When Business Depends on the Kindness of Strangers
“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
—Blanche DuBois, Tennessee Williams’s, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“Dreamgirls” is boffo.
My wife, Peggy, and I saw it in a neighborhood movie house where the audience is often restless, rattles popcorn bags and talks back to the screen. For the entire duration of this film the theater was dead silent.
At the end of the Jennifer Hudson love song that devolved into a heart-wrenching soliloquy, we all applauded. The drama within this magical musical is all the more poignant when you discover that Jennifer Hudson was bounced from “American Idol.”
Eddie Murphy reached deep into his soul to make his character—a singer whose career was inspired by James Brown—come truly alive. Beyoncé Knowles is not only a raging talent but also eye candy.
When the film was over it received a standing ovation.
So far, “Dreamgirls” has won three Golden Globes (Best Supporting Actor and Actress—Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson); Best Motion Picture—Comedy or Musical; and Bill Condon won the Director’s Guild of America Award for best direction.
The film is up for eight Academy Awards nominations.
Producer Lawrence Mark and Paramount Pictures are devastated that the Academy did not nominate the film for Best Picture.
Should they have counted on a Best Picture nomination?
You cannot bet your business on the kindness of strangers.
The Academy Awards Voting Process
Because of the Academy’s successful efforts to eliminate splashy gimmicks and gifts, the race consists principally of attempts by studios, independent distributors and publicists to make sure that each of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 6,000+ voting members sees their film. It means special screenings for Academy members, free admission to commercial runs of a film and the mailing of DVDs.
—Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Web Site
The Academy sends out dozens of DVDs in up to 75 categories and trusts that the members will watch all of them.
Members with chums that have been nominated will vote for their friends no matter what. Enemies will vote against enemies. Those with personal agendas will vote their consciences—not the artistic achievement.
In the immortal words of George C. Scott (who refused to accept the award for “Patton”): “The ceremonies are a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons.”
In the Jan. 29, 2007 edition of The New York Times, Laura M. Holson wrote:
Whatever its cause, the snub left Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks SKG, Viacom units that financed the film, scrambling to capitalize on prospects that were suddenly less dazzling. As well as prestige, a best picture nomination is a valuable asset and can give a film like this one—a musical seeking mainstream credibility—an added boost in theaters and on DVDs.
Should “Dreamgirls” have been nominated by the Academy for Best Picture?
I don’t know.
Having spent over 40 years in direct marketing, I think awards based on personal likes and dislikes are irrelevant.
That goes for books, movies and advertising campaigns. Also for sports such as figure skating, gymnastics, diving, synchronized swimming and dog shows.
For example, the highest ratings for a Winter Olympics event is women’s figure skating. In the winter of 1998, Peggy and I went to the CoreStates Center and watched Michelle Kwan win the United States figure skating championship in Philadelphia with eight perfect 6.0s. The crowd left walking on air.
Four years later, the 2002 Olympics brought us “Skate Gate.” The French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne allowed herself to be pressured into voting for a Russian pairs team when the Canadians were clear winners. As a result, a second gold medal was awarded to the Canadian pair, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. I do not trust the sport—and having seen in person the best in the world—I do not have to see any more.
In sports I am only comfortable with hard results: speed, distance, time, points (runs, touchdowns, goals) and money.
That’s revenue—cash money—not profits. Ask any screenwriter of a film that earned huge revenues—at United States and foreign box offices and DVD sales—if he was happy that his contract called for a percentage of the producer’s profit.
In the motion picture business, all revenues are spent—on stars’ salaries, production, marketing, private jets and cases of Dom Perignon. The term “producer’s profit” is an oxymoron, no matter how much money the film brings in.
Don’t Bet Your Marketing Efforts on the “Kindness of Strangers”—or Friends
The handwritten memoir of my great-grandfather, Alfrederic Smith Hatch, bounced around the Hatch family for 100 years before Peggy transcribed it using an old IBM Selectric typewriter. I was about to self-publish “Jack Corbett: Mariner”—the stunning saga of 20-year-old Alfrederic’s adventures before the mast on a Liverpool packet in 1849—when Jim Mairs, a senior editor at W.W. Norton agreed to bring it out. Mairs was launching his own imprint, The Quantuck Lane Press (he owned a house on Quantuck Lane in Quague on Eastern Long Island). Being a sailor, (he was the owner of General George S. Patton’s yacht, “When and If”) this book was to be on his inaugural list.
