Tag Archives: movies

Follow Our Rules or Get The Hell Out

For companies, it is as crucial to define target audience, but almost more important is to define who is NOT your target audience.

When we adopted our strict no talking policy back in 1997 we knew we were going to alienate some of our patrons. That was the plan.

If you can’t change your behavior and be quiet (or unilluminated) during a movie, then we don’t want you at our venue. Follow our rules, or get the hell out and don’t come back until you can. 

– Tim League founder/CEO Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Week ago I was watching a film in movie theatre and someone´s alarm clock started ringing during the show. Everyone noticed that expect the guy whose alarm bell was ringing. My movie experiences have many times been ruined by talking or mobile phone4s. And I am not talking about loud action movies or mild noises; once watching European art film where there is practically no dialogue or loud sounds, one couple was having loud conversation about what to have for dinner. So my stance is clear: if you cannot be without your phone for a length of a movie, stick to Netflix.

Alamo Drafthouse is perfect example of movie theatre that truly walks their talk. Because the problem is not that patrons are encouraged to use their mobile phones. Practically every cinema has no- mobile phone policy. But pretty much no one is truly enforcing it. You as a patron are forced to be the “bad guy“, which not only ruins your night, but also probably the one who is texting (like I would care). Alamo Drafthouse is giving warnings of texting and after the first warning you are kicked out if you continue your bad ways. And they are not afraid to kick texters out of the movie theatre (troublemakers are “snitched” anonymously in the food order sheets).

Rules are meaningless if you don´t follow them.

Other movie theatres let short-sighted greed (or ambivalence) to let few bad apples to ruin the experience for majority. What Alama Drafthouse has realized that bully or a trouble maker as a client is never a good client. You should get rid of them, because having a bad client ends up costing you money in the long run. If you have rules and defined target audience, you should be true to it.


Interestingly Alamo has also separate program “Alamo for All”, where noise and technology rules do not apply and you are allowed to move freely in movie theatre. This is to create inclusive accessible movie theatre experience for children, guests with special needs and those who cannot behave in normal movie theatre. Again rules are stated clearly and they are followed. In these screenings you are not allowed to whine about texting.

Few lessons from Alamo Drafthouse:

  1. Be true to your target audience. You do not need to serve everyone. 
  2. If you have rules you must enforce them. Rules without enforcement is not called rule. It is called a joke. 
  3. Have some integrity in what you do. 

Because at the end of the day, the only thing defining you are your principles (which you define yourself so they can be super easy as well). If you cannot abide them, everyone will eventually lose respect for you.

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What Deadpool Teaches You About Branding?


I finally saw Deadpool last week and it is definitely a contender for the best movie of this year. Where I actively avoid mainstream movie theatres (especially in Singapore, where the selection is even narrower. Luckily we have Projector), it was like a breath of fresh air to watch something totally politically incorrect on big screen. And I am not the only one enjoying it, Deadpool is becoming the third biggest superhero movie of all-time.

1.Don´t listen to focus groups
There is a lie, damn lie and then your target audience analyzing your ads in focus groups. Deadpool is the kind of movie that would not ever get a green light in focus group. There is senseless violence, infantile humor and jabs and insults to everything that is sacred. The hero is flawed and does not even want to be hero. Not surprisingly, despite the strong hype movie was not exactly going anywhere:

We developed the script six years ago, wrote this fantastic script, it leaked online, Deadpool fans went nuts for it, so the studio granted us a small amount of money to make test footage. This test footage that we shot then sat on the shelf for four years, as it does, they didn’t do anything with it, then just a little under two years ago it leaked, accidentally, onto the internet.
Ryan Reynolds (in Jimmy Fallon)

Deadpool would not have happened if there had not been groundswell to get the film released. Ryan Reynolds continues:

“Here’s the thing, the fans freaked out and overwhelmed Fox, and Fox basically had to greenlight the movie. The problem is the footage was owned by Fox so it was kind of illegal … I know that one of us did it.”

If you truly believe in your product, sometimes you have to bend the rules (or even ignore them) a little bit.

