Here's a fact that's true right now, and that will likely never will be true again: Two of the 5 most popular books in America right this very second are both about the vice president's pet bunny.

Yes, Vice President Mike Pence has a pet bunny--named Marlon Bundo, and apparently nicknamed BOTUS for "Bunny of the United States," and the existence of this pet rabbit is only the smallest, least-weird detail in this story.

There are some excellent lessons here about what makes something go viral--to say nothing of a reflection or two on where the heck we are as a country in 2018. But first, let's just tell explain the reason for all this rabbit redundancy.

On Monday, Pence's wife and 25-year-old daughter, released Marlon Bundo's 'A Day in the Life of the Vice President,' a children's book about--well, about a day in the life of the vice president, from the point of view of the Pence family rabbit. 

Knowing that this was coming, comedian and HBO host John Oliver, who is no fan of Pence, in large part for Pence's reputation for being against LGBTQ rights, announced on his show Sunday evening that his staff was releasing a book of their own: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.

The Oliver book has a slightly different plot than the Pence book. Instead of focusing on the bunny's relationship with the vice president, it tells the story of a gay romantic relationship between Marlon Bundo and another male bunny.

Oh, and the villain in the Oliver book, in the words of the New York Times, is "a powerful stinkbug who bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Pence [and who] decrees that male bunnies cannot marry each other."

Which one's ranked higher on Amazon right now? Yes, you guessed it: The Oliver book is ranked number-1, and has reportedly sold more than 180,000 copes in the first two days it was available.

However, the Pence book is doing quite well, too: Ranked number-4, just behind Jim Comey's soon-to-be-released tell-all about his time as FBI director under Trump, and a new book by the same author who wrote Clinton Cash.

On his show, Oliver suggested his staff got the idea for his own Marlon Bundo book after realizing that in Pence's book, the fictional bunny visits a Colorado group that promotes gay-conversion therapy. (I haven't read either book, and you can't preview the Pence book on Amazon, so we're taking Oliver at his word here.)

All proceeds from the Oliver book go to LBGTQ-friendly charities like Trevor Project and AIDS United. A portion of the proceeds on the Pence also will go to charity.

And while Pence's publisher chastised the Oliver effort ("It's unfortunate that anyone would feel the need to ridicule an educational children's book and turn it into something controversial and partisan"), Pence's daughter who actually wrote the book has taken it pretty well.

She said on television that she bought Oliver's book and personally supports the LGBQT charities he's supporting, even if her father doesn't. It also doesn't hurt that the Pence book is probably benefiting big-time, and selling many more copies than it otherwise would have, as a result of the Oliver parody. 

In fact, there are five really important factors to look at here, which explain why Oliver was able to get the top seller across Amazon so quickly, and how the Pence book benefited too.

1. Act opportunistically.

This is the crux of it. I don't doubt that Oliver is popular enough that he could probably write a bestselling book. But here, it's all about the unique opportunity to do something different and attention-getting. I can't imagine anyone on Oliver's staff had much awareness that the vice president had a pet rabbit--but when the opportunity presented itself, they acted.

2. Leverage passion.

This is politics, and it's 2018; people are passionate. More specifically, there are a lot of people especially in Oliver's audience who would be disgusted by the idea of promoting a group that promotes gay conversion therapy in a children's book--especially one with the implied G-rated imprimatur of the U.S. government-would be super offensive. So, combine that with a charity and a chance to voice displeasure? It works.

3. Leverage humor.

The whole thing is so silly. No offense, if you have a pet bunny; I had a few as kids. But the idea of the vice president's family bringing one with them to Washington, and then writing a book about it? It just begs for parody. Ask, and you shall receive--and the fact that this can be done with humor makes it far, far, more effective.

4. Find a microphone.

Obviously, Oliver has a running start here because he has a weekly television show, and he can marshal his fans to act (and buy). But, in 2018, even if you don't have a platform like that, you can likely build one--or if necessary, buy (or rent) one. The only question is whether you think you have a good enough product or story to make it worthwhile.

5. Act quickly.

I don't know when Oliver's staff started thinking about doing this book--but I don't think it was that long ago. They had a true deadline, too: for this to work, the book had to come out at exactly the same time as the Pence book--both to take advantage of publicity and algorithmic preference on Amazon. Fortune favors the bold--and also, apparently, those who parody rabbits.

Published on: Mar 21, 2018
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