This Week Elsewhere – Week of 8/24/18

Hollywood Reporter

STX’s ‘Happytime Murders’ Marketing Keeps Focus on Puppets Behaving Badly: The conceit that puppets exist in the world alongside humans isn’t unique, exactly. The Muppet Show and subsequent movies all used it. What this week’s The Happytime Murders seems to do differently is draw a clear line between those characters’ on-screen personas and off-screen lives.

Cinematic Slant

Surprising Audiences With Cinematic Connections: It comes down to how much you’re dictating to the audience versus letting them decide. That lesson has been learned by just about every consumer products company in one way or another.

Papillon – Marketing Recap: The campaign itself isn’t hugely engaging, but there are some good elements to it. The poster is kind of the strongest part of it while the trailer doesn’t offer a very strong sales pitch. It’s not bad, it’s just a more complex story than can be captured here and it doesn’t convey a clear message to the audience. Aside from the release of clips, there isn’t much on the publicity front, either, so I’d be surprised if awareness of the movie was very high.

Support The Girls – Marketing Recap: The focus is squarely on Regina Hall and that’s very much a good thing. She’s obviously the character the audience is being asked to invest in most heavily and so it makes sense to put her front and center.

Searching – Marketing Recap: I think what I like most about the campaign is that it doesn’t try too hard to be overly technical, something that almost always comes off as ill-concerned and slightly embarrassing. Yes, there’s plenty of the movie’s tech elements here, but they didn’t try to do anything like create a fake app experience or anything that would have seemed out of touch.

Finding Your On-Ramp to Classic Films: The biggest question with any “I want to learn more” project is where to start. Thankfully, it’s also the easiest one to answer. Here’s my step-by-step guide to expanding your film experience in an age where you’re not just going to randomly turn past Turner Classic Movies or where “Family Classics” on WGN each Sunday afternoon won’t begin your education.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Generational Spending Priorities Have Changed

There are a number of reasons offered here as to why those identified as Millennials are spending less on “discretionary” items and indulgences than older folks. It’s an issue that’s been covered frequently by the media in the last few years as that group gets older and seizes more of its marketplace power. So the reasons offered are going to be largely familiar: Higher education-related debt, prioritizing experiences over stuff, an aversion to credit cards and so on.

One popped out at me, though: More bills. That generation spends more on gas, food and phone bills – the kinds of things you can’t really avoid – than others. So of course they have less money for items of choice; necessities are taking up a bigger slice of their paychecks. And the price of those necessities has gone up, often faster than inflation.

As the story points out, they’re spending less on television but that’s being replaced by streaming and on-demand video services, but even there they’re sharing passwords with family and friends instead of spending on their own accounts.

That is, I think, indicative of a bigger trend that encompasses all the “Millennials are killing [fill in the blank]” headlines we’ve seen over the last few years. Namely, that they don’t feel any great driving need to personally support the kinds of companies or programs they’ve seen decimate the economy and layoff their friends, coworkers and family.

Let’s pull out another area identified as one where Millennials are spending less: Vacations. Corporate HR departments are increasingly not just looking for the most efficient routes and logistics but considering employee comfort when making arrangements. And those travelers are combining business travel with opportunities to get a little personal leisure or adventure time in as well, making the most of being in a different city to, again, spend less on “stuff” and more on a unique experience.

It remains to be seen if the mainstreaming of student loan assistance as an employee benefit – something that’s more tangible and a bit more realistic to this generation than the fungible retirement benefits that are out of their control and which they may have already used – might have any impact on those spending habits, but my guess is the answer is “no.” Their beliefs and mindsets are likely set at this point and their prospects for the future aren’t going to be getting any brighter, so they’re not only going to continue killing sexist restaurant chains established by Baby Boomers but they will raise their own kids with less of an ostentatiously consumerist approach.

All of that is reflected in a new study showing the definition of “The American Dream” has become less robust recently. Most people just want to be financially secure and aren’t even fully aspiring to home ownership. They just want to be able to take care of themselves and that kind of thinking isn’t going away anytime soon.

