Think your URL fans can’t have IRL impact? Think again.
In 1999, Bree Nguyen, a 16-year-old Superfan of Mariah Carey, did for her idol what entire teams of seasoned marketing professionals at Columbia and Sony couldn’t. She got Mariah’s latest single at the time, ‘Heartbreaker’ to debut on MTV’s Total Request Live(TRL).
This is her one-in-a-million kinda story.
The infancy of the internet
The year was 1999, and the internet was still in its infancy. The music charts were dominated by Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. And Mariah Carey, who had reigned over pop music for the last decade was no more pop music’s undisputed queen.
Enter Bree Nguyen.
Bree was just a normal teenager living in San Diego- she went to school; played soccer and tinkered around with coding websites. She did have one interest that outshone everything else in her life at the time, however-she loved Mariah Carey.
This love went beyond just posters on her bedroom walls though. With her understanding of the internet, Bree sought out a community of other fans online, called the Friends of Mariah message board. And since she spent engaging with her fellow fans online, she became what we’d call a community leader on this board.
Time in LA
Bree graduated early from school and decided to go to LA for Uni. When she got to LA, she heard the news. Mariah Carey would be doing a 3 city record-signing tour-her first one in a while. And LA was one of the cities on her list.
Bree knew this was her chance to see her hero up close & personal.
She posted on the message board that she would be at the LA store. Most of the message board replied back to her saying that they were excited for her; some even said that they would meet her there. But Bree got one message that wasn’t like the others.
It was from a woman in Brazil. The woman wrote that since she couldn’t come to see Mariah herself, she would be grateful if Bree could deliver her fan letter to Mariah herself. Not knowing what would come after, Bree said yes and left her personal email. And logged off the message board.
8 hours later she had over 5000 emails sent to her.
Her personal email that she had left for the Brazilian woman had been circulated around the internet. And now fans from the world over had sent their fan letters to Bree’s email. With the expectation that she would hand-deliver it to Mariah.
Bree was shocked-she hadn’t signed on for this. Giving one letter, she could do. But 5000? That was a different story altogether. At the end of the day, however, her goodness and self-described naivete won out.
She decided to help her fellow fans out.
First, Bree had to copy-paste each letter(of which there were now 10,000) individually into a Word file. Then she used her school’s printer to print out each letter. At the end of it all, she had 10,000 fan letters with her in a 3-inch binder. She was ready.
On the day of the event, she stood in line with her friends outside the record store. A few hours later, Mariah was in front of her, ready to sign her record. Several tears of joy and genuine gushing later, Bree hand-delivered the 10,000 letters to a surprised Mariah.
Bree went home happy, not expecting anything else from the encounter.
A few days later, Bree had a voice message on her house phone. She played it expecting her mother’s voice. The voice was Mariah’s. And in the message she thanked Bree. Understandably, Bree was stunned. But she was even more surprised when Mariah’s manager called.
“How do you know 10,000 people?”, Mariah’s manager asked her.
Bree told her about the message board and how she had got the letters. Eventually, the manager cut to the chase. She asked Bree if she could help Mariah’s new song ‘Heartbreaker’ on MTV’s, “Total Request Live.”(TRL). Getting on ‘TRL’ in 1999 meant a lot of visibility which converted to sales on the BillBoard 100 charts. And it happened only through fan voting.
At the time, the charts were dominated by Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. And Mariah’s team of seasoned marketing and sales professionals hadn’t been able to breakthrough.
“Do you want to give it a shot?”, asked the manager.
The power of community
Without hesitation, Bree agreed.
Mariah’s team gave Bree full control of her official website. And Bree got to work. She built a log-in area for the website and a site counter to keep track of the number of people who requested the song on TRL. Then she hit upon her next idea.
Bree devised a prize system with different rewards. The fan who voted the most would get 10 autographs from Mariah; second would get a Tee-shirt and so on. She also created a marketing campaign a week before voting began called ‘Attack TRL’ complete with banners and icons that fans could use on their own sites. With this battle plan, Mariah’s fan base went to voting war.
Less than a week later, ‘Heartbreaker’ was on the countdown.
A 16-year-old SupeFan had cracked the code of leveraging fans. It would launch, Bree’s decade-long career in the music business where she worked with artists like ‘LinkinPark’ and ‘My Chemical Romance’.
But her biggest reward?
When Mariah was chosen to win ‘Billboard Artist of the Decade’ along with Michael Jackson. she invited Bree to Las Vegas to attend the award show with her.
Talk about fairy tale endings!
Wanna find your Bree?
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