The Insider Guide to Creating An Audience of Raving Fans

The Insider Guide to Creating An Audience of Raving Fans

Reader Comments (107)

  1. If you think only 1% of the Futurama audience got that joke you’re missing the point as to why people watch the show.

    It comes across as a bit condescending when you point out how clever you are compared to your audience.

    It’s also important to understand the difference between obscure pop culture references like the ones you use and clever humor based on something we all learned in high school (and most forgot).

  2. This is great, and something I hadn’t thought of before. After working for years with a bunch of software engineers who liked to put Easter eggs into their code, I can totally get it see how it would work.

  3. This reminds me of John Hughes movies. In many of his movies, his style included having his characters look into the camera at certain points.

    Anthony Michael Hall’s characters always had a girlfriend in Canada (Weird Science, Breakfast Club).

  4. Johnny,
    You did it man, after hearing all the whining about the blogging echo chamber – you pull off a gem like this.

    I started yelling “go boy” with this line – “So why did the writers include the gag? Because the remaining 1% who did get it became fans for life.”

    It reminds me that you should always be on the hunt to give something special to your die-hard audience. I remember when I heard the Superman Legend explanation in Kill Bill Volume II and felt like I was the only one in the world that appreciated it. I watched that film over a dozen times – looking for more of these easter eggs.

    Thanks for this…

  5. Great post! I work at a private school and was talking with a trustee once about social media and non institutional voice. As an example of what to try to avoid, I referenced a Simpsons episode where Homer wins the power plant award for “Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.” I think I made my point…while branding myself somewhat of a geek! Cracks me up every time.

  6. This is great advice. When we try too hard to avoid excluding anyone, we end up losing the most important people. As you point out, as long as the thing you’re writing works without the “Easter eggs,” including them is a great way to connect with the people who are most likely to appreciate what makes you unique.

  7. Great post, one of your best ever imho. Amusingly, immediately after reading the post I checked out today’s Get Fuzzy, and the first line is “laugh it up fuzzball”. I laughed out loud.

  8. this is very, very, very true. it’s a small-scale but cumlative win, plus it’s damned amusing.

    i’ve always hidden Easter Eggs among my links, and never known how or whether people find them. One of my favorites is contained in this post. keep clicking, it’s there…

  9. @Stanford, great example, Tarantino is the king of Easter Eggs. (He sort of embodies that “a steady diet of Easter eggs will give you heartburn” — especially Kill Bill — but his fans love that heartburn.)

  10. Spongebob. Twice in one episode. Not really an easter egg but it made me appreciate Spongebob.

    The teacher got into a car accident before school because, “I was sitting at a red light when that whole ‘I could be doing this for the rest of my life’ thing reared it’s ugly head…”

    Then, “oh no, Spongebob, you can’t leave now. I’m in the middle of a coffee fueled sermon that you can’t afford to miss.”

    Disclaimer: teacher may be misquoted because I only saw the episode once and can’t find it anywhere.

  11. I loved this post! I agree with you and also have another reason easter eggs are cool that you didn’t cover. When I see those either on a show or in people’s writing, if I don’t get it, I often find myself looking it up to learn what the reference is about and I find that fun. It’s like a liitle research project and opens me up to new things I might not have otherwise known about.

  12. Love this, great stuff Johnny 🙂

    I was surprised how few people got the easter eggs in my ELO post though. Seems more people are Phineas and Ferb fans than 70s rock combos 😉

  13. Ooh, Phineas and Ferb is the current ruler of my heart for all the one-liners and unexplained in-jokes. It makes it even better that it’s ensconced by the Disneyness, more subversive when bulleted by zillions of commercials featuring those freakish twin boys they grew in test tubes.

    BTW easy access to punk rock tees at the mall (thanks, Hot Topic) kind of diluted the waters. I was at a preschool birthday party a few months ago and one of the dads had a Leningrad Cowboys shirt on. I said I loved the movie and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. So, yeah, you can buy the cool but if it’s not earnest, it’s going to be hard to maintain…

  14. Great article!
    So far I have avoided to add ‘jokes’ in my blogposts which might only be understood by a few.

    Now I learned I should keep them there, as long as they obide the above mentioned rulez.