2.Embrace the constraints
Fox tried to do pretty much everything to not get the movie released, e.g. cutting the budget on the last minute:

“We had to carve something like $7-8 million out of the budget in a 48-hour window. And we, as a group, just put our heads together, got creative, and said ‘How do we cut what is essentially nine pages out of a 110 page script?’”
Rhett Reese (writer)

But when there is a will, there is a way. Deadpool is not about the special effects. It is about the attitude. If you have the attitude, that can shine through but if you are only about who is having the biggest explosions, that kind of cut would be fatal.

3.Ride the trend…but in opposite direction
People start to get bored of superhero movies. They still are going to see them, because essentially you don´t have a choice, as they are everywhere. Everyone knows the formula and every superhero comes from the same mold. When someone breaks the pattern, it will definitely get noticed. That is why it is important to know your competition, so you can do exactly the opposite than them.

4.Be top-of-mind
The marketing campaign for Deadpool is a perfect example of a great integrated campaign. Top-of-mind is ensured with heavy use of traditional channels.


In digital you are really starting to have fun. Like with Deadpool emojis or a Tinder profile:


5.Keep it real
Traditionally having a R-rated film is a deathblow to a film. Deadpool has gone against all the conventional Hollywood wisdom, mainly because the makers had a strong belief to the film.

So that´s all. If you have not seen Deadpool, go see it now.

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No Mas: Selling Hope Against The Hatred

Mad Men aside, there are not really that many (good) movies about advertising. Therefore it was great to finally see No as a part of Pablo Larráin “trilogy”* in O.P.E.N. festival here in Singapore:

Although it would be disrespectful for the movie to label it only as an “ad movie”, it has one of the most realistic portraits of the creative process (not necessarily of the 1988 election). The film tells the story about Chile´s 1988 election, when Pinochet was eventually brought down. Both of the parties were promised to have 15 minutes of advertising time in national television. The incumbent had the more positive “si”-vote and the challenger the “no”. The whole film starts about making that a product that sells:

“By its very nature, ‘no’ was a negative concept; it was very difficult to sell. “‘No’ was not a person, not a candidate. It had no personality, no ethics, no aesthetics.”
Eugenio García (the ad man behind Chile´s No campaign in 1988)

Some of the scenes felt almost like a candid camera would have been roaming in the ad agency. The movie has four important lessons for everyone working in advertising.

1.Creativity is not a democracy
There were 16 political parties in the coalition against Pinochet and of course everyone had an opinion. There are times for committees, but not when you are trying to do the great work. Eventually someone has to make the decisions and endless feedback loop from random people does not help it. Also it is easier to have opinion about advertising than for example accounting. It is impossible to take everyone´s opinion into account if you want to be single-minded and make your mark.

2.Solve the real problem for the real audience
The goal of the 15 minutes of advertising was to win the ballot with a single-minded message, not tell everything you know. The debates in the film are centered on the messaging of the campaign. The fictional ad man René Saavedra (played by Gael García Bernal, and based on Eugenio García) tries to show more of the joy, where as the committee members wanted to show the suffering that Pinochet´s coup-seized leadership has caused. Advertising is not necessarily about doing what is right, but doing what has the most impact:

“After years of polarisation, we all needed to live together in peace. We bet on the good nature of the ordinary Chilean; that they didn’t like violence, they didn’t like fear.”
Eugenio García

Many people don´t understand simplifying the message. They want to cramp too much in every ad. The real showcase of your knowledge is to just tell that part what is interesting and leave rest out. Every extra word is an extra barrier for your message to go through.

3. When market leader starts acknowledging challenger, they are in the trouble
If you acknowledge your competition as a market leader, you are weak. People can also smell fear whether it is on sports field or marketing battlefield. If you are market leader, you have to be immune to criticism and just brush everything off. To make matters worse the “Yes”-party attacked campaign, which was based on hope, joy and happiness. Big mistake. By acknowledging your challenger, they appear more prominent than they really are.

