Kevin Smith uses podcasts, Twitter to prosper in the age of niche marketing
I’ve never really been a Kevin Smith fan.
Kevin Smith is a director, responsible for some of the most influential films from my youth. “Clerks“,”Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy,” “Dogma” – his Jay and Silent Bob characters are cultural icons, but I never really drank the Kool-Aid.
Smith is a stoner icon, and while I’m cheerfully libertarian on paper, I’m incredibly conservative in my private life. I was born a 50-year-old man, so now that I’m 40, I feel like I’m finally growing into my age.
So yeah, I’m not his target audience, but I’ve heard Kevin on a couple podcasts lately, and I can’t help but admire his honesty.
Kevin Smith has no illusions about who he is or what he’s here for. He makes no apologies and wears no masks. He’s been incredibly forthright about his successes and failures, and he doesn’t hide from his mistakes.
He wears his mistakes like NASCAR racing endorsements, plastered in plain sight, as if he’s daring the world to notice them.
I admire this because Smith is not your standard bulletproof celebrity, divinely aloof from all criticism. He’s naturally touchy and oversensitive, but he confronts critics head-on, effectively leading with his chin.
He’s got one of the most popular Twitter feeds on the Internet – 1.8 million followers at the moment – and he posts to it constantly, presiding over an army of rabid fans.
Smith made news last year when a major airline declared him “too fat to fly” and forced him off a plane after he was (comfortably) in place with his seatbelt on.
Smith told the story on Marc Maron’s podcast back in January. He got bumped from the plane and begged the airline management for help. When they were condescending and unhelpful, he basically said, “This is your last chance to do the right thing. If I walk away now, in 30 minutes you’re gonna come looking for me.”
Smith was already a “Twitter millionaire” by that time, and he decided to put his fans to good use. He began tweeting like a madman from the airport waiting area, liberally copying messages to the airline’s public relations address.
Thirty minutes later, the manager tracked him down and offered him anything in the airline’s power to give, if he would just stop tweeting.
Don’t you wish you had 1 million Twitter followers?
A cautionary tale about customer service in the Internet age, but there’s a bigger point here, too. When the entertainment press turned on Smith for “bullying” the airline, he realized that a man with a million Twitter followers doesn’t really need the entertainment press anymore.
These days Kevin Smith is truly a “citizen of the Internet.” He’s on tour now, promoting his film “Red State,” but the core of his business is the close relationship he’s built with his fans.
He’s never going to make a Michael Bay blockbuster, but he’s not trying to. I think Kevin Smith is the first of many artists who are going to triumph in the age of niche marketing.
Kevin Smith isn’t making films for “everybody.” He’s found a core audience of fans who love his work and they generate enough revenue to keep him working. In 20 years the whole industry will be like this.
We’ll always have blockbusters, but increasingly, the Internet and alternative media will allow artists to create things cheaply and distribute them directly, bypassing traditional gatekeepers — forcing distributors to come chasing after them.
You don’t need a contract. You don’t need an agent. Just start throwing stuff on YouTube and see what sticks. You won’t get rich overnight, but you’ll be working. You’ll be making art for people who “get you” and that audience will grow every day.
Kevin Smith is exactly the kind of artist who will succeed in the new model. He’s brash with critics and humble with fans. He’s working on a personal level, telling stories that come from his life. He’s a one-man marketing machine who engages with his fans on a level that would terrify a traditional director.
But there’s one more thing that makes Kevin Smith special. Since 1994, he’s been working with Jason Mewes, a self-confessed drug addict who’s using the power of podcasts and public confession to stay sober.
Mewes works with Smith on the podcast “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old,” where he regales the audience with hilarious (and harrowing) tales of drug abuse and recovery. Oversharing as rehab? Not a treatment for the shy or faint of heart, but it’s working, and when you’re playing on the edge like this, results are all that matter.
I’ll never be a Kevin Smith fan, but I think he’s a good person, and the Internet rewards people who tell the truth and play it straight. I think Kevin Smith has stumbled onto a business model for the new millennium, and that a thousand directors will follow in his wake.