  15. I always like throwing movie or TV quotes into my writing. Stuff from The Office, How I Met Your Mother, Braveheart…FREEDOM!!!!!!!

    It brings readers in and if they watch the same shows, they feel connected to me. I like that!


  16. Haha, too many good things to comment on. If I reply to every Easter egg someone mentions that I recognize, we’ll not get much done today.

    However… @Miri … that’s something I didn’t mention but that happens to me all the time too. I routinely find myself watching something and I’ll see what appears to be a reference that I didn’t get. I’ll typically then say aloud, “What’s that from?” and my wife looks at me strangely because she could care less about my quest for esoterica. But then I look it up, and often I can figure it out. Fun stuff!

  17. @ChrisG, your ELO post was the perfect example of one that made people giggle if they found the Easter eggs, and yet worked perfectly well without them.

    @Johnny, to tell you the truth, the twins thing wasn’t that difficult. 🙂

    Apparently I need to get some Phineas and Ferb. Somehow I don’t think putting Backyardigans Easter eggs in my posts will win me any cool points.

  18. @Johhny thanks for writing this. I had to reblog it. It reminded me of the “ah ha moment” I had when finding out Starscream and Cobra Commander are essentially the same character voiced by the same person.

  19. PS. @Johnny: See if Brian can tweek Scribe to give us our egg scores.

    Shane, I might be able to “tweak” rather than “tweek” it, but of course you were leaving an Easter egg for hardcore methamphetamine users. Nice one. 😉

  20. Johnny –

    Since you’re a Uniqua fan, did you know that the voice of Pablo is also the voice of Aang, (from Avatar, The Last Airbender)?

    That was kind of freaky to disco-

    Hey, wait a minute … where’s Johnny?

  21. I actually just pulled out Uniqua because it was the only name I remembered from when my son used to watch it. (My son Austin… isn’t one of them named Austin?)

    So congratulations on outing yourself, Dave. 🙂

  22. @Brian:

    Very clever dinner. Appetizing food fit neatly into interesting round pie.

    It’s a quiche.

    How do you spell?

    Well you don’t spell it, son, you eat it.

  23. I’m a fan of easter eggs. When they’re used, though, it seems to me it’s best done naturally… as if the idea has simply appeared. I’m not sure how much premeditation actually goes into them from those that use them frequently. But I definitely agree that if done sparingly no harm is caused, and much good is achieved.

  24. I haven’t heard the easter egg term in awhile. Those are exactly the tidbits that you need for a cult following. You can just create “vanilla” stuff for a vanilla audience, but that will never make the cut required for cult status.

    Most things/sites/products/posts that really do well are the ones that come from the author’s own voice, peppered with insider jokes that slowly develop the cult following… now if I could only get myself to write better.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  25. Actually, you totally underscored my point:

    “Don’t think of them as something you add; think of them as something you allow to remain. It should feel natural. Write what comes to you — and then stop yourself from editing all of the gems out.”

    Anyways, awesome article.

  26. This is one of the reasons I’ve always been in love with inquisitive hip hop stars like Common, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, etc etc etc.

    The references and metaphors they make are witty and not obvious to the average head nodder dancing away in the club, but for those of us that get it, we love it, and love them in return.

    Good post.

  27. @Brian:

    Here’s my impression of life at Big Bri’s house, “Johnny?” “Yeah, Dad?” “How was your day, son?” “Great, Dad. How’s yours?” “Super. Say, how would like to go fishing this weekend?” “Great, Dad. But I got roundups to do.” “That’s okay, son. You can do it on the boat.” “Gee.” “Sonia, isn’t our Johnny swell?” “Yes, Brian. Isn’t life swell?”

  28. All your base belong to us.

    Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A.

    Um, that one really hard Battletoads level.

    Why isn’t the Princess in THIS castle?

  29. The third episode of Arrested Development hooked me for the rest of the series. The episode had Buster (Tony Hale) blasting into a minute-long bleep-fest, complete with hand gestures and a fearful look from the Jason Bateman.

  30. This is a great article. I love the Easter egg metaphor, because while they may only hook 1% of your readers, they also carry the potential to spike the curiousity of the other 99% of slightly confused readers.

    Personally, I hate to be left out of a joke. If other people are Rolling On the Floor Laughing at something I don’t get…there’s a good chance I’ll look it up.