4. Execution matters
The movie is filmed with ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape, which was widely used by television news in Chile in the 80s. It makes really unique feel to the film and also looks totally different than Larráin´s other movies. That also enables seamless mix of the archived footage.

Whether you are adman or not, this film is highly recommended to everyone.

*Actually Tony Manero got censored, so they only showed two Larráin films in festival.

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How Hollywood Studios Predict Themselves to Fail

Due to the combined effect of the cheap movie prices and quite limited indie movie selection in Singapore, I have watched way more Hollywood movies during last year than I should. Based on that empirical research, I have to say that the overall quality of Hollywood films is currently really horrible.

The main reason for that is that studios have never played so safe as now. They have not necessarily been pushing the envelope before, but the shift even from “Spec-script”-era to current “Script Doctors” has been radical and unfortunately radically to worse. Still we see almost the same rate of failures as ever before, even though we are bombarded with lame-ass attempts of creating franchises. At the same time, HBO has proved that you can have compelling and challenging quality content and great revenues at the same time.

Why movie studios are missing the beat?

1. Past success does not necessarily predict future success
We tend to believe that our success is about our own achievement and failures are just a bad luck. In reality, it is mostly about luck. Many people claim to find formula for success, but actually they just extracted the similarities in successful projects and draw correlation from individual instances. That is easy. What is difficult is to find the actual combination and correlation of those extracted elements. This is especially true for surprise successes. The sequel for Blair Witch Project scored way worse in the box office than the original (although still profitable). Things tend to regress towards mean, so after abnormal success you are more likely to have normal success. In relation to abnormal success, anything closer to the average is regarded as failure.

2. Finding correlations where there is none
We correlate high education level with high productivity. According to many experts (such as Alison Wolf), this correlation is not true. It goes other way around: countries with high productivity tend to gain high education levels during time. According to the “script doctor” in the article you should not have bowling scenes in your script as on average they do not score that well. I have only one thing to say for the script doctor: Big Lebowski.

3. Everything unfamiliar scores bad in the tests
Would you have predicted the success of Indonesian Raid:The Redemption or Beasts of The Southern Wild? Fight Club scored really badly in opinion surveys but was highly successful in the box office. People tend to resist everything unfamiliar until they start to like it (case in point: Outkast-Hey Ya). I am not huge fan of tests, surveys and research, because at best they are just a poor reflection of reality. You can predict and test your movie as much as you want, but at the end-of-the-day the box-office is all that matters. Tests do not reduce risk, they just reduce your awareness of risk.

4. When playing safe, you will have only negative surprises.
Every major movie could not be prepared better: they are script-tested, based on existing franchise, have massive social media campaigns and start on more theatres simultaneously than ever before. Still many of the estimated blockbusters fail. They are predicted to be too big to fail, so they can only provide negative surprises.
The abovementioned small budget movies (Raid & The Beasts) have better ROI% than the biggest movie last year (The Avengers). And in the terms of pure cash, they got almost the same profit as the epic John Carter. That movie was considered as the biggest flop last year, although it was eventually profitable (globalization plays in favor of big movies, at least for the moment).
The main catch is that with the budget of John Carter, you could have produced over 200 Beasts of Southern Wild -movies. There are opportunities for 200 positive surprises.

The last point is really important in modern day marketing. We spend too much time predicting on the outcomes instead of actually doing things. As the potential outcomes are unknown in reality, the goal to succeed is the following:

1) Increase the amount of tries: There are no clutch players, just those who keep on shooting.
2) Limit the potential loss: Think like venture capitalist: the probability of success is relatively low, so you do not want to put your eggs in one basket.
3) Make it flexible: When you struck the goldmine, invest more. When it fails, kill it quick.

This is the “Anti John Carter” –approach. You will try more, fail more but win more on the long run.

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Psycho Marketing 101

I recently watched Hitchcock, great film about making of Psycho. The movie is notable not just because of great roles by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. The movie also reminded how great marketer Hitchcock was. Besides his directorial duties, Hitchcock handled also the promotional duties for the film.

