Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The "O"prah Effect: A Marketing Dream

Back home after class yesterday night, I tuned into the television only to come across --- and very aptly so --- a documentary on CNBC titled “The Oprah Effect.”

Some of you may already be in the know about this phenomenon, some others may not. I was only enlightened about it yesterday. Truth be told, I’m not much of a TV watcher, much less a talk show junkie or even a pseudo-believer in the mass mania of celebrity cult hood. But the documentary was intriguing enough to hold my attention --- especially after our “marketing-themed” class discussion. The show talked about Oprah’s Midas touch in the world of marketing and soon after tuning in, I found my jaw drop and my mouth look---yes, what else, but like a very large “O.” Reason enough for me steal a few moments from a busy enough day to simply blog about it.

“The Oprah Effect,” as it turns out, is the most powerful marketing force. It’s origin lies in the inception of her “book club” segment in 1996 but it’s influence is limited not only to books but to any product that has the good fortune of being liked, enjoyed, appreciated, and subsequently mentioned by her on her talk show --- it could be a bar of soap, a beauty product, a garden tool, pantyhose --- even cake! A handful of products and book titles actually make it to her show but if (and when) they do, they end up striking not gold but platinum. Check some facts I picked off the web/show to chew on them from a sales & marketing standpoint:

1. In 2000, Oprah chose Spanx shape wear as one of her "Favorite Things." The Atlanta-based clothing company quickly sold their 8-year inventory in just three months.
2. In 2002 and 2005, Oprah selected Garrett Popcorn as one of her “Favorite Things.” The afternoon of the broadcast in 2002, the company had 100,000 web hits and the sales for the month of December increased by 100 percent. Garrett Popcorn went from making popcorn 8 hours a day to 24 hours a day.
3. The mention of Lori Karmel’s struggling "We Take the Cake" bakery shop on The Oprah Winfrey show in 2004 pulled her company back to life and out of bankruptcy. Today, the company’s sales are more than $1 million a year.

Yes, now I can envision your jaws drop and your mouths look like a very large “O.”

As regards to what’s dearer --- Book Publishing, a heartfelt recommendation of a book in her “Book Club” segment is known to guarantee sky-rocketing sales and transform a seemingly obscure title into a wildly successful best seller. Titles, such as “The Deep End of the Ocean” and “The House of Sand and Fog” that made it to Oprah’s book club became so successful that they were adapted into films. Her latest pick is an African story collection called “Say You’re One of Them” by Uwem Akpan. A more spectacular example of Oprah’s magic dust effect is with none other than the most talked about gizmo in publishing --- the Amazon Kindle. Last fall when she mentioned on her show how smitten she was by it, sales exploded through the roof and into the stratosphere. Amazon sold out of its entire inventory for the holiday season. Little wonder that it was on backorder for the longest time on Amazon.com.

Well after all, Oprah is the most influential TV personality of her time. Supposedly, about 44 million people watch her show. And I don’t happen to be one of them. (Wow, ok, the thought weirded me out for a second.)

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