Jul 3, 2007

What Michael Moore Can Teach Us About Marketing

Michael Moore’s latest movie, Sicko came out this week, but I have no intention of going to see it. Not that I disagree with Moore’s premise that our health care system needs reforming. Or that I dislike documentaries (quite the opposite, in fact.)

It’s just that I already know what the movie is going to be like and as such, there’s no real reason for me to go see Moore grill some not-very-bright factotums, take their quotes out of context, and use them to build his case that our health care system is in trouble. I’ve learned from the previews that he’ll also find the one instance where Cuba’s health care system does a better job than ours and highlight that.

Seen it already. It’s the same movie he’s made every time out. And if an informal poll of my friends is any indication, I’m far from the only one.

So what’s the lesson for marketers?

Serve up the same exact thing every time and eventually people learn to tune you out. While there’s a core audience that wants to see the same trick time and again, most people aren’t that enamored with what you do to want to put up with it.

That’s true whether what you “do” is an ad campaign, a product, a retail experience, a song or an agit-prop documentary.

I’m not advocating radical change—people like that even less than watching you do the same old, same old. But you do need to evolve some. Give people something a little different so they keep coming back for more. The greatest barrier to change is the old axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a line that too many people fall back on to avoid the hassle of change. Because face it: change is a hassle. It involves risk, relearning and reaction. Three things most humans, by nature, will gladly avoid.

No matter how much that works to their detriment.

Happy 4th.


Anonymous said...

My issue with Moore has always been his interview style. He ambushes people and recreates scenes to fit his point. Sorry, but it’s just too easy to ambush an idiot who can’t defend their position, as he does with the local local-yocals.

Having said that, he does have some valid points in his films. With Roger and Me, people lost their jobs and someone needed to answer for it. In Columbine, he did manage to get ammo taken out of stores, thus making it less available to nutjobs.

When I looked at the history of docs after this came out, I was really surprised to see that he has two of the two top-five all-time grossing docs.

While I agree generally with your point that the same old thing gets people to tune out, in this case considering one of the those two docs is Sicko, Moore's niche audience ain’t havin any of it. (Which may be in fact a reflection of a niche market that a brand can always count on.)

To your point though, I think the one consistant thing Moore does will be his downfall. I think his niche audience likes his recent docs so much because he always wirks in an anti-Bush message.

Well, come 2008, he may not have that anger to tap into anymore.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Are you thinking that most people will tune it out...meaning it won't do well, or encourage the change it seeks?

On the one hand it is the "same" format, on the other it's a different topic. And would you advocate something other than a movie...like a PBS miniseries, per se?


Alan Wolk said...

@MTLB: Moore definitely has his niche and I agree, there's an energized base right now. He's sort of like Frank Rich in the Times Op-Ed. It's a lot of obvious preaching to the converted, sort of a constant repetition of the "greatest hits."

@CK: Not for me to tell Moore how to adjust the formula. There are many, many ways to take his basic talent and freshen up the delivery. But I literally have yet to read a review of "Sicko" that doesn't have some variation of "here's Michael Moore, doing his usual tricks, creating a really one-sided propaganda piece... but you know, he does have a point."

HighJive said...

But isn’t Moore really symbolic of marketing—and its cousin Hollywood? That is, when you have something that works, you keep doing it again and again until it’s proven no good. Haven’t all of us adfolks produced something really cool and felt the pain of realizing the client will want to recreate the same ad at least three more times before trying something new?

Moore’s last movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 won critical acclaim and serious awards (including the Palme d’Or). Don’t mean to defend the guy too much, but couldn’t the same argument of doing-the-same-movie-over-and-over be applied to A-list stars like Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Reese Witherspoon?

To apply this notion to advertising, look at the campaigns for Absolut, Gatorade or Mastercard. They’re doing the same thing over and over. Unfortunately, so are advertisers like Dr. Scholl’s (Gellin’ like Magellan), but that’s another story.

