So you might have read about the comments made by comedian Aziz Ansari, currently co-staring on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” about IMAX theatrical presentations. Ansari’s core complaint is that exhibitors are selling people tickets to IMAX presentations of current feature films at a higher price, but showing the film on screens that are about the same size as any other theatrical screen and certainly far smaller than the giant sized canvases that are commonly associated with IMAX ready films.
By way of response, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond says that yes, the screens might be smaller, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that IMAX presentation currently has come to mean not biggie-sized screens but enhanced digital experiences. As proof that Ansari’s rant is off-base he points out that this sort of shift in brand meaning has been occuring for a half-dozen years already and the success of films shown in this diluted IMAX manner shows consumers like it just fine and points to the financial numbers to support him. He’s making a similar case to partners at a corporate retreat.
Gelfond is right. People aren’t complaining en masse and many are fine with IMAX meaning enhanced presentation and not necessarily big honking screens.
Like it or not, though, Gelfond now has a brand perception problem on his hand. Regardless of what attitudes have been in the past, he’s now living in a new reality.
Ansari’s tirade has the potential to be a watershed moment, one that causes the scales to fall from people’s eyes. Certainly there’s now increased potential people are going to go to IMAX with their eyes on how big the screen is and be more vocal about it not living up to expectations, but there’s the distinct possibility that taking Ansari’s points into consideration will cause them to rethink choosing IMAX over standard theatrical viewing.
This is every bit as much of a change moment for IMAX as the employee behavior fiasco that Domino’s Pizza recently endured. And Gelfond and the rest of the IMAX team needs to be out there in the online media world doing the same sort of brand image repair work that the pizza chain has had to engage in.
Ansari has 25,000+ Twitter followers and an untold number of blog subscribers. So let’s say that 10% of his Twitter followers re-tweeted just one of his anti-IMAX updates. That’s 2,500 retweets, each of which will reach that person’s followers. Pretty soon you have massive message penetration within an audience that is not only engaging in online conversations but offline as well.
Unfortunately very few of these people are going to be mollified by an arguement based on the financial success of movies shown in this smaller IMAX way. Right now they’re feeling duped, and showing them dollar figures is only going to remind them of the money they contributed to those totals, whether the ticket price was $1 or $5 over what they would have paid for standard exhibition.
As with any social media issue, some of this could have been avoided if IMAX were currently participating in the online conversation and had built up a base of enthusiasts who had invested in the brand and were ready to come to its defense. But I’m reading none of that.
IMAX had best come up with a plan to react to this that doesn’t use dollar figures as the central component of its rebuttal. And it needs to do it fast. It needs to be based on emotion, on experience and most of all built on the idea that it’s building long-term relationships with the audience and not just trying to do a quick fix, cause that just insures the next time they’ll be in the same position they are now.