Believe It or Not, Ripley’s Latest Launch a Hit
Fans of the wacky and weird have been entertained by Ripley Entertainment Inc. for more than 85 years, and today the powerful brand is capitalizing on its considerable audience with another entry into its wildly successful book series, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” The newest edition, “The Remarkable … Revealed,” which marks the fourth installment of the series, launched in August with help from a powerful publicity campaign leveraging the ever-popular Ripley’s brand.
Probably best-known for its attractions and museums, Ripley’s currently operates 64 attractions in 11 countries. However, the company also owns businesses in hospitality, television and publishing. Much of Ripley’s revenue comes as a result of licensing deals—in fact, its entire publishing business was based almost solely on licensing until about four years ago. It was then, says Norm Deska, vice president, intellectual property, that the company realized publishing its own books offered some real benefits.
“Our primary line of business has always been attractions and museums—showing the weird and unusual things—and we never really had any expertise in all these other areas,” says Deska, who has spent 25 years with Ripley’s in various capacities—accounting, operations, franchising and now publishing and licensing. “But we decided it was time to start controlling our own destiny, and bringing the publishing division in-house was sort of the first way. We’ve started using a book packager and our own sales force, etc. More and more we’re trying to bring things in-house to control the brand, and therefore, own the content.”
Deska adds that a staff of about five Ripley’s employees was behind “The Remarkable … Revealed,” which had a print run (in English) of 800,000 units.
The Ripley’s name carries enough weight that content for the book—a collection of wacky tales featuring some of the world’s weirdest people, places and creatures—is virtually all user-generated. “Initially, for the first book, we had so much content [in our archives] that we could use. … It’s a little more of a challenge now, but it’s actually gaining its own momentum. People are now wanting to get in the book. They’re writing to us, giving us content, and that’s helped our book … so, yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s really taking on a life of its own,” says Deska.
Of Course It’s OK to Stare
This strange and unusual content is a real commodity for the book’s publicity staff. Tim O’Brien, vice president of publishing and communications, serves as spokesperson for “The Remarkable … Revealed” and is currently engaged in a lengthy publicity tour targeting much of North America’s print and electronic media. He frequently accompanies performers (featured in the book) on television shows and radio programs.
One of Ripley’s branding slogans this year is “of course it’s OK to stare,” which seems a perfect match for some of the antics contained in the book, and subsequently performed in TV and radio studios throughout the country. The publicity campaign kicked off Aug. 20 with an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman”—highlighted by a “car hurdler” named Jeff Clay leaping over three cars parked on a Manhattan street. It’s stunts like these that enable O’Brien and his colleagues to book a dozen or so TV shows and nearly 100 radio interviews per campaign. “Our venerable company’s brand is a huge asset in all of our marketing, especially the books,” O’Brien says. And the book’s subjects are so compelling that “five-minute planned interviews [frequently] turn into 20 minutes because people are so fascinated by what we do and, of course, by Ripley himself, who was a true eccentric.”
Deska and O’Brien both point to an increased effort to pitch local and regional stories as a part of this year’s campaign. “We’re focusing a little more on the regional and local markets, because people like the fact that a BION [Believe It or Not!] person is local,” Deska says. The strategy has reaped an immediate return in a number of markets; for example, North Dakota’s The Bismarck Tribune ran a feature story on Aug. 19 highlighting North Dakota residents who have been featured in the “Believe It or Not!” series.
The campaign will run through the holiday season, says O’Brien. “Christmas is definitely our target. I try to make it a point to discuss the gift angle during interviews. The price point is perfect for a Christmas gift, and the quirkiness makes it unique,” he says.
Joanne Moyle, of J.E. Moyle Consultants, who works with O’Brien on the book’s marketing and publicity, says, “The Remarkable … Revealed” is backed by a $600,000 marketing budget. “The lion’s share of that budget is set up for co-op advertising, in-store displays, front-of-store displays, etc. It also includes fees for marketing and publicity, and expenses such as travel and other expenses related to flying in BION performers for TV media opportunities during the promo campaign,” she says.
Ripley’s also promotes products like “The Remarkable … Revealed” with the help of its non-publishing businesses. “If the museum does a publicity event of its own, our book is always a part of that. And the books are, of course, sold at the museum,” Deska says.
All this publicity is paying off, according to Morty Mint, president of Mint Publishers Group, a sales and distribution company that is assisting Ripley’s with “The Remarkable … Revealed.” Sales of the English version of the first book in the “Believe It or Not!” series totaled 525,000; the second book’s sales jumped to 725,000; and book three’s sales increased to 750,000. In less than a month, sales of “The Remarkable … Revealed” were up 24 percent over first-month sales of the last edition, says Mint.
Coping With Copycat Companies
Ripley’s has successfully carved out its niche by what O’Brien calls being a “different company and proudly freaking out families for nearly 90 years.” But in that time a number of like-minded companies have sprung up looking to encroach upon this space.
“There have been some [copycats], but there’s nothing like a brand that has weight,” says Deska.
“We are very proud of our heritage, and our ability to survive all of the copycat companies and books that have fallen by the wayside,” adds O’Brien.
“The Guinness Book of World Records” is certainly no fly-by-night operation, though, and it does provide interesting competition for Ripley’s. “Certainly ‘The Guinness Book of World Records’ is our closest rival, but they’re much more limited in what they can do because they need to have world records,” Deska explains. “So if there is some fantastic story about someone who did some fantastically crazy thing, they can’t use it, but we can. So I think the breadth of our material is wider than theirs.
“[What is] interesting [is that] we have a very close relationship with Guinness on the attraction side of the business, because we are their master franchise and run all of their Guinness attractions,” he continues. “So we’re partners on one side of the business, but competitors on the other.”
Finding Ripley Readers
in Foreign Lands
Deska makes it a point to mention his budding enthusiasm for Ripley’s foreign-edition efforts. “Foreign editions are really starting to take off for us,” Deska says, noting that the “Believe It or Not!” series is now available in about a dozen countries.
Mint says foreign-edition sales are “approaching 200,000 units in 10 different languages and increasing every year.”
“They’ve done very well, and we continue to add countries as we go,” says Deska. “… The [Ripley’s name] is known in some countries, not known in others. [Publishers] want to translate it in some [countries] and not in others … the process is just very interesting. But the content, as we know from our museums, is very well received internationally and has universal appeal.” BB