a marketing partner for the movie, so Ferrell didn’t just make a Dodge Durango movie-tie in ad — he made 70 versions of the Dodge ad. Imagine what would happen if every business day for a month, you sent a big prospect an email pitch, or maybe mailed them a candy bar with a note. Bet you’d get a meeting, at least.
  • Get friends to help. In Ferrell’s case, he tapped some newscaster friends for a hilarious faux tribute video that is my personal fave Anchorman marketing piece. Takeaway here: stop trying to get all the marketing done alone and start thinking about who you could partner with, trade guest posts with, and otherwise get to leverage you some more eyeballs for your ebook/freelance referral network/blog/writing project of the moment.
  • Gamify. Creating animated games is the hot new way to get consumers to engage with your brand. For Anchorman 2, there’s a Scotchy Scotch Toss game (the name plays off Ron’s favorite drink). Yes, we’re not all game designers, but the technology to do this sort of thing is getting cheaper and easier all the time. Also, that’s what outsourcing is for.
  • Be everywhere. That means 3-D world, social-media world, blogosphere, you name it. Burgundy took over a newscast in North Dakota, wandered a Los Angeles street in full Burgundy suit regalia with a 40-ounce and a box of doughnuts, and got Newseum in Washington, D.C., to put on an Anchorman-themed exhibit. Almost goes without saying that he grabbed an @RonBurgundy Twitter handle and started chatting.
    For writers, the equivalent could be a blog guest-post tour, where dozens of blog posts will go up at once, coupled with some live interviews, appearances, or podcasts. As readers see you in multiple places, they form the impression, “Hey — this writer’s book must be the shizz” and go buy it. (You can watch Gary Vaynerchuk doing this right now with his new book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.)
  • Be newsworthy. To sum up, Ferrell created a marketing tsunami that became a story in itself. This is a time-honored way to create extra buzz for just about anything. Everybody loves to dissect marketing campaigns and while they’re at it, they’ll just happen to mention your thing, too.

Warning: If you become this kind of marketing machine, it will not please everyone.

A solid backlash was forming as the campaign went into the final week. For every blogger posting a roundup of their favorite Anchorman-related publicity stunts, there was a snarky post claiming overkill and boredom. Film.com dubbed Anchorman 2 “The most marketed movie of all time”…and not in a good way.

Only time will tell whether this marketing blitz paid off…and of course, that’s partly dependent on whether Anchorman 2 turns out to be a good movie. No amount of marketing can make a smash hit out of an unfunny comedy.

But one thing’s for sure — without creative marketing, this 9-years-in-the-making sequel probably would have gone nowhere at all. Just like most self-published books, and most freelance writing careers do, because the writers involved are not marketing their wares.

I’d say if the choice is the usual — little or no marketing — or a blitz, erring on the side of too much marketing is a good policy for writers to follow.

What’s your biggest marketing success? Knock back a scotchy scotch, stay classy, and then tell us in the comments.