What Kind of On-Ramp Do You Offer New Customers?

A couple weeks ago I was in the middle of a shift at my retail gig and had a minute to chat with someone who had just been hired. They were unfamiliar with the company’s products beyond a few basics and were wondering what to do if someone asked them for their opinion on a drink they hadn’t tried.

The experience of visiting one of the stories had been, they said, intimidating because they weren’t sure if they were going to do it right and didn’t want to embarass themselves. It would be helpful, they admitted, if the company would make the process a bit easier and less prone to confusion. I suggest a “101” type overview in the app, as part of an in-store display and something the staff could be trained in to act as suggestions for those infrequent or first-time visitors.

It got me thinking, though, how there’s very little out there for any customer retail or other experience that is a clear and simple on-ramp. Because it’s easier (and cheaper) to offer the same experience to everyone, first-time visitors are in the same position as someone who’s been visiting the establishment for 20 years. The latter only knows more because their accumulated knowledge.

Asking “What kind of experience is the customer getting” isn’t enough. You also need to be asking what kind of experience a first-timer is having. Are your product descriptions so dense they can’t be understood without investing 10 minutes in reading them? Is your pricing incomplete and confusing? What would someone who had never been there do if they couldn’t find a staff member to help?

That’s the crux of the issue. Big retailers in all industries aren’t exactly staffing to provide customers with personalized service. Walk into Home Depot not knowing what you’re looking for and it may be a long time before you find someone to help you and answer your questions. That’s a problem I never encountered at the corner hardware store decades ago. If I didn’t know where something was, there was always someone there to point me in the right direction or offer a recommendation on something better.

You may have optimized the customer experience based on some standard, but odds are good the new customer experience still leaves plenty to be desired. It’s worth considering how you correct for that and provide a pleasant first encounter that doesn’t leave someone bewildered and frustrated but eager to return.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

This Week Elsewhere – Week of 8/17/18

Cinematic Slant

Juliet, Naked – Marketing Recap: It’s not a huge campaign, but if you’re a fan of previous Hornby adaptations or just want a movie that looks breezy, charming and entertaining there’s a strong case for this being a good choice. Byrne is her usual wonderful self and Hawke is always at his best when he’s playing it loose. The poster makes it look a little more madcap than the trailer, but that’s a small quibble in what’s otherwise a solid, if small-scale, campaign.

The “Most Popular” Oscar Rewards Those With the Deepest Resources: Let’s move past how relegating movies voters would have otherwise dismissed as not being serious enough for consideration in anything more than a few technical categories is more than a little condescending. Instead, let’s look at how what’s “popular” is often determined by, not a result of, access to marketing and distribution resources.

The Best Marvel Cinematic Universe Plane Jump Scenes: Watching Cruise and the rest of the cast and crew endlessly talk about how he engaged in several jumps to get all the shots necessary for the film – efforts he was joined in by the requisite technical crew – got me thinking about other notable “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” moments on film. Specifically, I started thinking about how that device has been one used a number of times in various entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Five Films Show How 2008 Redefined the Movies: The debate over what years might be added to that list goes on and on, reigniting any time there’s a particularly strong showing among new releases. While everyone will have their opinions, It’s hard to think 2008 won’t eventually be received into conventional wisdom, if it already hasn’t.

Crazy Rich Asians – Marketing Recap: The campaign really shines, as it might be obvious, in the earned media department. The entire cast has been all over the press – and will likely continue to be so in the coming weeks – talking about how much they support each other, how much they want the movie to succeed, what it means to them and people like them and more. They have been the movie’s best advocates on a number of fronts.

The Six Best Netflix Movie Campaigns of 2018 So Far: As Rob Hunter at FSR points out, there are a lot of noteworthy original films coming to Netflix between now and the end of 2018. So it’s a good time to look back at some of the best campaigns of the year so far.

The Wife – Marketing Recap: By focusing not just on Close but on the story of how Hollywood has effectively kept this out of production for a number of years the campaign makes the movie seem even more timely than it already was. It becomes an example of how women are kept to the side of society on a number of fronts and is all the more powerful for it.

