content strategy

“Go the F**k to Sleep”: Viral F**king Marketing, Or Not?

You may have seen the PDF of the book “Go the F**k to Sleep.”

Written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, this a charming story reminiscent of the 60+ year-old storybook “Goodnight Moon.” I read the original classic to my three-year-old every night.

I first saw “Go the F**k to Sleep” forwarded in an email. It made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. As a parent, I laughed and cried at the same time. The book is just one of those things, an instant cultural phenomenon that strikes a chord with millions of people all at once.

I know this well, as I am going through this exact scenario with my three-year-old as I type this very blog post. Right now we are on our second third fourth try at going to sleep.

Share and share alike?

A PDF of the book was leaked and made the rounds online to parents and grandparents alike.

The fact that this book was shared so widely via email has created a great deal of buzz around its actual publication. The publisher has even moved up the publish date as a result.

Everyone got in on the share, and articles have been written about the impact of such pre-publish electronic distribution. James Joyner has a particularly thorough account of this at Outside the Beltway.

They upped the ante with Samuel L. Jackson

Just yesterday my social graph delivered to me the version of actor Samuel L. Jackson reading this delightful tale.

There was a 17 second preview of the audio recording on the site I visited. The preview also included an image of the book itself and a link to download the book at

Jackson’s reading was also made available on Amazon. For free. For a limited time. These are two sales tools that content providers have long used: cost incentive and timeframe. But now, these versions have been released into the digital wild.

As I went through the lengthy process of downloading the 6-minute sound file from, I thought, “This is silly.” And I was right. I had to sign up for an account, choose a device, download some software that I won’t use again, all to hear this six-minute clip. I had two colleagues tell of similar frustrations.

Fighting the current (landscape)

The moment I heard this, I KNEW that it would end up on YouTube. There was no doubt in my mind. It is the nature of things, now. Sure enough, it did. As of this writing, there are TEN versions on the first YouTube search results page. The copyright claims are already being filed:

When this sort of cultural phenomenon happens, rebel YouTube users have an illicit protocol of their own to follow. Here is how it goes:

  1. Download the hugely popular video right away. This is easy to do, even from YouTube.
  2. Upload it to a personal account. This may or may not have links to advert-laden websites or on-video advertising.
  3. Wait for the inevitable copyright takedown notices to take effect.
  4. Post to other, newly-created accounts.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4.

This didn’t have to happen

This could have been avoided. There could have been so much gained. Real dollars, press of all sorts, and the cultural currency of recognition.

Instead, will be filing claim after claim of copyright infringement for every illicit video containing that audio. Given the popularity of this one, they will be quite busy, as people will be clamoring to upload it to their own account.

What to do?

There is a more effective way these resources could have been used. All of these elements could have been combined to serve as a get-in-on-the-buzz appeal to buy the book. Like this:

  1. Create a video that featured images from the book, synced with the Samuel L. Jackson audio
  2. Brand it heavily with Audible at the head and tail with visuals including the logo
  3. Post it to a YouTube account with links to buy the book, the audio file, and a high-resolution version of the video
  4. Enable the adverts on the YouTube account to capitalize on the insane amount of traffic about to come our way
  5. Police YouTube and file claims on all accounts uploading the video to their own accounts

New business models will require some adjustment

One of the driving factors behind the decision to take this route was likely that of pay-per-download. Decision-makers likely thought that the after the free period expired, they would be able to sell it at their going rate, per download, and make some good money as the long tail tapered.

They probably could. And will.

BUT, what could have happened? Brand awareness. The good kind. The “halo effect” kind. (You know, the same that happens as when they play oldies on car commercials.)

I’d imagine that would like to enjoy even more brand recognition than what they have today. They have done groundbreaking work in the past in the realm of content distribution, and they are providing an invaluable service and business model for content creators past, present, and future.

What may have been missed here is an opportunity to ride the wave of a viral phenomenon. The times when you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that something is bound to go viral are SUPER LIMITED. It just doesn’t happen.

When you hear the idea of this book, and picture Samuel L. Jackson reading it, you KNEW that it was going to be big. We all did.

I’m certainly not calling for all publishers to upend their revenue models in hopes of latching onto some lottery-like viral phenomenon.

Instead, I’m asking them to look at the larger picture. Content needs to be created in a way that allows for easy sharing. Include the traditional appeals for purchase at the appropriate points. Lots of folks will buy.

Sometimes you have to forgo potential easy revenue in pursuit of an even greater payout. It’s scary. It may run counter to more conservative business models. But it’s also the reality we live in. We have the opportunity, every once in a while, to spin what has become the roulette wheel of advertising with odds on our side.