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Am I Eating My Own?

This week, after heavily evaluating our cable options, the hubster and I decided to nix our Time Warner Cable package with DVR service.

The big defining factor: Getting rid of cable, and upgrading the speed of our broadband service saves me approximately $60 monthly, or $720 annually. That can go for groceries, or tuition, or those daily (expensive) no-baby candies.
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Joan Crawford Versus Natalie Portman

I was forced to return my library copy of the textbook I was using for my film history course, A Short History of the Movies. I went to all of the big sellers, like Amazon looking for a copy, only to find that it’s basically a gazillion dollars. And then my brilliant husband reminded me that because I’m back in the educational throes of it all, that I should go to for my books.

Therefore, I’m going to be waiting for my $12 textbook to arrive to my house via media mail — basically it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, I’m working on a few video and readings to occupy  my reading. Fortunately for me, I was just at the part of the book talking about the great comedies and comedians of the 1920s.

Looking for some events to go to or something to read this week, I came across this online “exhibit” on Los Angeles Public Library’s website on old Hollywood Movie Posters. There are so many details that are so interesting here:

Today, credit blocks consume approximately an eighth of a poster’s layout and include credits for a range of filmmakers, including the producers, director, writers, art director, costume designer, cinematographer, effects teams, and musicians. But the idea remains the same, to convey to a potential audience the who and what of a movie: who’s in it and what’s it about?

Reading that, I took a look at some of the posters available (which I highly recommend), and it made me think about the obvious differences to today’s posters and the subtle similarities.
Let’s compare this poster for Montana Moon (1930) with No Strings Attached (2011).

First of all, the synopsis….sounds AWFUL.

But most importantly, we have two lovers, in an intimate, non-threatening moment. But it’s such a generic moment. And that’s what a lot of these old movie posters seem to have in common: they only give a highly vague sense of what the movie is about. The real point is just to illustrate that Your Favorite Star will be in this movie. The only guarantee you get to know from the poster is that 1. Joan Crawford is IN this movie. 2. She’s going to suck face with some dude. 3. It’s an “all talking” movie by MGM. The embrace could mean they’re an intimate couple, and we’re seeing them in a moment we’re “not suposed to see.” It could mean she’s dying, and holding on for dear life. Or that she’s drunk on booze and pills and needs someone to help her sit up to eat her Subway sandwich. We just assume it’s the romance one because otherwise the poster would indicate a more thrilling movie. If anything the poster for Montana Moon reflects the lackluster story that IS Montana Moon.

And then there’s No Strings Attached. I will admit, I am stoked to see it, mainly because When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time, and its main theme, aside from you cannot help who you love, is that men and women can’t be friends without sex getting in the way. We already get that from the title, something slightly illegitimate is going on. The poster brings it home: We see them clearly AFTER an intimate moment, but the expressions on their faces are clearly happy, with a shared connection, along with that is the tagline, “Friendship has its benefits,” playing off the expression, “Friends with benefits.” The key to this is universality. This film is certainly targeting a young adult audience, but a wide young adult audience — people on both ends of the spectrum of adulthood: 18 to, say, 45ish(?). The message isn’t complicated, it isn’t confrontational or scary, and you know that in the end they’re totally going to get married and have a gazillion babies.

“Gazillion” twice in one post? Damn right.

Seth Godin (kind of) on network programming

I watched this TED talk (below), an archived talk from marketing guru Seth Godin. The main message of this one was advertising and marketing is no longer about the in-your-face stuff. It’s about being remarkable to the early adapters — the people who are actually seeking something to care about. The obsessed. The fanatics. The nerds.

Because eventually, those people will tell their friends and family about this really awesome pair of sneakers they came upon, and then those people will at least check them out and consider them, if not buy them.

Basically, I see the same ideas really working in television and films. Just as I wrote about earlier, marketers and programmers can’t expect everything to be universally appealing to everyone. Why do some networks go after the big ratings numbers as opposed to going after key fans who are incredibly engaged to the programming? I am completely aware of how advertising works, but doesn’t broad programming turn away people who would be true fans of a show if it skewered its humor or its action in a way to capture a truly captive audience? I understand that more eyes = more $$$, but when you have a truly engaged, albeit smaller, audience, aren’t they more receptive to the advertising and brand messaging crafted around it?

I am a true, true fan of the show Mad Men, and I don’t see them caving in to the pressures of its fans or of advertisers to be a certain way. Is there integrated advertising on that show? You bet. It’s a show about advertising. How could they not have integrated advertising. But I’m much more engaged watching that than, say, an episode of Two and a Half Men playing in the background of my living room while I tidy up around the house or clear out my inbox…

So basically, we’re talking about two of the most successful shows in the country, but their success is measured in two different ways: Two and a Half Men, while it has won an Emmy here and there, is basically your standard mass-appeal show of obvious jokes and sitcommy situations. But still, it beat all of the other shows in the ratings last night with a rerun! Mad Men is a show for true fans; no, they’re not slaughtering the ratings, but it garners high-end advertisers, awards, acclaim, and engaged fans who go out and buy merchandise like DVD box sets.  No one goes to work pining to talk with their coworkers about last night’s episode where Charlie did _______. Personally, I don’t want to go to work on Monday if I haven’t caught up on Mad Men, because I know someone will spoil what happened to Joan.

I think I know which camp I want to be in when the time comes…

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