Atlas Shrugged — the marketing phenomenon.
Saw the movie of Atlas Shrugged last weekend. I had high hopes and low expectations. I knew Ayn Rand personally, I’m an admirer of the book and I’ve read it many times. I expected to be disappointed because the book is so rich and deep that I couldn’t imagine how a movie could do it justice. I was sure that with only a 10 million dollar budget, an extremely tight schedule and unknown actors, it wouldn’t even come close to the book. It didn’t. But it was MUCH better than I expected.
I was disappointed by some of the flaws (particularly some actors who didn’t look the part), and some strange directorial choices (couldn’t he find some other things for them to do with their hands besides drink cocktails?). But these are trivial in comparison to the achievement of producing the film itself, and the more important exposure it gives to the central ideas of Ayn Rand.
It managed to capture the main theme of the Ayn Rand book: The difference between the producers who create wealth and the pseudo-capitalists who live off of government influence, bailouts and the redistribution of wealth — and how much the whole society relies on the producers.
This is primarily a marketing blog (though not always!), and I tend to see things through that filter. I’m always alert to the lessons we can learn from product successes, partial successes, and failures. This is no exception.
While it’s too early to tell if the movie is a commercial success, it’s marketing is already an example of several important “secrets” and has much to teach us. (Remember, I use the word “secrets” in its sense of important but frequently overlooked key principles.)
The Marketing Secrets of Atlas Shrugged.
Secret 1: Product appeal: Atlas Shrugged Part 1 didn’t try to be everything to everybody. It was independently produced. While this is not always desirable, I suspect that, in this case, it allowed for something that is essential: it didn’t have to compromise and please everybody, especially people in larger studios who tend to search for “broad appeal,” trying to please everybody. The secret here is that you have to be something definite, unusual, special even if it turns off large segments of people. In fact, the product which gets people to love it passionately and hate it passionately will win — not the product that everyone likes but doesn’t love. If you market by eliminating objections, you’re sunk. I’m sure there are contrary examples, but I haven’t found one. Take a stand. Make your product definite, flaunt its shortcomings and brag about why it’s unusual and special.
He who tries to be everything to everybody is nothing to anybody.
Secret 2: You don’t have to spend a lot of money, if you’ve got the goods. A certain austerity ($10 Million for a film is minuscule) probably helped the production values. I don’t know; I’m not a film expert. But in marketing, I know. They had virtually no marketing budget. This forced them to think. They used a word-of-mouth campaign that you can read about here:
The most important secrets are to go to the people who can spread the word. In this case, certain commentators, Tea Party groups, other pro-Objectivist groups and allied groups, such as Libertarian and Conservative groups. I would also go to pro-business groups, since this is the first businessperson-as-hero movie in a long time.
So the secret is: leverage your budget and other resources by getting other people to sell your product. Go to the people who would like to see your product succeed. If there are no such people, either you are overlooking them or you need to further develop your product to be one that a small segment of people will RAVE about. THEN, find those people. Or, you can try advertising, but you’re probably wasting your money. Put it in R&D.
Secret 3: Atlas Shrugged was a movie that Ayn Rand admirers have been hoping for, for over 45 years. It’s easier to find high-pent-up-demand products than you think.
Secret 4: Take advantage of spin-off products. People want to have T-Shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, etc. Accommodate them.
Secret 5 & 6: Certainly this was unintentional, but they were forced into scarcity marketing. The movie was only available in 299 theaters around the country (normal is 3000), frustrating large numbers of people, which made them want it more and made them willing to take action. The producers harnessed this frustration through a web site that encouraged people to pressure theater owners to run the film. But they didn’t have enough prints, increasing the desire. The next weekend (the Easter weekend) they were in about 450 theaters. Projections are they will be at a thousand in a week or two.
So, scarcity marketing can help (Secret 5), and don’t neglect turning your customers into salespeople not only to their friends but to more leveraged people such as retailers, distributors and, in this case, theater owners (Secret 6).
Secret 8: Teasers. Atlas is a mammoth book. So, they broke it into three parts, each coming out on Tax Day, April 15th. Now, they can take advantage of the anticipation for two more years.
Secret 7: What’s the product? While it may seem obvious that the product is the movie, it isn’t that simple. In book form, Atlas Shrugged sold about 150,000 copies per year until recently, making it an all-time continual best-seller. However, since Obama was elected, it has sold more than 600,000 copies. As of this writing, the extra publicity about Ayn Rand, her ideas, her uncanny predictions about present events has kicked it up to about 25 on the Amazon best-seller list, amazing for a 50+ year-old book.
So, I think the product is her ideas, made tangible through the book, then the movie coming at a time when it explains so much about our present society that it gets a lot of press about how she predicted what is happening, which increases the sales of the book. Ultimately, it should make Part 2 of the movie, due out next year, much more fundable and a greater success. So, I would say that it’s the brand — call it Ayn Rand’s Ideas, or Objectivism — that is the product.
So, the secret is: think deeply about what the real product is. It probably isn’t what you think it is. What you think you’re selling is probably the material form of what you are really selling.