Archive for December 29th, 2005

Promises, Promises…

Here are some comments from critics that I found on rottentomatoes.com today:

On Memoirs of A Geisha: “I was blown away by the trailer, but the movie doesn’t live up to that dramatic promise.”– Cherryl Dawson and Leigh Ann Palone, THEMOVIECHICKS.COM

On Syriana: “I’m still waiting to see the film that was advertised in its great trailer.”– Steve Rhodes, INTERNET REVIEWS

If a brand or product is directly tied to customer expectations, be very, very, very careful what you promise your customers.

Case in point: Movie trailers.

Before I get to the point, you need to know that I love movie trailers just about as much as I love other types of ads. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I will gladly sit through twenty minutes of trailers before the main feature. As a matter of fact, I make a point of getting to movies early so that I won’t miss the trailers.

Yeah, okay, I’m a geek. Sue me.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that trailers are really getting lousy these days. What’s going on? Who’s actually putting these things together? Sales interns? (Ooops. No offense.)

So Hollywood, if you’re listening, here are a few tips:

1) A trailer is a teaser. A taste. You’re trying to seduce us, not give us a synopsis… So don’t show us THE ENTIRE movie! See, when you show every single plot twist and special effect, you’re basically making us NOT want to go spend my money on something that our brains have already processed.

2) A trailer shouldn’t seem like it was put together in ten minutes by rushed middle-schoolers.

3) Make sure the end cut doesn’t look and sound like it got caught in aunt Gertrude’s toaster.

4) Every movie isn’t “one of the best movies of the year.” Every movie isn’t good enough to have “Oscar written all over it.” Give the fake critics a rest already. It’s sad.

Okay, I’m done. (And yeah, I feel much better.)

By the way, the best trailer I saw all year was for The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Flawless. The three different versions that I saw were obviously put together by someone who cared about the movie and knew how to build excitement without a) lying, and b) giving everything away.

This used to be the norm. Now, it’s the exception. Sad.

What’s perhaps worse than a poorly produced trailer are misleading trailers. Don’t promise “the funniest comedy of the year” if it isn’t. Every comedy trailer I saw in 2005 had some such of endorsement from a movie critic whose name I couldn’t read. (Microscopic print flashing on and off the screen inside of ten frames is insulting.)

Not every love story is “the most romantic movie of the year.”

Not every horror flick is “the scariest American movie of the decade.”


Likewise, don’t make a psychological thriller look like an action flick. Don’t use clips of deleted scenes in a theatrical trailer and make us think we’re going to get to see something that we really aren’t. Don’t make us think we’re going to get one thing, and then deliver another.

Breeding cynicism in your customers is not a recipe for growth.

Every year, the US spends less and less on theater tickets. Hmmm… I wonder why.

Promise : Delivery
Excitement : Disappointment.

Not good.

My wife and I went to see Syriana this week. Smart script. Great acting. Cool cinematography. Shame on me for not having done my homework, but up until the end credits started scrolling, I was absolutely convinced that I had watched a Steven Soderbergh film. (What, with the George Clooney and Matt Damon connection, the Traffic-like plot and style, and the fact that some of the trailers I saw mentioned Soderbergh’s name, my scattered brain made an assumption.) As it turns out, Soderbergh is only an executive producer on this film. (Along with Jeff Skoll, Ben Cosgrove, George Clooney, and Georgia Kacandes.) The writer and director is actually Stephen Gaghan (who was Soderbergh’s screenwriter for Traffic).

The point is that I went to see Syriana because I thought it was directed by Steven Soderbergh… And although it looked, sounded, felt and flowed like a Soderbergh movie, it wasn’t. (In hindsight, the flat narrative should have been my first clue.)

I got suckered. Shame on me, sure, but I got suckered nonetheless.

Walking out of a movie (no matter how good) and then realizing that you’ve been duped isn’t cool.

Aside from the Soderbergh thing, check out the trailer on the official site by clicking here (or on the image above). What does the trailer promise? A pulse-pounding thriller. Action. Suspense. Thrills. It’s a great trailer.

… Only… the movie isn’t exciting. Your pulse will never clock 90. There’s no suspense. It’s a great flick, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t the movie that the trailer is trying to sell you. If you go see this movie expecting it to be like the trailer, you will be sorely disappointed.


Along the same lines, how many people will go see “Quentin Tarantino presents Hostel” because they think it’s a Tarantino film? (Being executive producer doesn’t mean squat.) The director (Eli Roth) only has one other movie to his name, and it’s Cabin Fever. (Arguably the worst movie ever made. If you don’t believe me, convince someone you don’t like to rent it for you, and watch it. You’ll never get those 94 minutes back, but at least, you’ll have the satisfaction of not having wasted four bucks.)

In other words, in spite of what the campaign pushing this movie would have you believe, don’t expect “Pulp Fiction” meets “Saw II”.

You can’t sell one thing and deliver another. Contextual bait & switch is just lame.

A word of warning to everyone in the marketing world: Whether you’re advertising movies, music, cars, burgers, sportswear or prescription medication, be careful not to extend your creative license further than your customers’ expectations will stretch.

Even if you aren’t technically guilty of false advertising, even if your product ends up being great, engaging in these kinds of tactics is still slimy. The end doesn’t justify the means.

There’s a right way to do this. Tricking customers isn’t it.

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Making resolutions for a whole year seems so daunting… Which is probably why so few of us ever actually see them through.

