How To Create A Viral Fake Magazine

By November 11, 2017BTS, English

The print magazine I created for the German late-night show Neo Magazin Royale was my first piece of work that went viral. I initially made it after the episode I got tickets for got cancelled and I needed some kind of creative outlet. They didn´t ask for it, I just made it. This is a story about creativity, the death of print media, internet fame and missed opportunities. But let me preface all of that with a quick history lesson.

Timing is everything.

In March 2016, satirist and late-night host Jan Böhmermann wrote a poem insulting the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He did this to illustrate the fine line between criticism, which is protected by freedom of speech, and “abusive criticism” of a foreign state leader. And let´s just say the Turkish government wasn´t particularily happy about the ridiculously offensive language and the content of a poem read out loud on national TV. I won´t link to the video here, but a quick Google search will show you the juicy details. Multiple people pressed charges against Böhmermann, the Turkish government demanded criminal prosecution and the filming of upcoming editions of the show was suspended due to threats by Erdogan supporters. During that period of the Böhmermann affair I decided to write a print version of the show — and my timing was perfect.

The first pages of the magazine.

To be fair, it wasn´t my first improvised print magazine. I did something similar for my school and another TV show, so I already had a bit of experience in graphic design and worldbuilding. The new project should be about the world of the Neo Magazin Royale, its characters and fictional settings for monologue jokes. Like US shows the Neo Magazin Royale has a rich lore — there are different characters the ensemble plays in their segments and some recurring themes and jokes. For a superhero figure I wrote a story about the bureaucratic aspects of saving the world. I took the show´s symbol, a retro looking Triceratops, and used it for an article about a fossil discovery in the parking lot of the studio in Cologne. I faked interviews with a radio host and demanded the renovation of the studio to build an independet satire state with Böhmermann as its king. It was glorious.

Influencer marketing done right.

Cut to a few weeks later and I got it printed. 20 beautiful pages about the show, its characters and stories. I was extremely proud of the worldbuilding in it, so I sent it to the production company in Cologne. I didn´t hear back from them for quite a while, so I decided to write a mail to their social media manager and post some mockups on my Instagram. Turns out, they liked it. Böhmermann shared a picture of my magazine on his Twitter account which got 1000 Likes. Media outlets began to reach out to me for an interview which was absolutely bonkers. W&V and Adobe, for example, wrote about it (in German) and said it was a fresh take on print magazines. A major PR agency offered me an internship. A big publishing company flew me in to talk about print media and a possible future for my magazine. It was extremely overwhelming and I had no idea what I was doing.

My magazine even had an article about a fictional beverage company.

Looking back, I realize that I used influencer marketing to gain media attention without even knowing it. I provided value for the Neo Magazin Royale, so they posted my work — at a time of incresed media attention. Gary Vaynerchuk would have been proud of me, but I didn´t follow it all through: I allowed the media to categorize my magazine as “fan art”, which kind of downplayed the whole thing. I had a website, but little to nothing previous work to show to gain a real audience interested in my stuff. My Instagram was a mess (still is) and I didn´t have a YouTube channel I could link to (still mostly empty). The publishing company wasn´t able to gain the rights for a secound print magazine like mine, and I refused the internship at the PR agency because I was too scared it could clash with my studies. I didn’t even get new tickets for the show — but I am still waiting, Jan! In short, I missed most opportunities.

The lesson is clear.

But it isn´t all bad. I have the formula for a perfect publicity stunt and you can bet I am working on a new project like this again. If you google my name, you will find articles about me and one of the biggest names in German TV. But most importantly, I have developed a taste for media creation and distribution. And the next time I´ll do a project like that, I´ll do it right!