My friend Cecil Trachenburg recently found out that even when you are right if you happen to breakdown how the media (and marketing specifically) lies to you… well you end up as the villain.
This particular scenario is that Cecil made a video which broke down the way that movie marketing manipulates you and uses unconscious tells as a way to make you think that their bloated budget ego and CG gasms are simply not that but instead are well mannered fun romps which totally are worth you spending your money on. Well his video got picked up on Reddit (where rationality goes to die) and he was told he is a nostalgic fool for wanting movie posters that looked good and were unique pieces of art. If it had stopped there I would have chalked it up to those comments being made by the same type of fools that think the Transformer movies are “high quality entertainment”, but it didn’t stop there, the “discussion”* quickly moved into the fact that apparently Cecil knows NOTHING about marketing and that he is a moron who would get fired his first day at a marketing film for demanding originality and quality out of the product he was selling. You see, the market is the king and you dare not tell the king of his new clothes nor how poorly endowed he actually is.
So, why do original ideas die on the vine in marketing and why do the masses want the same thing time and time? Why is it that you want the movie posters to all look the same, the music to all sound the same and the products to all be the same? The answer is unfortunately that the mainstream are scared of what is different from what they already know and fear makes them easy to manipulate and manipulate is exactly what they do to you and you not only reward for doing so, you encourage them to do it again. Look at a few mainstream movie trailers from the last 20 years and you will quickly notice that they all look the same, sure the images and sounds are different but the TRAILER is the same as every other movie trailer, it’s cut the same as every other trailer, it’s timed out the same as every other trailer, it hits the same beats as every other trailer etc… they found a formula for movie trailers that works on the public and they refuse to deviate from that formula even an iota. Every movie trailer comes off like the editor is going down a checklist that must be followed:
Narrator with a deep voice sets the scene/character with a deep voice sets the scene? Check.
“Slow” introduction to the characters/setting for the first 30 seconds? Check.
Dramatic problem arises to kickstart the plot? Check.
Random verbal/physical interplay between characters? Check.
Riotous action over pumping music? Check.
Smash cut to title over said pumping music? Check.
Last second quip after the title? Check.
I mean it, 98% of movie trailers follow this formula today and the few that don’t tend to be independent features that either can’t or won’t use a marketing firm to sell the film and they strike out on their own in an attempt to bring some life to a dead advertising medium. Anyone that works in marketing will tell you that even the smallest divergence from the checklist will result in failure of the campaign as well as the movie itself but what they are not telling you is WHY they don’t want you do try something out of the ordinary and that is because it would mean they would have to themselves (as individuals or as a corporate entity) be out of the ordinary and that kind of thinking loses people jobs. Marketing in general is all about keeping the status quo and movie marketing is no exception. Marketing is about selling and selling is about distorting and therefore marketing is about making you falsely need/want something. Music is another genre in which marketing and packaging far outweigh the talent or quality of the music but lets save that for another entry.
I have friends that work in marketing and they ALL tell me that anything, ANYTHING, dangerous or new is received with great trepidation to the point that those who fail to tow the line and go off the reservation are labeled as “troublemakers”. Yeah, if you don’t just regurgitate the same endless supply of platitudes and generalities then you “don’t know the first thing about marketing” according to many of the comments on Cecil’s video. Since marketing is all about selling something and selling something is all about maneuvering you as the consumer into the position where the they as the marketer can convince you that snake oil is very much the product you want… no NEED, that their version has more venom and fewer scales than their competitors well then you really SHOULD have the power in this… but you don’t. Yes my dear lemmings, marketing is all about dumbing down a product to make it palatable for the masses and the masses, as we well know, are frankly idiots. “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”** You have to get the Honey Bong Bong’s and Billhilly’s to want to see your clients movie about lesbians in the future taking on a corrupt system of religious oligarchies battling for the future of lesbian kind… but showing them that would most likely not work… so just showing them splosions and fast cut action is the only choice because you HAVE to trick them into thinking that this movie is made for them. That is movie marketing, it does not matter what the movie is actually about, only how it is presented.
When it comes to marketing any idea that is rare or uncommon that idea is treated with disdain not because it is rare or uncommon but because by being rare or uncommon it is therefore untested and untrustworthy. This fear of the new and uncharted is extended to even those that would dare to suggest something that is not known to work and one can very quickly find themselves outside in the cold. If you have a winning formula (even if that formula is insulting and pandering) you would be a moron to change it (cough New Coke) simply to try something new but then again if you never alter the formula then how do we ever get anything new? That is the conundrum faced in marketing, how to keep the target audience happy all the while making whatever the product is stand out and rarely those two things come together. With movie marketing it is fair to say that the movie studios have no interest in changing how they sell the movie to you, from the poster to the trailer to the merchandising it is all so run through focus groups and test audiences and yes men that there is no point even trying anything new as it will only be met with scowls and shattering disappointment. If you are in marketing and want to do something meaningful, well then you have to move away from the big money projects which will constrain you every step of the way, but if you are simply a workman and not an artist and just want to make some money, the studios are a safe place to do that, but don’t you dare call yourself an artist if you are using the checklist, you are an assemblyman and nothing more.
Lets look at those comments though about how wanting original looking movie posters is coming from a place of ignorance to how marketing works. I know how marketing works and I hate it, I despise the fact that the middle is the aim for everything and that nothing daring is allowed. I understand WHY marketers want to keep doing what works, they want to keep their jobs in case it does not, but I fail to understand why no one will rise up and take on the system rather than let that system run them into the ground like the automaton they are consigned to be. Look back to the grindhouse era of movie posters and you will see no marketing firms were employed, no focus groups were consulted and most of all the poster was used to sell the movie and be a piece of art which immediately drew the eye to it. Now, look at the cookie cutter movie posters of today and how they fail to even look like a movie poster and you will how those days of “ignorance” were all fruitful days of art. There is no place for art in that of marketing and no place for marketing in that of art, I get this, but I fail to see how each is so exclusive from the other that they react to one another like disparately charged electrons.
Now, I have a close friend that works in marketing and she tells me all the time that my eye catching ideas and original approach to things would get killed in committee for not being the same thing as what is already out there, but my question then is, how does ANYTHING change if nothing is allowed to change? I don’t care for marketing and I will condemn it every chance I get, I will not be marketed to and I most definitely will not cower before those who think that anything outside the norm is something what must be quashed lest it spread and infect those around it. Nor should you… but you will.
*If you can really call misspelled, unpunctuated ramblings with no capitalization a discussion.
**Thank you George Carlin.