IMAX Using M:I – Fallout, Avengers to Kick Things Up a Notch: The announcement is just the latest in a series of moves by IMAX to become a dominant force in the theatrical industry by tying its brand closely to some of the biggest, highest-profile event releases Hollywood has to offer.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Fitting In Isn’t The Point of Work

A recent Fast Company piece offers a number of tips for those who fear they aren’t fitting in with their coworkers. It’s all fine advice about making an effort to talk with other people, being careful about solitary activities and so on. Quartz pushed out a similar list aimed at remote workers who want to make sure they’ve connected with the others in their company despite the absence of a shared physical space and another one about how to make friends at your first job.

All of these tend to start out from the premise that some sort of social element is a necessary aspect of the workplace.

You see that reflected in how often people talk about someone being a “good cultural fit” in a company. It’s meant to convey how someone shares a sense of humor, mission or other emotional and personality-based trait with the founders and others within the organization. In my own experience I’ve seen that come up time and again, including as a reason why I wasn’t being considered for a position I was applying for.

The problem with this being a criteria for employment – either new or continued – is that it’s not even a “soft” skill, it’s a wholly subjective measure that has two clear downsides:

First, it creates homogeneity, which in the workplace can lead to stagnation of thought, an inability to consider outside perspectives and – even worse – environments where harassment and disrespect are pervasive because that’s the “culture” that outsiders must fit into if they want to keep their jobs.

Second, It gives the individual who’s either been fired or simply not hired nowhere to go, nothing to actively work on. The only hope they have is to adopt a persona that conforms to their current or aspirational situation regardless of the consequences or to keep looking around for an opportunity where this isn’t an issue. But not one lists that kind of thing on their job listing since it’s hard to describe entirely subjective.

Instead of looking for someone who fits into the culture, companies should be looking for someone who adds to or varies the culture. If the whole office loves “The Simpsons,” find a “Kim Possible” fan. If everyone is into Red Dead Redemption, find someone who maxes out at LEGO Star Wars.

It’s bigger than pop culture, of course. Looking to add to, enhance or diversify a corporate culture leads to an enhanced and diversified workforce as well since it allows for different kinds of individuals to be given a chance at the table.

Then, allow them to thrive and judge them based solely on their work performance, not on how popular they are. Someone may be doing their job better than anyone else, but because he/she has a family at home they’d like to get back to they don’t go out for drinks every night or join the company bowling league. That doesn’t mean they should be fired.

If you get along with your coworkers, great. But work being an extension of your social life is a relatively recent development, fostered in large part by companies who want to make blur the professional/personal lines as a way to essentially guilt people into doing more work. I don’t have to like everyone I work with, we all just have to do our jobs and not actively be at each other’s throats. That’s the minimum requirement and it’s all that should be expected.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

What Else Could Empty Retail Space Be Used For?

If you drive around the area of Chicago’s western suburbs I live in you’ll find lots of empty retail buildings. The last several years have not been kind to the in-person shopping experience and so malls are less crowded than they once were, strip malls are often have plentiful open storefronts and so on. All that real estate is often just sitting there, waiting hopefully for a resurgence that will likely never come.

The question then becomes: What to do with all that square footage?

Some mall management companies, according to this story, are converting unoccupied space into coworking environments. It’s not a bad idea, as coworking locations are a hot trend and is popular among remote workers, freelancers and others who aren’t part of a “standard” office environment. And those owners are hoping encouraging innovation will at best create new retail operations or at least a bunch of people who shop at the mall during their breaks.

It is not, though, the only option.

Over the last few years there have been several examples of how abandoned or failing malls have been revitalized and revamped for alternate usage. The second (or third) lives these spaces have been granted range from housing and offices to fitness and dining to government offices and parks.

One area I don’t see covered is something that’s a bit less commercially-minded. Specifically, what if we used these massive buildings and all the smaller spaces contained within to enhance the community in a way that wasn’t so commercial? What if we, in short, turned them into public art places?