It also reminds me of championship sports teams from my home base (Chicago). The 1985 Super Bowl Bears had a defense that literally did the same thing over and over every week. They never changed, mostly because they didn’t have to. No one could stop them. The championship Bulls teams were the same—they played the same system over and over and never had to change because no one could stop them. And what’s more, audiences flocked to watch them do the same thing over and over.

It would be one thing if Moore was a total hack (for example, I have no idea why David Spade or Ben Stiller are even allowed to make movies—ditto Will Ferrell). But Moore’s shit continues to win critical acclaim and draw audiences. Hollywood would not permit him to stick around if he wasn’t making money for someone.

Anonymous said...

Is there a way you can click on the option that lets you present comments in a full-screen format like other blogspot blogs? I only ask because they're hard to follow and read in this tiny window.

Alan Wolk said...

@CK: Done.
@HJ: Moore's got a very unique, very structured formula. Sort of as if the Bulls had Pippen come down the right lane and send a bounce pass to Jordan under the basket every single point of every single game.

His films win awards because of their politics, but he's basically preaching to the converted.

When you can't convince anyone outside of your core group of true believers, you're not very effective as a marketer.

HighJive said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HighJive said...

Guess I might argue that effective marketers are essentially preaching to their group of converted. Most brands call it the “Super Heavy User”—the guy who drinks a six-pack of Bud every night or the moron who dines at Mickey D’s five days per week. Do you think anyone at Apple really believes they can convert PC users to become Mac addicts? In Hollywood, all the successful players have a very unique, very structured style. Again, I’m not arguing that Moore is anything more than he is. But he’s playing to his audience in the same way that, say, Reese Witherspoon is playing to hers. I’ve always hated working for brands that think they can be something they’re not: When Sears, Kmart or JCPenney tries to convince people they offer hip apparel, for example. Moore dramatically zagging from his brand image would be like Adam Sandler doing dramatic roles. Or Mickey D’s selling healthy menu items. Effective marketers know their true audiences and deliver to them in familiar and consistent styles.

Anonymous said...

"When you can't convince anyone outside of your core group of true believers, you're not very effective as a marketer."

Not exactly True, Toad. Some brands--many brands--don't need to preach outside of their group and their group grows or keeps buying. I'm not saying this is true for all brands--and yes, many need to grow their circles of influence--but I don't agree with your statement for every case. And I don't think Moore is ineffective as marketer. I'm not ruling him out just yet. Especially since this film, while politically charged, is about healthcare. Not the war. HC can be a "wider" issue and can engage more viewers that he's not yet affected.

Alan Wolk said...

I agree that there are brands that only play to heavy users.
But it's a risky strategy.
Look at Apple: they almost failed until they came up with the iTunes/iPod empire. Before that, they were steadily losing ground to WintelWorld.
Moore's failure, to clarify, is that he does the same exact movie every time. Even a Tom Cruise, who plays the same character in every movie, changes it up a bit so as not to bore the audience. If you don't, you're just making Rocky 19.

@CK: I think health care is a very important issue and I'm in complete agreement with Moore that it's a mess. My fear is that the people who need to hear the message won't hear it, because they're going to think "okay, he embarrasses some underlings and otherwise manipulates facts to make a point. This is propaganda, not truth." And the sad fact is that it's much closer to truth than they realize.

@HJ: Why Reese Witherspoon? She's actually one of the few actresses of that age group who can actually act. A little bit, anyway.

Anonymous said...

isn't MM just a very necessary counter move against the veritable tsunami of right wing bullshit that has drenched this country for years?

he's not happening in a vacuum. his documentaries aren't real? so what. look at the manufactured reality we're living in. is that better?

MM is annoying and fat and from Michigan. that's his real crime. he doesn't look good on american tv.

he's just filling the void that normally be filled by a legitimate opposition party. which is sorely absent right now.

HighJive said...

Actually, I think Witherspoon is cool for her audience. But the point is, she’s got a specific, defined image that she delivers in a consistent style. That’s what makes her beloved. Again, I don’t think it’s bad to be repetitive, if your repetition is great. Going back to ad examples, Mastercard and Absolut do the same thing over and over—but what they’re doing is great. Dr. Scholl’s with its “Gellin’” campaign is also consistent—problem is, they suck.