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.
You are selling all three. I can’t think of a single product, service or idea that doesn’t at least imply the other two. You are almost certainly neglecting two of these and and missing some great opportunities.
Product: The physical embodiment of what you are selling, how it’s manifest in the world, the deliverable, how you know it’s there.
Service: The actions taken to produce the product.
Idea: The way it’s held in the mind of the customer in thoughts and feelings.
Try to name a single product/service/idea that doesn’t have the other two. You are probably thinking that you have only one of these.
Think about the other two that you are neglecting. There, right in front of you, are the opportunities that you are missing.
Examples of one that people might think don’t have the other two:
Candy bar: is the service alleviating hunger, giving a treat, a reward, and indulgence? Is the idea “coconut almond” or “deserved reward” or “guilty pleasure”? Your decision is an opportunity.
“Pure commodity” such as gold, steel, soybeans, etc. It’s all about the service: payment terms, delivery, support, advice, guarantee of purity, etc.
An iPod wasn’t mainly a product. We forget that it was an idea: first and foremost it was a way of organizing, storing, sharing and playing your music mess of tapes, CDs, records, files, etc. It was a service that proved that if you make music ridiculously easy to buy, store and organize most people will buy, not steal.
Most great “products” are really great implementations of a great idea.
Conclusion: there is no pure product. There is no parity, me-too, product. A service and idea is always involved.
A psychotherapist: What’s the product? Health? Growth? Counseling? Confidence? Feeling of well-being? Greater functionality? Greater emotional health? All or some of the above? What’s the “idea”? Remediation or growth. support, fixing, encouraging, greater-self responsibility? Different for each patient? Does the patient know? Is the product delivered in person, by phone, internationally by Skype? Via books, individual sessions, group sessions, speeches, TV talks, a radio call-in program, etc.?
Plumber: Is the product fixing problems, new installations, residential, commercial. Is the idea speed, reliability, always showing up, etc.?
Are Google Search, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter services? Yes. Are they products? Yes. They are at the very least web sites. How you define the product, the idea, (social contact, finding answers, on-demand goods, instant X, easy X, etc. is worth billions of dollars in these cases. They made the right calls at the right time, and implemented their products brilliantly. None was the first.)
Conclusion: There is no such thing as a pure service that doesn’t have a product and an idea behind it.
What if you are selling the idea of Smaller Government, Lower Taxes, Less Spending? If you are actually trying to “sell” it, i.e., persuade people to agree with you, rather than swirling it around in your head, what’s the product, the actions, of your thinking? Joining/starting a Tea Party chapter? Starting a new party? Writing essays, talking, teaching, etc. If you’re actively selling your idea, there has to be a product of your efforts. What’s the service you will provide? Running for office, teaching, lecturing, public speaking, blogging, etc.?
New product idea: You have an idea for a product or service. You’re not selling it unless you are taking steps to manifest it (that’s the product of your thinking) and you are selectively taking actions in the service of the idea: are you the entrepreneur, the finance person, the inventor, the engineer, some or all of the above? What other services do you need to make the idea into a product?
Conclusion: There are “pure” ideas, but not in the marketing context. As soon as you start “selling” the idea, it has to take the form of a product with its attendant services, or a service with its attendant products.
Again, think about the areas you might be neglecting and how you can change your assumptions.
If you think you might make a million dollars out of these insights, at the very least, you owe me lunch, and a rave in the comments section below.
The No-Brainer Solution
I guess after the annual Super Bowl Advertising Debacle — in which advertisers try to show how cool they are by making “in” cultural references and edgy humorous skits that have nothing to do with product benefits — I’m on a clarification and simplification of message kick.
After cleaning up my own messages here and here, I got to thinking about the importance of simple messages. I wrote about it in the 2nd edition of Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. (My presumably left-wing NY editors insisted on taking out the stuff about the Tea Party, but they didn’t have any trouble with the stuff about Obama.). Thought you might be interested in the unexpurgated version if you are in the idea marketing business. And, oh, by the way, believe me, you are in the business of marketing ideas.
Eisenhower once said, “Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”
Secret: To sell an idea, you must find out what people want most, down deeply, under the concrete.
You can’t find it by asking and taking the first answers. You have to probe deeply.. As Henry Ford once said, “If I’d have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Yes, but it would have given him the opportunity to ask a “dumb question,” “Yes, but what would faster horses mean for you?” You have to identify the real desire.
Then, you have to show them how getting it is more important than clinging to and defending some of their most cherished beliefs, such as the idea that the horseless carriage is an infernal machine sent by the devil.
That’s how Obama sold Hope and Change. Those people who were willing to take a chance on him gave him a chance because they so desperately wanted something different, almost anything different. [It was a simple, elegant message, at a time of despair and dissatisfaction.] That message triumphed over a mushy Republican message that I can’t even summarize, and nobody else could either — hence the lack of word of mouth.
That’s why the Tea Party arose soon after, appealing to Independents and Democratic and Republican segments with a simple, brilliant message of “Smaller Government, Lower Taxes, Less spending.” Everyone got it. You either believed that we were on a disasterous spending binge or you didn’t. The Tea Party refused to get involved in any other issues, leaving that up to the individual candidates to sell locally (simplicity). They will probably win big (They did. This was written in the summer of 2010) because it reflects what people want, in an elegantly simple message. Conventional wisdom is that its popularity was due to “anti-incumbency,” but it’s much more profound than that.
People are willing to change their beliefs when a basic need — in this case their children’s and their own financial security — is threatened and they are presented with a clearly stated solution, and they get the social, word-of-mouth support that is enabled and magnified by the Internet.
Interestingly, one involved a strong central leader, the other the lack of a central leader. For Obama, it was a central person who was unique and spectacularly articulate enough to spark a WOM firestorm over a couple of simple words, “hope and change,” that summed up people’s frustrations and aspirations.
For the Tea Party Movement, it was also a simple idea, “smaller government, lower taxes, less spending, and the lack of an identified leader that made it possible.
Both tapped into a basic need, and got the word of mouth going in a unique way.
Both illustrate what a simple message at just the right time can do, especially in the Internet Age.
The entire Middle East seems like it’s about to join Yemen and Egypt as the simple American idea — that we seem to keep forgetting — spreads: We don’t want to be told what to do by “rulers.” In other words, liberty and freedom, as rights inherent in individuals, not granted by governments, monarchs or other gangs.
I’m sure you have heard of “flash mobs.” People might decide to show up at a store or an intersection, all at the same time, and swamp all available space. Now, a whole country or even the world can become a flash mob — and they don’t even have to wait for an election.
The lesson for you is the power of the simple, consistent, repeatable, timely message.
My message in the Age of Overload: Ease the decisions. Make your product, service, and ideas a “no-brainer.”
How? Stay tuned. What, you don’t have a subscription? Sign up, free. See, I made it easy.