The biggest brands make news with every announcement.
That's why almost any product release or update from Apple or Google becomes a trending topic. In creative realms, the same is true for entities like Marvel and Pixar. Marvel and Pixar have so many fans--and such a lengthy track record of delighting them--that any announcement whets customer appetites and makes headlines.
Author George R. R. Martin, whose Game of Thrones series on HBO recently nabbed a dozen Emmys, is also that caliber of brand. News that Cinemax (HBO's sister company) has optioned the television rights for Martin's 1989 novella Skin Trade made waves as soon as it broke Saturday night. You need no further evidence for this than the fact that Martin himself broke the news--on the same emphatically low-tech blog he's been using for more than 10 years.
Long before Martin's work became a household name with the advent of Game of Thrones, he had built a loyal fan base of readers, through decades of work as an author. These are the same superfans who await (and often react) to his posts. Consider this heartfelt reaction to the news about The Skin Trade from a fan named Geri:
Back in 1988...I was at a late-night reading you did...you had the entire audience on the edge of our seats reading from The Skin Trade. Seriously...The scheduled time for your reading drew near its end, yet if you'd stopped, the entire room would have had your head...No one left. No one moved...It remains the best reading I've ever been to. I'm not even all that much of a fan of suspense, but you and the story were magnificent that night.
A fan response like this reveals a few truths about what it takes to become a powerhouse storytelling brand. The first is that it doesn't happen overnight. This fan remembers Martin from a reading in 1988. That's years before the book version of Thrones (a series called A Song of Ice and Fire) debuted.
The second is that it's never too early or premature to make an impression on your audience or potential customers. Sometimes the hearts you touch when the world's not watching stay with you as your rep grows massive.
As a steward of his own brand, Martin is highly aware of superfans like Geri--and the importance of recognizing their loyalty. He could have just let Geri's comment sit there. Instead, he responded with speed and gratitude. Directly below her comment, less than three hours after she posted it, Martin wrote:
Why, thank you. That's very kind. I love doing readings... though it has been many years since I've read anything but a chapter from A Song of Ice and Fire or the worldbook.
All of which explains why it was a smart choice to announce the new series on his own personal blog. That's where the most loyal, long-term fans are. Even on Saturday night.
What's more, Martin's post about The Skin Trade had the sort of details any fan would want to know. Specifically, he revealed: a) the extent of his personal involvement; b) the genesis of the project; c) what will have to happen before it actually airs on television; and d) the fact that it will not prevent him from doing what matters most to most of those fans: writing the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.
In his post, Martin is candid and humble. "The deal is closed, and Cinemax has ordered the pilot script," he writes. "This being Hollywood, of course, you never know where things will end... but if they like the script, we'll shoot a pilot, and if they like that, hey, who knows, maybe we'll get a series on the air."
He concludes: "While I would have loved to write the script and run the show myself, that was never really in the cards. I have this book to finish. You know the one."
Not long ago I wrote about how Marvel and Netflix had masterfully marketed their forthcoming series The Netflix Original Series Marvel's Jessica Jones. Martin's announcement shares several traits with the Marvel-Netflix strategy. One of those traits is simply that two brands are better than one. Just as Marvel and Netflix each bring fans to the project, so does the tandem of Martin and HBO/Cinemax.
Philip K. Dick--the legendary sci-fi author whose books became the basis for the films Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report--has a brand very much like Martin's, filled with fans earned through decades of strong authorship and screen adaptations. Amazon's new series, The Man in the High Castle, is based on Dick's novel of the same title. That union of a beloved creator brand (Dick) with respected producer brand (Amazon) also mirrors the Marvel-Netflix and Martin-HBO/Cinemax pairings.
Fans would be psyched for a new release with either brand behind it. But the combination helps the programs stand out. Even in an era of hype surrounding new books, shows, and movies.