(another excerpt from my upcoming book)
This marketing of products is perhaps one of the biggest reasons many feel uneasy about the modern economy and by extension finance. Are we being induced into buying something we do not want or need?
A stark example of this are movies. Every year, hundreds of movies are made. We have no idea what they will be, or if we do, then we don’t know whether it will be good. We can rely on movie critics, but they may be biased in order to get pre-screenings and other treats from the movie studios. We could hope that the combination of actors, directors and writers means the movie could be good. Ideally we could wait for someone one knows to watch the movie and tell us what they think.
But why should movie studios take the risk of the latter? It makes sense for them to encourage us to watch it on the first weekend to take away the word-of-mouth effect. The way they do this is to have a marketing blitz, where posters appear everywhere, trailers with the best bits released; some leaks about how extreme some of the scenes are and the actors hit the talk shows and fill newspaper and magazines with interviews and fun anecdotes. The hype creates the demand for the movie. The end result is that around one-third of the top movies’ grosses over the last 5 years have come from the first weekend.
So we never knew about a movie, never even thought we wanted to watch the movie, then the marketing hype starts and suddenly we “decide” to watch the movie. It wasn’t always like this. Back in the early 1980s, in the days of Star Wars and Indiana Jones only 5% of the gross came from the first weekend – so the word-of-mouth effect was very important.
Movies aren’t all empty consumer products. They can be important in changing (or reinforcing social attitudes). One positive contribution has been the depiction of black men in leadership positions in TV and movies in the late 1990s onwards. The black actor Morgan Freeman stands out in movies in this regard. In the 1998 asteroid disaster movie “Deep Impact”, he played the American President, while in the 2003 comedy “Bruce Almighty” he played God. From 2001 to 2010, on the hit TV show “24”, which depicted the character Jack Bauer hunting terrorists, the black actors Dennis Haysbert and D.B. Woodside both played American Presidents. While the link is indirect, this undoubtedly helped attitudes in the real world soften towards the possibility of black President, which the US duly got in 2008 with Obama.