Marketing “Different”: Lessons learned watching TV

Don’t know when it happened but TV* has gotten better than movies. To me.. your mileage may vary.

*Reality crap does not count; it’s not on MY television or DVR these days, that’s for damn sure. Dan Perez may be able to find marketing wisdom watching American Idol, I just can’t.

Stakes are lower, Quality higher

The money it takes to make a financially successful movie is very high. For every ‘low budget’ Bridesmaids (hilarious BTW), there are probably a dozen than lose millions. Cable networks or smaller players like the CW can give shows a better shot at being different, at being their own kind of unique.

Critical darlings like Chuck and The Good Wife – which I’ve never seen – get their shot in TV. FOX stuck by Fringe and bought a 4th season, which still doesn’t make up for canceling too many of my other shows but it’s appreciated nonetheless. Still think it deserves better than Friday night. *cough*

Dramas like Friday Night Lights and Damages, which lets Glenn Close garble all the scenery she wants, live on via DirecTV. A&E, AMC and HBO all produce edgy, different fare that aren’t meant or marketed for everyone.

The other day Gini Dietrich and her merry band of smart readers talked about marketing: uniqueness, sameness and the music industry. The idea that being yourself, being unique sells. Does it?

Lady Gaga has spent a fortune building a reputation, designing a brand around bizarre costumes and tremendous web exposure all adding up to tons of Twitter followers, millions of YouTube views and a bankrupt concert tour.

All for One, and One for… not all.

As a Joss Whedon fan I was bummed when the well-reviewed Serenity didn’t do better at the box office. As a marketer I was disappointed at how the movie was promoted: they went after comic book readers and sci-fi fans, i.e. the people who either would or would not go see it anyway.

They were going for viral and word of mouth, but IMO missed the boat: the movie would and could be appreciated by any audience, by a lot of audiences. They pitched themselves into a niche, a genre and couldn’t break out of it.

I remember reading (but can’t find a link) that Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the top shows in Australia – across all demographics. What TPTB (the powers that be) did was market it as a good show; not just a teen drama, not just a vampire fantasy – a good show. They let its “unique” stand on its own, and let it hit any and all demos it could.

Creating your own market

More online-only TV is being produced, would that I had the time. During the writer’s strike a few years ago, Whedon wanted to do something different. His master plan: “change to show business” and show how there was another way to make a market, create quality entertainment and content. And he gave it away for free.

“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was the result, a webisode musical that earned laughs, praise as one of the best inventions of 2008, a special Emmy. And my continued devotion.

Uniqueness + Individuality {Z factor} / Random acts of tastelessness = Success?

Apple – thinking ‘differently’ for years – may be gaining, but still has a small share of the PC-market. Mobile and post or sans-PC, yeah.. whole other story as they march towards global domination and more millions.

I keep kicking this around, whether or not something needs ‘critical mass’ to be a success, what happens when branded uniqueness collides with individual tastes and preferences. Thoughts on the right formula, how to make being yourself and being different marketable, valuable, successful? Please share.

Photo credit: Despair FTW.

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23 thoughts on “Marketing “Different”: Lessons learned watching TV

  1. I admit, I seem to be finding more value in TV than what I used. I enjoy the odd series, such as The Wire and Family Guy, and they have taught me a few things about life.

    But the majority of TV, I find, is catered to the masses. It’s there to entertain, to provide easy viewing, and easy, mindless viewing is not what I’m after. I’m after something that will inspire me, make me think, make me laugh, and help improve my life. Only a small minority of what’s on TV has that effect with me.

    Still, we can always learn something from anything, as you’ve shown here Davina. Maybe I ought to open myself up and gain lessons from more corners? Might be worth a shot 😉
    Stuart recently posted..Have You Found The Two Great Treasures Of Blogging?

    1. And see Stu.. I watch the ‘out there’ stuff which ends up being cancelled (like Firefly, so many others). Easy, mindless viewing – that will vary; for some it’s sitcoms though I hear of good ones, for others it’s fauxreality TV, for some it’s the dime-a-dozen procedurals. I’m for shows that make me laugh and think too; though a little fluff and brain rot has its place.

      We can learn things. Some shows have very smart quippy dialogue and clever twists and turns, that makes me think like a writer; other times it’s how a show or movie is marketed and presented that make me think.. or at least give me fodder for a decent blog post. Glad you came by.

