The Sharknado Effect Part I: 3 Killer Story Takeaways for a Social Media Feeding Frenzy

Did you see Sharknado last week? If you’re like most of us, you missed the TV movie but have since found yourself knee-deep in the flood of buzz marketing that’s occurred since. And here’s a burning question on everyone’s lips: how did this schlocky, low-profile, made-for-TV movie become both THE social media and mainstream news media darling of the year?

Was it the story? Or maybe how the movie was marketed and promoted? Or perhaps some evil mind control we are all too helpless to resist?

See for yourself. Here’s the trailer that’s generated over 3 million views:

The truth is there no one simple answer to Sharknado’s success. And that’s exactly why I’ve prepared a 3-part series on the Sharknado Effect. And in case you were wondering, let me set you straight on something: this is no self-indulgent, “get my geek on” exercise with some novelty entertainment.

You see, the ultimate success of ANY content, whether it’s for marketing or entertainment, depends greatly on the story. (Just ask my sister and brother-in-law who walked out of “Man of Steel” because they didn’t like the story.)

What makes Sharknado worthy of such deep exploration? Consider that while the story played a major role in Sharknado’s popularity, so too did several other elements across the marketing spectrum. And only by looking beneath the surface do those real discoveries emerge.

So what’s in it for you? Content marketing lessons to be learned. And story and strategy takeaways aplenty. Any of which could turn your minnow of a message into a killer shark taking out all competition that stands (or floats) in its way.

Killer Story Takeaway #1:

how outrageousness overcame numerous flaws

From a reviewer’s perspective Sharknado was a total disaster: hammy acting, cheap special effects and a story that was beyond belief. All factors that spell doom any other movie.

But guess what? Because of the power of social media, NONE of that mattered. In fact, the sheer outrageousness of the story trumped every other element of the entire production. The idea that tornados caused by global warming would form on the West Coast and send hundreds of LIVE sharks raining down upon us created MAJOR buzz. The kind that none of the $200 million dollar summer blockbusters managed to muster.

How so? Well, such a “way out” story captivating our attention and spiked conversations all across the web. Sharknado went from being a run-of-the-mill TV movie to an EVENT. And from an event to a true phenomenon. And that engages people in ways a one-off experience of seeing a movie never could.

And what’s even more impressive? All this buzz was either a) user/social media or b) mainstream media generated!

Look what impact the number of social and media mentions had in Google News:


Here’s the proof Sharknado generated some amazing buzz in a very short amount of time:

  • 5000 tweets per minute
  • 600,000 tweets within 24 hours of airing
  • Tweets were from a diversified list of celebrities, politicians and more

The tweets inspired ideas as ingenious as the whole Sharknado story itself. Here’s what comedian Oswald Tweeted:


Many other celebrities joined the fun. Mia Farrow, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde and many more.

Here’s what a former star of The Office tweeted:


And here is what SciFi scripting legend Damon Lindelof added:


Now lets look at another key takeaway…

Killer Story Takeaway #2:

a clever twist on a familiar meme

We all know the meme: sharks bad. Sharks kill. We all remember the movie Jaws. Granted sharks often get a bum rap sometimes yet that’s their image for better or worse.

And yet that predator persona was previously limited to only one environment: the water! Now sharks are flying through the air like guided missiles taking out human targets left and right. That’s something unexpected. And because it was SO goofy, people couldn’t stop talking about it. Of course, the name/title was ingenious to say the least. No wonder the tagline was “Enough Said!’

Here are some more clever and entertaining tweets about Sharknado from two popular Twitter pages:



Killer Story Takeaway #3:

a guilty pleasure goes mainstream

A guilty pleasure taps into emotions at a core level. And emotions spur engagement far more than logic. With Sharknado, it became cool to like, talk about and exchange jokes about a movie that was positively awful under the usual entertainment standards.

Do you have guilty pleasures when it comes to certain TV shows or movies? We all do. And yet we often keep them to ourselves. Besides, who wants to inspire a reaction of “you liked that???” when we share our affection for sub-quality entertainment?

And yet with Sharknado, liking—even embracing–a bad movie became a badge of honor. It showed we were hip to what’s trending in popular culture and jumping into the fray to add our own take on such wacky entertainment.

The Sharknado Effect Part II:

The ULTIMATE Crossover

With this blog post you learned some story strategies you can add to any content marketing challenge, big or small. In my next installment, I reveal how Sharknado crossed over beyond entertainment into the realm of government, politics, business and more.

All in all, this is living proof of the right idea /story /message that simply couldn’t be stopped. And one that was fueled by the attention of OTHERS rather than those who produced and promoted the movie in the first place. (Asylum and the SyFy Network.)

(NOTE: How compelling is your story? Want to give it a winning edge and take a real bite out of the competition? My proven story methodology shows you how. Just email me at info at to learn more.)

VIEWING UPDATE: Sharknado is having an encore presentation on Thursday, July 18th at 6 pm CST on the SyFy Channel. Don’t miss it!

Do you see how you can add the “Sharknado Effect” to your content? Share your comments below…

Marc Harty is an online publicity expert, professional speaker, Internet marketing consultant and CEO of MainTopic Media, Inc. Marc’s Online PR Made Easy can help anyone at any skill level generate targeted web site traffic on autopilot.

  • VIEWING REMINDER: Sharknado airs TONIGHT on SyFY. And there is already going to be a sequel/prequel in 2014. Of course, our interest is what can we learn from its social media and buzz marketing success that can help us with our content marketing and story development. I’ve identified 3 key takeaways so far.

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