Let’s see… Lose weight. Stop smoking. Eat better. Learn a foreign language. Take the dog to the park every day.

Yeah, right.

If there’s one thing we can probably all agree on about Western culture today, it’s this: More often than not, we tend to bite off a lot more than we can chew. (Often, literally.) We supersize everything: Houses. Cars. Shopping malls. Credit. Meals… and yes, even New Year’s Resolutions.

Maybe the lesson here is that the bigger the resolution, the less likely it is that we will actually make it happen. Likewise, the smaller the resolution, the more likely it is that we will accomplish our goal. (Losing 5 lbs by mid-February is a lot more likely a goal than say… losing 20lbs by July.)

Baby steps, grasshopper. Baby steps.

The process has to be incremental.

You have to start small.

Before you start thinking about your big goals for next year, before you start making your big resolutions, think about what you actually want to accomplish. Think about what you can realistically change once a day or once a week that will grow into something substantial by the end of the year. Don’t just go for pipe dreams. Don’t settle for what you think sounds good or grand or courageous.

Don’t fall into that trap again.

Resolutions aren’t about the finish line. They’re about taking responsibility for the changes that will get us there. They also have to find their relevance in our everyday lives.

If you’re at a loss for small resolutions when it comes to your profesional world in 2006, here are a few simple ones you will find as rewarding as they are attainable. They can even be passed on to your employees and colleagues. You don’t have to follow them, but they aren’t a bad place to start. If only one will inspire you to make lasting changes this year, then this post wasn’t in vain.

Here we go:

1. On the Frontlines: Every day, do something special for two customers. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. That’s it. Just two. It doesn’t matter what it is. Give one a 10% discount on her purchase. Give another a gift card or coupon for their next purchase. Send their sick mother a bouquet of flowers. Upgrade their room reservations. Give them free concert tickets. Whatever. The idea isn’t to win everyone over in the first month. You don’t want to burn yourself out. You also don’t want to eat into your company’s margins. You just want to make two friends each day. Surprise them. Wow them. Just because you can. Plant little seeds of love.

Not one or three or ten. Two. That’s it. Everyone else gets your best, but just not the extra V.I.P. treatment. (Pretty soon, you’ll wish you could treat ten people to it, and twenty, and fifty… and the way you look at your customers will change. The way you interract with them will change too. For the better. But one thing at a time.)

Baby steps.

2. In the Ivory Tower: Once a week, pick one customer complaint and personally respond to it. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Do it yourself. This shouldn’t be a drag. It shouldn’t be a hassle. If you don’t care enough about your customers to do this one thing, something isn’t right. Look into the complaint. Find out what caused the failure in the first place. Find out what it would take to fix the problem. Make it happen.

One per week. That’s it.

Yep, baby steps.

3. In the Creative Suite: Keep your outlook fresh. Once a month, go watch kids play. (No, not in a creepy way.) Go spend twenty minutes at a McDonald’s or a park playground or at an interactive toy store. Watch how kids interract with objects. Watch their hands, especially. Then go home, grab a #2 pencil and sketch a shape that kids would love to hold and fiddle with. Design a new toy with no moving parts. Mold it out of clay. Take pictures of it. Recreate it in photoshop or paintshop or whatever graphics program you feel comfortable with. Play with colors and textures. Imagine tastes and smells. Design packaging for it. Create ads and brochures for, just for fun.

Yeah, just for fun.

If you can’t find any kids, design a dog toy.

Design a food bowl for cats.

Design a perch for cockatiels.

A doorknob.

A new shifter for your car.

A belt buckle.

A toothbrush.

Even if you’re a copywriter, even if you have zero skill as a graphic artist, do this. Once a month, complete a project that is yours and yours alone. Explore your own creativity. Keep the process fresh. Hone your creative skills.

4. Managers: Once a week, ask “what if?”

What if we didn’t make customers jump through hoops to return defective merchandise?

What if we designed cooler retail spaces?

What if we trained our employees better?

What if we did something that none of our competitors ever did before?

What if we rewrote the rules?

Each week, ask a question, and find the answer. If the questions are too big, then make it once a month.

Learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. Learn your company’s strengths and limitations. Learn what stands in the way of your organization’s growth. Perhaps more importantly, learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. Learn about your own limitations and how to overcome them. Finally, learn about turning management skills into true leadership.

5. Everyone: Don’t settle for average work. Ever. Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t settle for safe or comfortable. Always stretch the current limits of your talents. Always be on the lookout for new approaches. New methods. New ideas. You’ll be surprised at how much new ground you’ll break if every day, you push your own limits just a little bit. One word at a time. One concept at a time. One sketch at a time. One spreadsheet at a time. One question at a time.

Giving your customers or clients something to talk about – extraordinary service, memorable experiences, top notch products, etc. – is a decision you have to make every single day. Every single minute.

It isn’t about grand declarations of intent. It’s about the small decisions you choose to make throughout the day.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Lastly, here’s a simple new year’s resolution for you: Just be better.

You don’t have to suddenly become a superhuman version of yourself. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize. You don’t have to cure world hunger. You don’t have to write the Great American Novel. You don’t have to lose 200 lbs. You don’t have to be the supadoopah. Just be better.

A little better.

Not six months from now. Not three weeks from now. Just a few times today… and tomorrow… and the day after. That’s it. That’s all it takes.

Baby steps, kids.

Itty bitty ones.

If those don’t work for you, that’s okay. Check out Tom Asacker’s resolutions here. They’re excellent.

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