Tonight, readers, I’d like to open with a brief exercise. Imagine, if you may, that you, as a representative for a non-specific comic company, just brought a new concept title to a trade show. It’s a potentially huge series about a superhero team based in Toronto It’s drawn, inked, and colored by top talents and penned by the writers of a previous smash hit for your company. Really, on the surface, it should be a slam dunk that propels your quarterly profits into the black! People should adore it!

However, upon arrival, you find that the masses in attendance couldn’t care less. they walk past your booth, or they take a glance and move on. When you ask how they enjoy the title, they reply with an apathetic “meh.” Nobody is in love with it, but you’ve heard nothing negative, either.

Now, look to your right: the booth next to yours has dozens around it, cash in hand as they clamor for the latest arc in an ongoing, crudely-drawn drama about space trolls, or something of that ilk. On your left, is a booth with just as many people showing utter contempt for the work at hand: a title that tries to turn the concept of the masked vigilante on its head. It’s gritty, it’s dark, but the story somehow harbors a warmth under the surface. The people at this booth are going out of their way to talk down to the representatives, and dissuade others from visiting.

Now, dear reader, I’d like to ask a question: of the three booths, which would you want to be in the most?

The answer is somewhat of a trick question. The booth on the right seems to be the no-brainer: the title has passionate fans ready to literally hurl money at the representatives, in order to get their troll fix. However, holding the booth on the left would also be desirable.

“Why would that be? People hate it! They’re going out of their way to make others not read it!”

Exactly, dear reader. But what inspires such contempt, such hatred in the work? passion. It’s an extreme passion that flows through these customers, to the point that these people would rise up and actively attempt to sabotage the series.

“But that’s horrible!”

Is it, though? If one watches this crowd long enough, he would find that these detractors would begin to be replaced, one after another, by equally passionate supporters of the title. This new crowd would certainly be different from the previous. They could be younger, older, or even less active comic fans than those in the first group. At the other booth, we’d see a similar effect happening to the right booth, as rabid supporters make way for rabid detractors. Such a cycle would naturally repeat numerous times over across the two booths, leading to incredible sales among both, and quite a few talking about the two properties.

All the while, you’re sitting alone, making mediocre sales, and generally feeling as though an opportunity was missed. Something was missing from your title. The market didn’t as you expected. It was as if your offering didn’t inspire the passion found in the other booths. Nobody hated your work – they all liked it, in fact! However, there were few, if any that fell in love with it.

“What does this have to do with anime?”

Dear reader, this is a core concept of marketing! Look around you! Look at the titles that generate the most ardent love in the market: Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and the like. Each of these titles has a large, vocal following that not only consumes, but actively evangelizes the shows. They’ll post reviews, write blog posts, and drag rooms full of friends in to watch week after week! Now, let’s flip that coin over. These shows also have a large contingent that will, and does, give regular verbal smack-downs of these very same shows.

“Isn’t that because many of these detractors are emotionally stunted manchildren?”

Not necessarily. Let me assure you, dear reader. emotionally stunted manchildren exist everywhere. Instead, they are harsh detractors of the product at hand. Put simply, they hate it. This group’s members’ opinions are flavored by this sheer loathing, which leads to countless commentaries, blood posts, and forum posts talking down about the show. They’ll do their damnedest in their attempt to convince others that the show is bad and they should feel bad for enjoying it.

For the sake of a strong product, both groups must exist. To remove one would be to outright kill the other, as passion always seeks to populate the two poles. Instead, the enthusiasm or hatred would be replaced with malaise, as the product settled into the dreaded Zone of Mediocrity. Before he fell into posting misogynistic rants, Dilbert creator Scott Adams once wrote that “[i]f everyone exposed to a product likes it, the product will not succeed… The reason that a product ‘everyone likes’ will fail is because no one ‘loves’ it. The only thing that predicts success is passion, even if only 10% of the consumers have it.”

Zone of Mediocrity

A good product inspires passion in its viewers, be it positive or negative. It rips them toward the poles of emotion. On one end, it inspires its positive customers to become advocates, as they rave about their experience and pique the curiosity of their peers. On the other, it creates a fierce opposition as its detractors, be they fans of similar items, people angry with a company’s approach, or those that genuinely hated the product itself, lash out in public. Their cries of anger, while difficult to stomach by marketers, are proof that the company’s approach is working.

Indeed, the one time a company must begin worrying is when the comments on either end stop. A product drifts into the Zone of Mediocrity is incredibly difficult to save. Once people stop talking, it loses relevance in the market, which itself is the signal that sales will fall, and profit will diminish until there is but pennies left to be collected.

This seems like a generally risky proposition, but in reality, it’s the safest bet. Taking risks and breaking from the norm is safer than staying in the old tried and true habits, and playing things “safely” will only lead to diminishing returns.