What Snakes On A Plane Doesn't Teach Us

From all signs and symbols, Snakes On A Plane will do boffo business this weekend. And if so, God help us all. Prepare for a glut of articles and citations about the success of the pre-release Internet “buzz.” I expect these articles to be as independently-thinking as, say, each of the millions of movie-goers mobbing the theaters in the first five days. There’s going to be so much talk and analysis about the movie’s big date that by the time its over I’ll be begging for one extra python from the movie to end my misery.

Here’s my prediction: the success of SOAP will end up being far more of a cautionary tale than an instructive one. The greater the box office this weekend, the more lessons will be shared in half-baked articles and books touting the power of Internet buzz. Business readers will suffer years of residual punditry about how to tap buzz that will have as much practical value as, to quote Patches O’Houlihan in Dodgeball, “a doodie-flavored lollypop.”

Let’s try a little test here: how many people saw the Blair Witch Trial Sequel? (Crickets.) How successful were the filmmakers who “created” the blockbuster success of the original at reproducing a modest fraction of the gross with the follow-up? And for that matter, what other movies have applied the wisdom of Blair Witch Trial to their campaigns?

I believe that the success of SOAP has far more to do with the confluence of planes and snakes and Samuel L. Jackson; mixed with the release date of August 2006, combined with 12.5 other factors that shall not be named, than it has to do with the specific Internet marketing tactics unleashed by the filmmakers. Sure, there’s little doubt that having an online community getting hopped up about the hype helped. But I defy one person to extrapolate from this film and reproduce the dynamics a second time. Not gonna happen.

Events like this demonstrate the great disconnect between quality and popularity when it comes to pop culture artifacts, the great degree of capriciousness when it comes to spawning buzz, and the fact that most business writers vastly prefer writing about movies and tv shows when analyzing business than, says, hubs and routers, minivans, turbines, or new pharmaceuticals. Why look for a quarter where you dropped it if the light is better at the movie theater?

Here’s what I consider the takeaways from SOAP. When it comes to buzz, things that have buzz are the things that get more buzz. In terms of creating WOM-fueled successes, quality rarely correlates to quality. But most of all, can we all bow to the words of screenwriter William Goldman, who has the final word on what makes a blockbuster:

Nobody Knows Anything.

Posted by tom at August 18, 2006 02:44 PM
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