Put a fork in it; the blockbuster is done

Take a step away from your current job and your current thinking for a moment, and let’s take a little trip down reality lane. I’ve long said that mass marketing is dead or dying. The first bullet was the remote control, and the ammo has been coming fast and furious ever since. I believe there will always be pockets of mass marketing, but those will be exceptions to the rule. In order to market to the masses, you need a one-directional communications medium with few consumer controls. It’s all backwards now, and it’s not just audience fragmentation that’s killing the mass audience. The bigger story is that the blockbuster — that necessity of true mass marketing — has been killed by the empowerment of the individual.

Does anybody remember Roots? What a dream that was for the mass marketers. It was a genuine blockbuster, and TV has been trying to duplicate it ever since. Blockbusters are funny in that they’re usually not all that predictable. They happen more often by accident, and it’s increasingly the public’s choice to make the determination. But blockbuster mentality is what greases the wheels of mass marketing, because we mistakenly believe that — through enough hyperbole and slick marketing — we can “create” the buzz and audience that natural blockbusters produce. Hence, as new media economic whiz kid Umair Haque of BubbleGeneration has written, the money in our mass media society is mostly given to marketers, experts at artificially creating the blockbuster. It doesn’t work anymore, and that money needs to be shifted to content in order to compete in today’s reality.

The new effort — again citing Haque — is to use our resources to generate the “Snowball Effect,” something that costs much less money and takes advantage of the structure and systems of new media, especially the Internet’s long tail. All you need to get a snowball started is to roll it down the hill. It does its own marketing as it gets bigger and bigger. Most don’t, but some grow to enormous size. All are extremely cost-effective and produce results.

Here’s Umair on the Snowball Effect from a post about the success of a book (Call To Action) without bookstores:

It’s the dominant Media 2.0 strategy; the inverse of the blockbuster is a useful way to think about it.

Note, it’s not simply about viral marketing. That’s missing the forest for the trees.

It’s about the fact that consumption is connected — in a networked world, when you consume something, your consumption has an externality: I generally know how much satisfaction you got. As enough of this info is aggregated, demand within the niche increases for high-quality goods (and decreases correspondingly for low-quality goods).

That is, quality drives popularity hyperefficiently…if your good is of high enough quality, it will realize increasing returns, as people’s consumption reveals their satisfaction to yet more people.

Now, this can happen via word-of-mouth. But that’s a very inefficient mechanism, and it’s not really economically powerful enough to create enough snowballs to destroy old industry economics.

It’s the advent of much more efficient info processors — micromedia like blogs, and their distribution, aggregators — that is going to lay the groundwork for the snowball effect on a much larger scale — on a scale that is going to deconstruct industries which depend on marketing scale and scope economies. Like Hollywood, for example.

And I would add, television.

The last real blockbusters on TV are sporting events. The Superbowl and, especially, the Olympics can make your year. Elections are blockbusters of a sort. The inability of mass marketing to create other blockbusters is why we always hear that “revenue decline can be attributed to the lack of the Olympics or an election.” This is an excuse and nothing more.

We need to give up on the blockbuster, and that includes trying to turn every disaster or weather situation into one. Hurricanes generate blockbuster interest, but the daily grind of news just doesn’t. But you’d never know that by the hype associated with every newscast in America.

To create snowballs, we need to unbundle our mass media products and send the pieces on their merry way.

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