    Feed your readers a steady diet of eggs, and they’ll eventually get curious.

  31. Love it! I never have put an easter egg anywhere myself but I am always happy to find them, whether in texts or games or tv shows 🙂
    I must agree a little bit though with Drew (second comment) that ur under estimating the audience… I do think more than 1% gets the Heisenberg reference,
    otherwise this show (or The Big Bang Theory, which is my favourite, too) wouldn’t have so many crazy fans… but really that doesn’t change the fact that this is a great post!
    I will look out for ur easter eggs now! 🙂

  32. Dear Mr. Vernon Clark, we accept the fact that we have to sacrifice Thursdays and Fridays in suspension for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong(we should have been writing instead of reading). But we think you’re crazy to make us wait 5 days to better understand what Internet Marketing is. You teach us what you want to teach us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a Clark, a Chartrand, a Simone, and a Truant. And we’re getting better with every post. Sincerely, The Copyblogger Club. 😉

  33. I do this on a regular basis, and MAN OH MAN is it fun and effective. I’ll use a word from Firefly or a Terry Prachett line (or a Dune quote!) and leave it totally unexplained. I think at least one person has gotten the reference every time and left a comment essentially saying, “I love you!!!”

  34. Thanks for a great post, Johnny!

    I’ve put some Easter Eggs into blog posts too – sometimes song titles, sometimes obscure references, and all have been recognized. It’s all good fun.

    BTW: Thanks for sharing the Futurama joke – LOVED it!

  35. If you write long enough, and you’re sufficiently brazen, you can even reference yourself. Stephen King’s books are littered with hundreds of references to his earlier works.

    Hell, he went so far as to write himself into the Dark Tower series, making his accident and survival into a critical plot point, where he was rescued by his fictional characters. Now, that takes guts. 🙂

    Also, Brian is right on about it not mattering if anyone else gets it. You’re not a real writer, in my opinion, until you take a perverse satisfaction in publishing things you know only an elite few will understand. 😉

  36. I love using “easter eggs” in my writing. Much of the time I don’t even realize I’ve used an obscure reference, because it’s an area of knowledge i’m so intimately familiar with, it just comes naturally. It’s only when I go back to proof read that I realize I may have lost some readers with the reference. Like you say, as long as the Easter Egg can work as a parenthetical within the piece, then there’s no harm. The readers who do catch onto the joke enjoy a deeper level of satisfaction from the piece.

  37. Whenever possible, I regularly write obscure references to Caddyshack, Rush (the band), and Major League Baseball umpires.

  38. One can see how this Easter egg thing could morph into a “Bonfire of the Vanities,” no?

  39. I find ways to place words from songs, poems, and literature into my writing. I do not mean apposite quotes, I mean hunks of text that do not stand out whatsoever. It is oddly satisfying to do this.

  40. actually, as i was going about my business today, i realized that i do this so often in all media i even lose track…sometimes my Easter eggs have double yolks (pun intended). So, like today my tag line for a Facebook crosspost to my blog was “the discreet charm of Big Baby.” One of my FB readers got it and it made my day.

  41. @Jon – I remember getting to that part in King’s DT series and being like, “WTF? Can he DO that?” As if there were rules about such things. But it brought a whole new level of revelation, pointing out to a crazy new level what was actually possible in a story.

    @Lisa – I don’t get it. But I would have gotten it if you had talked about a giant floating baby head.

  42. This plays a large part in what I do at Delight Specialist. Secret knowledge has vast power. Glad to see it getting some broader recognition, Johnny.

    (Just leaving in the references you don’t think anyone will get is only part of the game, though…)

  43. I like the idea of hidden Easter Eggs. Reminds me of reading a book series where there is a hidden reference/gem for the readers who actually read the previous books. It always feels like a reward and makes me feel like an insider.

  44. @Chris – I totally forgot to mention that it was actually you who made me decide to write about this. Your laying of Easter eggs reminded me that I do this, and how effective it is… which is why I mentioned I think it’s a fantastic selling point of what you do. So thank you for that reminder!

  45. @Johnny: oh you do so! Buñuel + Pixar.

    many years ago a friend and I decided the phrase “baby head” might be the funniest thing in the English language. now i think “giant floating baby head” might ace it.