Mairs did a beautiful job of creating an elegant, little book and I did the promotion. I wrote and printed out more than 150 letters on Quantuck Lane Press letterhead for Mairs’s signature, wrote and printed a press release and created a review slip with all the essential information. I hand inserted these in Jiffy bags along with 150 sets of bound galleys and a photograph of the cover. I printed out labels for reviewers, carted them to the post office and paid for postage out of my own pocket.
Everything was done correctly; the Norton list of reviewers was current.
Even though Mairs was well connected in the industry, not a single mainstream reviewer touched it—not Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, The New York Times—nobody. When Mairs or I called for an update, the response was the same—“There are too many damn books. Sorry.”
A few nautical journals here and in the United Kingdom gave us glowing reviews, but overall, this wonderful little book was a big, fat bomb.
Quite simply, books that are not reviewed do not sell. And with 200,000 new titles a year being published (roughly 550 a day), reviewers—strangers or friends—won’t even see it in pile of incoming Jiffy bags, let alone review it.
If you are a publisher and want to sell books, flea markets are probably your best bet.
Steer Very Clear of Guerilla Marketing Unless You Have Cash to Burn
My electronic files are bulging with stories about how to get free—or low cost—exposure that promises a pot of gold at the end of the campaign—all because people will get excited and tell other people. Among them:
* Ambush Marketing. An example was Mars Candy Corporation’s ploy to advertise during the Olympics, where only sponsors of the games are permitted exposure. “On one occasion, Mars dressed staff up in their M&M character suits,” wrote Michael Payne, former Director of Marketing and Broadcast Rights for the IOC. “It then lined them up along the Olympic marathon route, with instructions to jump out onto the course as the runners went by, and wave madly at the TV cameras.”
* Buzz or Word-of-Mouth Marketing
* Product Placements
* Viral Marketing
* Charmin’s Potty Palace—As a holiday promotion, 20 public stalls were set up in Times Square, themed with Charmin toilet tissue. Over 5,000 people showed up within the first 24 hours.
* Outdoor Asininity. Last evening’s TV news and this morning’s papers described how some goofballs in Boston taped electric circuit boards in nine Boston locales to tout an upcoming Turner Broadcasting cartoon, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” Fearing terrorism, the Boston bomb squad detonated the “suspicious devices.” Boston was tied up for hours. One arrest was made. Devices were set in New York, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia. From the Web site:
Sure, this kind of thing can work (especially if the perpetrators get thrown in the clink with all the attendant publicity)—but only as an add-on to a serious, traditional marketing and advertising campaign that begins with testing and ends with a rollout. The reason: No way exists to measure the results.
Think Twice About Marketing Advice From General Ad Agency People
Even though I am a direct marketer and the principles of return on investment (ROI) are hard wired in my brain, I receive the daily e-mail newsletter from AdAge.com, primarily for the guaranteed daily pleasure of having something to be angry about.
Such was the case with this past Tuesday’s column by Teressa Iezzi titled “A More-Targeted World Isn’t Necessarily a More Civilized One: Our Alarming Momentum Toward a Narrowing of the Collective Mind.” Get this for sheer idiocy:
I heard a media expert say this on a panel a while back: “If I’m a dog-food maker I am now able to send my commercial messages only to dog owners.”
I guess that spells good news for the makers of dog food and addressable media technology. But the statement also sends a little shiver up my spine as it hints at an increasingly alarming media and cultural trend—the narrowing of the collective mind.
Quite simply, if you advertise dog food to non-dog owners, you will lose money. That is putting the marketer’s goofy ego ahead of the well-being of stockholders, employees and dog owners that should know about the brand.
On a national campaign, the number of non-dog owners that will tell dog owners about the wonderful ad they saw for dog food probably can be counted on the fingers of two hands.
Iezzi ends the piece thusly:
The famous Heinlein quote that tells us “specialization is for insects” also tells us that “a human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”
To that list perhaps we should add: “Watch a dog-food commercial even if she doesn’t currently have a dog.”
On second thought, a market does exist to sell dog food to non-dog owners. It’s called the destitute and the homeless.
- United States