  2. Davina, I think that the first question we need to ask is what is our definition of success. It is kind of funny to hear me say that because I hate metrics. I think that too much time is wasted measuring and not enough doing.

    I think that media spends lots of time playing it safe because you keep your job that way. When I used to sell advertising we’d see pieces of the ad budget we wanted on the NY Times, WSJ, Newseek, Forbes and company because they were safe. They didn’t necessarily help the client build brand awareness or increase marketshare, but no one lost their job over those ad buys.

    On a sort of related note I have been mulling over a post about what I would do with a billion dollars. I might have to stop commenting now to write it- but the point is that mediocrity is rewarded because it is safe.
    Jack @ TheJackB recently posted..Wednesday Wrapup

    1. “Too much time is wasted measuring and not enough doing.” WORD. It’s like a government feasibility study that costs $8M when doing the thing is $10M. Being that my clients have been small businesses, that is my schtick Jack. They cannot afford the fancy metrics half the time.. esp. when the number that counts is the one they see everyday in the bank account. It’s important to watch and monitor and learn, but not at the expense of actual doing.

      Remaining gainfully employed in a crap economy, that’s one yardstick of success. And how often are some of the ‘best’ movies flops while the ‘safe’ and mediocre rake in millions? Read an old joke about American Idol, something like ‘we don’t condone mediocrity, we just promote it’ or whatever. IDK I get safe.. and knowing what that looks like so that you can break those rules and play it unsafe. Celebs do that; I do it I guess when I sometimes rant and curse and swear.

      I play the ‘when I win the lottery’ game all the time, might make an interesting post someday. When the reporter asks the ‘will you still work?’ question I’ll laugh and say “hell no” and point out the stupidity of the inquiry given that I’ve just won a buttload of money. And then still find some way to mix this writing and networking into my lottery spending, globe trotting, general slacking schedule.

  3. Hi, Davina.

    Finally, I get the chance to come to your home. And, what a lovely, thought-provoking home it is! 🙂 I enjoyed your post and the comments that come with it. Made me regret not coming here sooner after having seen you around the blogosphere. But, since I don’t want to harbor any negative bone in my body, I am going to dispel that regret and be happy that I made it here. 🙂

    So, how can we stand out when there is a great number of people trying to do the same? This is kind of tricky for me considering that I am just a baby in the blogosphere. Right now, I am just trying to inject my personality into my blog and hoping that people see me for who I am. Because while it can be really cool for me to find my uniqueness, I am not trying to be unique. I am just being myself. Besides, trying hard to be unique sounds like hard work. Why try to be unique when it will shine out by itself in time, especially if you continue to share your personality with everyone, right? Sooner or later, these people will be the one to say if you are unique or not without your ever having to ask them.

    Enjoyed my visit, Davina. Looking forward to connect with you more! 🙂
    Kim Davies recently posted..What is the Role of Listening in 3D Rendering?

    1. I’m glad you stopped by and you are also on my ‘to visit’ list which is a problem as I’m trying to cut back or find better reading balance. Le sigh.

      I think you’ve already figured it out Kim. Forget trying to be unique, you already are so just be yourself. People will like you or they won’t, will connect or not. I’m finding a lot of folks are starting to feel like ‘old’ friends, a nice familiarity each in our own ways… some wonderful connections based on our own differences and common interests. Not sure what it all means or how it figures into marketing. How does one stand out in a sea of stand-outs? Maybe it’s by sitting down. FWIW.

  4. I know that being extraordinary works for people like Lady Gaga and the like but they are the exception to the rule. I reckon that like Kiss and the like in time they will fade into obscurity. I’m sure that there are many blogs out there who tried that and now no longer exist.

    Personally I’m just going to be myself. Maybe I won’t get a huge following but at least I know that those who follow me do so because they like me for who I am and not for some false persona I’m putting out there.

    1. Appreciate you taking the time to comment, but if you caught the post.. it’s not really working for Lady Gaga, or at least not across the board; concert tour went bankrupt and not everyone is buying albums. People are happy to watch the spectacle for free, but parting with their cash, something else. FWIW.

      1. I suppose it all depends on how you look at it. If what you’re wanting is to get noticed then I reckon you can say it is working as she certainly is in the media a lot. If her concerts aren’t selling then perhaps that says more about what she is putting out rather than her image?
        Sire recently posted..Your Guest Poster Breaks The Rules! Now What?