Imagine if the mall were turned into a series of small display areas where local artists could show off their paintings, sculpture and other creations? There could be areas for musicians and other multimedia creations, including rehearsal rooms, limited studio space and so on. Some parts of the building could be for display or performance and others for creation.

The question of course is who would pay for such a thing. I’m going to get really outrageous and suggest that asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their taxes would allow for more than enough public funding to provide not only fair market rent on the real estate and buildings but also the kinds of materials and other resources that would be needed.

This kind of initiative would have a number of social benefits. Kids – as well as adults of all agest – would have a place to go and create something instead of doing whatever it is they’re doing now. It would be an alternative to tendencies to get in trouble, be supervised while parents are still at work, be a good reason for older adults to get out of the house and engage in social interaction and more.

Above all, these would offer someone the chance to indulge a passion they may not otherwise have the resources to explore. I may encourage someone who thought they might want to be an illustrator to really see if they have the chops and refine those skills. They could take that experience and use it to find work of some kind. Even if it’s not something that will lead to a job, maybe it’s just a passion they otherwise can’t engage in.

Yes, the funding issue is one that would have to be worked out. But I truly think there’s a solution there. There are 1,100 malls in the US and one quarter of them are expected to close in the next five years. Jeff Bezos alone could send $10,000,000 to each one and shave just 2% off his total worth, an effort that would seem much more philanthropic and valuable than private space travel. And given how he’s responsible on a couple fronts for the state of those malls, he may earn some karma points in return.

I really do believe there’s a more socially-minded way we can approach this problem. That’s not to say low-income housing isn’t a great idea – it is – but it’s not the only great idea. And too many of the projects that have been undertaken on that track aren’t focused on affordable units but on hipster dwellings with high rents.

So let’s use some of that available square footage to encourage those who might not otherwise be able to express themselves. A recent story showed the humanities were suffering in an educational environment that values practical technical knowledge and skills over everything else and if we’re not going to address that problem, we can do while while also addressing the issue of how we paved over natural environments so we could find socks faster and maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea so let’s put those buildings to good use, huh?

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The Best Days Start With Writing

Recently I was able to start the day in a relatively unusual way: By just writing.

It wasn’t for a client. It wasn’t a freelance project. It wasn’t for anything in particular.

It was just pure writing, just for me. I was on the train heading into Chicago and found a groove that lasted the whole trip, a little under an hour. I don’t even think I was listening to anything at the time.

The world just fell away around me for 50-odd minutes and the words came pouring out.

The best part about days like this, which are few and far between, is that they wind up positively impacting the entire rest of the day. I’m more motivated in whatever work I have to do, more energized creatively and more efficient.

It’s that freedom of just writing, not writing *for* something that really makes the difference. It’s not having to worry about character count or audience or anything else. The only person I’m writing for is myself and the only restrictions on it are my own thoughts.

These kinds of days don’t happen often, but when they do they’re magical. If I could bottle the energy I would and sip from it like President Skroob in Spaceballs taking a hit off a can of Perri-Air.

As it is, though, I have to take them when they appear, often without warning.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Movie Marketing Millennia

Yesterday I published my 1,000th movie marketing recap column/blog post.


It’s hard to believe. I certainly never would have guessed I’d hit a milestone like that when I first pitched the idea to FilmThreat in May, 2004.

The idea that you need to do something for 10,000 hours before you get good at it has been pretty thoroughly debunked at this point, but the idea behind it still holds true, that the more you do something the better you are at it. That’s the case whether you’re talking about writing, playing guitar, working on cars or anything else. There’s a reason why you’re not ready to play Ravinia five minutes after you sit down at the piano and why many trades require X hours or even years of apprenticeship or study before you become certified in that industry.

By that measure, I’m pretty good at writing these recaps, having certainly spent at least 10,000 hours over the last 14 years doing so. Each post takes at least two hours and some have taken upward of 10 and there have been plenty of posts I’ve written but not published for one reason or another in addition to everything else I’ve had published on Ad Age, Adweek, iMediaConnection, The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who’s been reading all this time. To paraphrase “Sports Night,” if you’ve had half as much fun reading these recaps as I’ve had writing them, well, then I’ve had twice as much fun writing them as you’ve had reading them.

