erik lundegaard

An Ad For Something No One Needs

A friend once wrote a song called “Mr. Time,” which, in its overall sense of losing everything (inch by inch) while waiting for something, anything, to happen, I’ve always, unfortunately, identified. One stanza in particular hits home:

Tooth by tooth
You put on a smile
And stuff in a word for yourself
But every word on your own behalf
Is just an ad for something that no one needs

There’s doing and there’s selling. The great myth of America is that it’s all about doing (Horatio Alger, bootstraps, etc.), while the great reality of America is that it’s all about selling. I’m not a bad doer but I think I’m one of the worst sellers in the world. I can sell nothing, particularly myself, because of what’s articulated in “Mr. Time.” Every word on my own behalf does feel like an ad for something that no one needs.

This means, yes, I’m still thinking about Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece on Tim Palen and Hollywood marketers. Particularly these lines: “Publicity is selling what you have... Marketing, very often, is selling what you don’t have...” These are people so good at their craft they can sell what doesn’t exist. Remarkable. God, I hate them.

I do want to mention one area where I agree with marketers. It comes two-thirds of the way through the article and involves test audiences. Friend writes:

Yet testing is fraught: it rewards comedy, narrative, and familiar stars or plot elements, and often undervalues the new. Executives’ testing stories take divergent paths to the same punch line. Either they decided not to tamper with a “Pulp Fiction,” despite testing results invariably described as “the lowest scores in the studio’s history,” or they were confounded when an “Akeelah and the Bee” faltered commercially despite “the highest scores in the studio’s history.” In both scenarios, the numbers lied. “Testing is a sham,” one marketing consultant says. “All you’ve learned is what people thought of a movie they didn’t have to pay for. It does not mean they’re going to go pay for it.”

Ex-motherf---ing-actly. Particularly the line about undervaluing the new. It was the same for “Seinfeld” and the British “Office” and the American “Office”: low, low audience test scores. People didn’t get these shows. They didn’t get “Pulp Fiction.” I’ve never seen anything like this before so it can’t be any good. In this way, test audiences are actually like marketers, who, according to Friend’s article, have trouble selling the new because there’s no playbook for it. It takes a lot of luck for a “Seinfeld” to get through. One wonders how many “Seinfeld”s — and thus cash cows — get killed in the process.

So that’s the area where I agree with marketers. Here’s the area where I don’t get marketers. These are people who supposedly can sell anything — including something that doesn’t exist. They can sell crap and make us think it’s pudding. But they can’t sell quality.

The best films are sold on a limited basis, in select cities, and might, if carefully nurtured, make it into most big cities and most states. But that’s if it’s lucky and the zeitgeist is right. Otherwise, not.

I know marketers take their orders from someone else, as we all do, but some marketers, as Friend tells us, are now running the studios. Universal, run by a former marketer, is one of the worst culprits. Unless they know something I don’t, unless there’s a strategy here that I don’t see, they’re in the process of killing both “Frost/Nixon” and “Milk.”

There’s an assumption out there that people don’t want quality. There’s an assumption out there that people want (the same old) crap. I’m hardly a pollyanna but, more and more, I’m assuming the opposite.

That’s the unanswered question from Friend’s article. It’s the unasked question of marketers and admen everywhere: How good can you be if you can’t even sell quality?


Posted at 12:17 PM on Sat. Jan 17, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office, Market Research  
No tags

COMMENTS

Mister B wrote:

So many car ads are about style over substance. Don't show me the car on a road that I can't use myself for the same type of driving. Don't show me the car gliding through a downtown area when no one else ever gets to do that.

One of the funniest TV shows I've ever seen lasted one episode. It was called "Blue Jeans" and "starred" the guy who played "Carvelli" on "Welcome Back Kotter". It may have been funny because I was 11 at the time that I saw it, but maybe not.

So why only one episode and then nothing? How bad could the ratings have been? If it wasn't about the ratings, who didn't like it enough to keep it going?

And I definitely find myself thinking like Seinfield when he said, "Who are the ad wizards who came up with that one?!"
Comment posted on Sat. Jan 17, 2009 at 03:46 PM

You may bypass the ID fields and security question below if you log in before commenting.


 
 





Receive notification of further comments via e-mail

« The Man Who Sold "Crash" to the World   |   Home   |   My Year of Watching French Cinema »
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES

All previous entries

LINKS
Movies
Jeffrey Wells
The Film Experience
Roger Ebert
Baseball
Rob Neyer
Joe Posnanski
Cardboard Gods
Politics
Andrew Sullivan
Alex Pareene
Hendrik Hertzberg
Friends
Cloud Five Comics
Copy Curmudgeon
Deb Ellis
Andrew Engelson
Jerry Grillo
Tim Harrison
Eric Hanson
Ben Stocking
Jim Walsh
dative-querulous