        1. Exactly. Her influence, popularity and “uniqueness” only go so far. She’s getting noticed all right, but all the brand recognition isn’t enough. Not sure what would be the difference maker.. a better product (in her case, the music and live performance) is certainly part of it. Think it’s also the audience, having more options to spend money elsewhere, happily watching her YouTube videos on their nice, new iPads? Just a thought.

  5. You know what? Danny Brown has a great parable about this in his eBook. He talks about Twilight and how well it was marketed to teenaged girls (well, and us too, let’s be real). They knew their audience. They didn’t care if it didn’t appeal to the mass audiences. They knew their audience and they went after them. The same could be said about Harry Potter (one more month!).

    Some of the comments on the music blog last week talked about what Lori says above – if you have to try to be unique, you probably aren’t. I love Top 40 music, I love Harry Potter, I love a lot of things that appeal to the masses. But I also have a unique voice that sometimes gets me in trouble (my mom once grounded me for life because of my smart mouth). But love me or hate me, I evoke an emotion out of you.

    THAT is the point.

    P.S. Get yourself the Good Wife on DVD. So. Good.

    1. Many a good show on DVD Gini, but I don’t know from when I’d find the time. Friday Night Lights DVDs are just sitting there, calling my name. 😉

      There’s certainly a tipping point, when something pushes through.. how that right song helps someone become a crossover artist. Still not a Twilight fan, can say that objectively after giving the first 2 books a shot. Couldn’t make myself get into HP. I’m not a snob, good is good whether or not it’s designed to appeal to the masses or not. And FWIW I think there’s some reverse snobbery going on, once something considered ‘unique’ becomes popular then is immediately accused of selling out to appeal to the masses.

      Still got to think about all of this in terms of differentiation, unique selling propositions, all the marketing stuff. And I think what hits us emotionally, what hits us where we live, what really drives and motivates us is a central part of that.

  6. Hi Davina,
    First, I have to agree with your opinion of reality TV. I don’t get it. It’s not reality when they know there is a camera on it that needs ratings to keep on running. ~ shivver ~

    I haven’t given this a lot of thought but if we have to TRY to be unique, then are we really unique at all? The danger when you get into the Blogosphere and read so many blogs is that you start to sound like the blogs you read. I think it may be a rookie mistake. If we don’t catch it, we all end up sounding the same because you think you have to do it a certain way to be successful.

    I’ll have to give it some more thought.

    1. The competitive shows are a little different (as Marianne pointed out) but still not my thing Lori. The pressure cooker moments, watching folks suffer and sweat doesn’t entertain me.. so I stick with my dramas and fluff.

      I need to give it more thought too, as I tend to agree. Which is why I follow follow folks who disagree with me, why I’m for reading all sorts of different things and yes, I’ll even crack open a book or two before the year’s out. 😉

  7. BUMMED should be an understatement. Serenity was unbelievably good in just about every department – the storyline, the acting, the directing, the music. The only thing that could have been slightly better were some of the effects. I’d never seen FIREFLY when I watched Serenity and I had to go back and watch it again the next night to double check what I’d seen.

    The underwhelming response to it killed any chance of a sequel. What a MAJOR PITA. If you read Adventures In the Screentrade though, you’ll understand more of Hollywood. And then, when I went back and got FIREFLY and it got canned mid season – how is shit like that possible?

    Anyone who could answer your question with a high success rate – i.e. how to make being yourself marketable and successful – would end up being a highly paid consultant somewhere. Because – as William Goldman tells us – Nobody Knows Anything.

    Having said that, if I was gonna venture an answer this is what it would be.

    Draw two intersecting circles.

    In one circle list all the ideas/things about you/things you can do that are commercial. In the other circle list all the ideas/things about you/things that you can do that are unique to you. That no-one else has thought of, or can do.

    Then pursue any of the ideas that are in the intersection of the two circles for your best shot.

    That make sense?



    Now, back to proper stuff and Serenity. That scene where the Reavers are closing in, they’ve run out of ammunition, and Summer goes out on her own and locks the door. Man, Joss Wheedoon must have been in heaven writing that scene. That was utterly brilliant.

    And then you had the duel between Mal and The Operative. And Mal didn’t kill him – there were people in the Cinema screaming at Mal to give him what he deserved.

    man, what a film.

    Now I have to go dig it out and watch it again. You see what you did? (in a good way).