  46. Yes @Aaron Arrested Development has lots of eggs! I seem to find new ones on each repeat viewing (hell-o instant Netflix!) A few of my favorites are in the episode Good Grief. Schulz fans will love that one.

  47. Though the rubber chicken may reign as the figurehead of easy comedy, you have proven that the real power lies with the eggs.

    Schrödinger was right after all. We CAN have both the chicken + the egg AT THE SAME TIME.

    Bravo, Truant.

  48. This reminds me of my favourite people I follow on Twitter. Every now and then, they’ll send out a tweet that feels like only me and maybe 6 other people will get it. I wonder where else this applies?

  49. Hi Johnny,

    Thanks for sharing this! I definitely agree with you on “don’t over explain” and “make it natural”. People tend to be fancy, and tendency is they miss on some important things.

    The shorter, the sweeter for me. I’d rather read a short but informative and useful post rather than a long- boring, non-sense post.

    Kind regards,


  50. Hey Johnny,

    A great article and something that I must confess I have never considered before and yes I was in the 75% that did not find that line funny!!!. Anyway thanks for sharing this, it is an interesting concept and something that I will consider for the future.

  51. Thanks for sharing that information. I’ve always talked myself out of using movie quotes or other little funnies, because of the fear nobody will get it.

  52. I think the invention of the hyperlink really helped to facilitate those of us who like a good inside joke.
    But let’s not make the mistake of thinking these so-called Easter Eggs are a new thing. At the risk of sounding unfashionably high-brow, Shakespeare was always burying hidden meanings in his language. He was a master of the double entendre and often quite filthy.

    And years before Stephen King wrote himself into The Dark Tower, Martin Amis in his classic book Money has his protagonist, John Self (geddit?) sit down in a pub for a drink with a handsome young writer called Martin Amis.

  53. I used to have a blog about hip-hop and I slipped obscure lyrics into it all the time without explaining the reference.

    To my surprise, I attracted an audience that works in the music industry, and that helped jumpstart my career.

    A WARNING – Easter eggs can be annoying for people who sniff that a joke is going down, but can’t figure it out. That’s why I can’t get fully enjoy a Colson Whitehead novel. There seems to be something else going on in every scene that he writes, and he refuses to make the reference easy.

  54. Hey Johnny,

    Fantastic post! Just HAD to comment.

    I don’t think it’s as clean cut as saying a small percentage will get the joke, while most won’t. I think there’s also some middle ground there where some people will sort of get it. For example, with your Johnny Marr comment, I knew that was a Smiths reference, but don’t really know enough about their history so didn’t entirely get the joke. I still felt a bit of that exclusive specialness you described however, and I felt more connected to your writing all the same.

    Also, I actually use this technique quite a bit (never knew it had a name though until now) but I usually link the text to some external source (eg. Wikipedia) so that the majority can click through and get an idea of what that throwaway comment was about.

    Here’s an example I just wrote (after reading this article actually).

    I’m wondering what your (and other readers’) thoughts are on doing this? If by making the joke more accessible to the majority (just a click away), would this lessen its impact on the minority who get it instantly? And if so, would that make the Easter Egg less or more effective overall?

    To use your TV show comparison, would it make throwaway jokes on Futurama or The Simpsons less special if you could just hit the red button for some sort of explanation? Or would that broaden their appeal further perhaps (if possible)?

    Just something I’ve been pondering.

  55. I personally like the hyperlink explanation. For example, I’m putting together a new Copyblogger newsletter article about SEO, and used the header “SEO is People!” with a hyperlink to the Wikipedia article on the movie Soylent Green.

    I think there’s a spectrum — Copyblogger tends to be more mainstream, so we probably lean more toward the “include more readers and give some explanations” side of things. Johnny’s blog and business are very niched and he’s really after creating a small loyal tribe, so he’s probably more toward the “don’t explain” side. They’re both good.

    @Hashim, that is such a great example. And it’s funny how often this technique opens doors and finds fans when we weren’t exactly trying to do that. It’s very lateral.

  56. @Mark – Yep, I think Sonia nailed it. Depends on you, your audience, and how you like to roll. I would actually NOT like to point to the joke at all, or even indicate it is one. I like them to be hidden… that’s what makes finding them so much fun!