No, I Won’t Be Deleting My Old Tweets

In the couple weeks following Marvel Studios’ firing of James Gunn from his role as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, there have been several high-profile individuals who have decided the time is right to go and delete their entire Twitter history. After all, if a bunch of decade-old Tweets, which he’s repeatedly addressed and apologized for over the years, could take down Gunn, they could take down anyone. Better to wipe the slate clean and offer no targets of opportunity for anyone to take advantage of. A few media outlets have even published “here’s how” guides for deleting all or some of your past updates.

Putting aside the idea that we’ve apparently conceded that alt-right Nazis are a defacto part of every company’s HR department, the idea doesn’t sit well with me.

Since the advent of social publishing – before social networks, when blogs were the primary platform for self-expression – there’s been warnings that what you publish could come back to haunt you. Young people with less sound judgement about what is or isn’t a good idea to post have particularly been given this guidance. Especially as corporations became more savvy online, they were told that Facebook photo of them doing keg stands while wearing nothing but a tube sock probably wasn’t a great idea and could impact their job prospects down the road.

I know there are things in my Twitter history that were ill-advised. There are some updates I’ve deleted within minutes or hours of posting them because hey, that was just a bad idea. But I have zero interest in removing them en masse.

That history is what it is. If someone would like to take issue with one or another, I’m happy to have that conversation.

From my perspective, deleting all your old tweets isn’t just cleaning house or removing bullets of the gun being pointed at you, it’s acknowledging that the gun is legitimate in the first place.

Someone pointed out (on Twitter, of course) that old tweets or other posts being considered a problem because they’re too “edgy” is kind of hilarious given that the advice given to everyone early on was to edgy and unique, to push boundaries and stand out as a way to build your personal brand. That was just the kind of thing that signalled a creative mind and would serve you well, everyone was told, so go for it.

Now thing are very different and we want everyone to be nice. But it’s not coming from a place of wishing to not offend, it’s coming from a place of wishing to stifle speech.

It’s not just the alt-right nutbars that have adopted this approach. As media has become more centralized in fewer hands, the odds that you’ve said something negative (real or perceived) about the practices of a particular company have skyrocketed. A number of freelancers have shared stories in recent years about how they’ve been rejected after editors cite tweets from years ago about a particular media brand that called them out for one reason or another. In some cases, it’s before the outlet was owned by that particular company. With so many media organizations folding – or being folded by private equity owners that have stripmined them for short-term revenue – saying anything about anyone can be a career-limiting move.

While I’ve certainly checked myself on a few occasions for that very reason, I don’t believe that criticism is inherently disqualifying. That’s true of the past and the present.

You want to come at me with a tweet? You’ll need more than that, and the very first thing I’ll do is call out whatever motivations you have for doing so. If there are real issues, we can discuss them. But I won’t be taking the broom to the whole archive anytime soon, not based on the threat of someone with an active interest in keeping me from speaking up.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

This Week Elsewhere – Week of 8/10/18

The Hollywood Reporter

‘The Meg’ Knows What It’s Selling: Jason Statham vs. Giant Shark: Whatever the box office fate of The Meg — Warner Bros.’ $150 million summer shark tentpole — it’s been sold to the public over the last several months with tongue placed firmly in cheek. (more here)

Cinematic Slant

MoviePass Lost the PR Battle Long Ago: What’s most striking about all this is how poorly the company and everyone involved with it seems to be at messaging. That tone-deaf “I’m not dead!” release was just the latest example of how it’s fumbled almost every attempt to communicate with its user base in an open and constructive manner.

BlacKkKlansman – Marketing Recap: And all of that and more is in a campaign that makes the story seem not only timely but funny. It’s hard to think of a story that’s more relevant, especially since its release is timed to the one year anniversary of the white supremacist marches at Charlottesville.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.