    1. Ok Paul, that circle thing is a blog post in and of itself. Damn. I might have to steal that one. 😉 My problem is I have trouble identifying those: what is marketable for me; what are my core strengths that no one else can do; breaking out talents and abilities vs. basic skills. Back in the day, using MS Office was a valuable ‘skill’ but now that along with so many other things are just a given in the workplace.

      But now to the fun stuff: I know of many folks who said that Serenity may have been better not having seen Firefly first. Just curious on your thoughts, as I watched the show first (but will admit that it was via repeats and DVD as FOX pulled the plug on it so quickly, didn’t have a chance to really take a look before they cancelled it. Idjuts.).

      The Operative is one of my favorite Whedon characters, so much more than a plain dealing villain. And Malcolm Reynolds was about as good as it gets for an anti-hero, the Han Solo that would shoot first; loved him. Needless to say I own the DVDs for the show and the movie. (BTW Also enjoy Fillion on Castle.)

      Yes I was being more than bummed; it SUCKED that the movie didn’t do better at the box office. Timing played a factor: it was a late summer (August) release which didn’t help and it was better than most of the other stuff that year; it was post Katrina, and that was dominating the headlines and buzz. From what I remember of the marketing, it was just too ‘specific’ to certain audiences and genre fans, pushing the ‘unique’ too hard. I thought that movie deserved a better shot, an earlier release, a broader promotional push and yes a chance for its Electric Boogaloo sequel. FWIW.

  8. It’s a very interesting conundrum, isn’t it? With a few exceptions, people and organizations are trying so hard to stand out just for the sake of being different that the ironic result is that they all seem the same. In marketing, it’s so much more difficult to create a brand and then try to find customers, than it is to start with the customers first. Knowing what customers need and being able to fill that need consistently, now that’s unique. Even if it’s always the same exact product you’re providing, the experience in the eyes of the customer is what matters.

    PS – Not all reality TV is like American Idol or the Real Housewives. I actually find that some of the creative competition shows (like Top Chef and Project Runway) are pretty insightful about how individuals react to time pressure and how the creative mind works. FWIW, of course! 😉

    1. Wow, want to just applaud that, esp. you’re opening line Marianne. I find it ironic that every iPhone knockoff touts its differences, meanwhile uses almost the same interfaces, fonts, colors for everything. I’m with you on starting with the customer, working the issue backwards. And not just what they need now but they will want and need in the future. Just read an article about sustainability, the changes that technology brings, the problems and new solutions. I think those products and services that are most adaptable to our own unique preferences, that’s what’ll make a difference.

      I used to watch Project Runway, skipping the whining, cry-baby ‘drama’ and watching only the competition but felt it got too rigged, too contrived for my taste. I’ve seen some of the cooking shows, but still.. just not my thing.

  9. Everybody has a uniqueness about them, even if they think they are @ExtremelyAverage. But like John said, everybody also has their individual tastes.

    Short & sweet; I’m headed to our Monday morn sales meeting. I’ll catch up w/ you later.

    1. Brian is so above average Bill, heh. I think we are ourselves but then .. ain’t everyone, and don’t we all conform to certain societal norms and what not? Being yourself doesn’t mean you are unique if who you are is a copycat of everyone else, not sure that always matters. If you’re in the smartphone business, you just copy the iPhone and maybe make a few ‘improvements’ that differentiate, then sell your products to those whose tastes don’t align with Apple. Still can’t make up my mind on this.. just thinking and typing out loud.

  10. Very interesting post Davina where does being unique stop and mass marketing start?

    The way I look at it is do we have any other choice than be unique and ourselves? Especially in the service industry, people buy who we are and what we can do for them. This is very closely tied to us as a person.
    What is tasteless for you and me, might be awesome for someone else right?

    1. Exactly, one person’s trash is another’s treasure; that personal preference will always vary John. So for a movie or book or phone app to be a hit (and these things are always copying each other) there’s a tipping point where ‘unique’ appeals to a mass. For a blogger or service provider, I think the ‘different’ is part of it but so long as you reach a range large enough. Not saying throw open the Twitter, go crazy with the blogging outreach… but maybe take another look at the audience, see where other opportunities are to grow and expand.

      IDK I’m just kicking this around, seeing where it leads. Plus I got to dovetail interests so, made for a different and fun (for me at least) post. Thanks.

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