Psycho was controversial movie, breaking boundaries in depiction of sex and violence. Because of the risky content, the film was majorly funded by Hitchcock himself. Psycho was filmed and promoted with equally low budget. Without big advertising support from Paramount, Hitch had to rely on word-of-mouth to make Psycho a hit. That required equally cunning and cost-effective marketing methods:

Five Marketing Tips from Master of Suspense:

1. Spot the emerging trends
Hitchcock bought the rights for the novel Psycho (by Robert Bloch) with only 9000 dollars. After that he bought every copy of the book he could find so people would not read it and find out the surprising end.

2. Utilize the “own media”
Because bought media was scarce for the film, Hitch concentrated the marketing efforts to movie theatres. This was also easily done, because Psycho did not open in that many theaters in the beginning.
Psycho had own queues in front of the theaters and in many places theaters had also police staff to underline the shocking nature of the film. All the theater owners got manual on how to screen Psycho.

3. Do not just sell the product, sell the whole experience

Psycho Marketing 101

“Psycho Policy”

Marketing of Psycho went against the grain of typical movie marketing. The main emphasis was not in the plot or leading actors, but in the “Psycho policy”. This policy dictated the way Psycho should be watched to get the full experience.
The center of the policy, that theatres did not allow anyone to the screening late (as can be seen in below trailer as well). This had interesting consequences. The audience was already seated, anticipating and in the right mood when the movie started. Also it resulted in visible queues outside the theatres.

4. Tease and hype but do not reveal too much

The main part of Psycho is the whole vibe. Therefore the trailer was completely different, even funny at points. Only the last seconds give glimpse about what kind of terror to expect.

5. Change the rules
The main actors of Psycho did not give interviews about the movie. Psycho was not shown to film critics beforehand. Although this had an effect (and not entirely positive) to the first ratings of the movie, it also ensured that also the critics could get the full Psycho experience. Also the plot would remain secret for longer period.

With his clever marketing schemes Hitchcock ensured the buzz around the film. Psycho was the most successful movie from Hitchcock in box office and remains an influential movie masterpiece still to this day.

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What Vampire-Hunting Abraham Lincoln Can Teach Us about Modern Marketing?

History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to wild deeds.
– Abraham Lincoln (on the film Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter)

I saw Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter yesterday (Yes, I watch lot of movies).
And actually I quite liked it (And yes, I have a soft-spot for trashy b-movies).

Instead of the film, I was actually more impressed about the whole phenomenon. Originally a best-selling novel released in 2010, there is lots to learn about this unlikely pairing of bloodsuckers and American President with an axe:

1. We live in age of mash-ups
Whether it is combining Pinterest with Facebook timeline. Or putting up vocals of Will Smith over old philly disco track. The major skill is nowadays to combine existing elements and come up with something exciting from them. Advertising has traditionally been good at combining popular culture phenomenon with business objectives. In the digital age, those connections just have to be faster and more innovative.

2. Great stories are always in high demand
Everyone is familiar with the basic myth of blood-sucking, silver-fearing, shadowless and pale vampires. And hopefully nearly everyone knows also the basic history of Abraham Lincoln. By utilizing these two familiar stories, you ensure that people have enough common touchpoints in the story to identify with. Creating a totally new character or a brand requires much effort: especially time and money. That is the reason why Hollywood is so keen to revisit the same superhero stories all over again. Or why the companies revisit old brands or ads. Old connection is easier to bring back than to create totally new connection.

3. You have to recognize the potential and take risks
Apparently the writer Seth Grahame-Smith saw that there were two kinds of books in bestselling lists during the time he started writing the book: Abraham Lincoln autobiographies and vampire novels (mainly the Twilight-series). This is just really simple yet totally brilliant business thinking. Have two proven target groups, combine them and see how it will turn out. And actually Grahame-Smith had already done even more unconventional pairing before Abraham Lincoln-book. On his book “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” he marred Jane Austen with zombies. Needless to say, that book was bestseller as well.

The movie itself has done modestly: gathering about half of the estimated production budget in US box office.If the film will not be success when international screenings are counted in as well, there is still one thing left learn from this:

“Past success does not predit your future success at all”

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