  57. Finally, some direction. I started a twitter account (@retro_tweets) with a similar objective without knowing where I was going with it. Now I know. Easter eggs are fun. Thanks Copyblogger.

  58. I’ve done this sort of thing quite a bit… and wondered if anyone would get the joke. I’ll stop worrying about it now that I know not all have to get it to be effective.


  59. @Sonia – That’s very clever. And I totally would have missed the reference in your newsletter without a link.

    That would have been a terrible shame too because you just introduced me to something I would be very interested in seeing and thanks to the wiki page you were thinking of linking to, I now know what all those Soylent Green jokes were in NewsRadio, Buffy, Futurama and the Simpsons which I still vaguely remember – but never understood.

    It’s interesting, I’ve been linking Easter Eggs just so the majority had a chance of getting the joke – but it also seems to open up another bonding opportunity by introducing people of similar interests to those obscure cultural references. I’m totally grateful, btw.

    @Johnny – I think you’re both right about the audience thing. I do appreciate your approach and definitely agree that they’re fun to find – when you find them.

  60. Honestly, I think part of it is stylistic for me. In my head, I read anything that is emphasized in any way differently than plain text (of course), and hyperlinks are as “emphasized” for me as bold text. Because I like most of what I write to read as deadpan, the links would mess it up. So there’s even that on top of the Easter eggs consideration.

    I like the idea of letting people in on the joke to spread the knowledge of some good jokes and references, but I almost want to do it after the fact if I do it… “P.S: Hey, that thing in the second paragraph was about X.”

  61. Copyblogger kingdom,

    You guys may not know this, but I consider myself…a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one man wolf pack. But when Johnny wrote this post, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack, it grew by one. So were two…so there was two of us in the pack. I…I was alone first in the pack, and then Johnny joined in later.

    Thanks for the inspiration Johnny. I’m going to use the words “nemesis” and “-inator” more in my posts.


  62. Great post! I include a sample cover letter in my workshops addressed to “Ms. Kathy Bates” applying for a nursing position, and I’ve used “Scrubs” and “Lost” references as well. It’s always fun to see who’ll catch it.

  63. My favorite Easter Egg might be the name Milhouse Van Houten. It is a perfectly zeroed-in reference to bad people in 1971, and “the most unfortunate name Groening could think of for a kid.”

    Milhous was Nixon’s middle name, Van Houten was a nod to Leslie Van Houten, one of Charlie Manson’s family. Pretty bad name for sure for poor little Milhouse.

    I think the cleverness in this name is missed by most everyone – but to me, it is insanely funny, and shows Groening’s brilliance. Just the name starts to create a character reference, which is an example of creative writing at its finest moment.

  64. I discovered this blog very recently. And I can’t enough of it, feel like I’m stalking it almost. Every post I learn something new….I don’t mean that in a kissy-upy way. It’s just true.

    So Easter Eggs. I’m on it.

  65. Very interesting idea…Although I’m not too funny!
    But what I really appreciate the concept of getting people hooked “1 at a time”. Does the 80/20 rule apply here?

  66. @Johnny

    I like your idea about linking below the text and Sonia ended up providing a really good example of that for her IMFSP newsletter title:

    “SEO is people!
    (Extra credit to anyone who gets the reference.)”

    I just tried out this approach on a little Mighty Boosh gag and it worked quite well (in my opinion). Best of both worlds, really (letting people in on the joke while not interrupting the flow.) Plus, it offers the reader a treat/reward for reading to the end 😉

  67. Johnny,

    It takes talent as a writer and timing to place Easter eggs well. I can only applaud your skills. I have problems with close friends and family understanding my dry humor as it is. Easter eggs would only get me lots of lectures about outside the edge my writing is.

    I think it’s a great idea and I’ll have to continue practicing until I can actually execute.

    By the way, what are you going to do this summer?


  68. Ahhh, it’s like putting your own stamp or flavor to a post. Like having cameos would also be interesting. But I agree so much with your point on making it absolutely natural. If you have to think about it, it ain’t gonna work.

    Good show!

  69. Hunting for Easter eggs is something I need to start being more conscious about. Putting them in my writing will take some creativity. But it will be well worth the extra effort.

    On a side note I love the way you reference other articles you have written by linking to them. This is a technique I need to start using to keep my blog readers interested and point them to more great reading material.

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