42 Entertainment’s successful work taught us that you never market to the middle. You never think “everyone is the audience”. You target your product to your actual users: those already the most passionate about it.

To the Hollywood Vice President of Content this approach sounds ludicrous, because it means you’re “pushing it to the people who are already going to go! WTF?” That’s a perfectly fair viewpoint from the mental model that say things like “the goal is to put as many butts in seats as possible”. When this mental model goes unchecked or unchallenged, it shifts everything about a film — casting, director, sets, effects budget, marketing, trailers, poster, number of theaters, even down to the “average person” sought to participate in audience testing screeners.

There were 736 films released in US cinemas in 2016. By the logic of the Hollywood VP, except for 20 true blockbusters, 716 were failures.

More people seeing a film is important, but audience growth should be a metric, not the metric. Is it possible to grow viewership from the current fans out? How do we market a diverse set films, and grow each of those audiences in an organic, authentic way? 42 Entertainment taught me the answer... By crafting your film, product, marketing content around the people who care the most about it— If you make those in that niche group feel special for their connection to it— If you create special side stories related to the film or product that “only you are special enough to fully grok”— Well— What happens to the folks who experience this? They talk about it.

When they stand around the proverbial office water cooler they tell stories about the adventures this film or product had them going on over the weekend. We saw at 42 that this approach grews a product’s market by 1. current customer satisfaction and reinforcement of an emotional attachment to the product, 2. deep engagement with current customers, and 3. we created opportunities for word-of-mouth (still a primary driving force of product success).

If you target a niche product to the middle, the core audience feels betrayed in the lead up to it, seeing the trailers or the movie site as inauthentic. When they see the film, they watch with a skeptical eye expecting it to be dumbed down, and they walk out disappointed. Worse for the movie’s prospects of reaching an audience, these people that should still be core fans are now not, and they express that disappointment to others.

So, back to your question: “What would we have Hollywood do?” I’d say pay out severance to every smug dude with a VP title. Then reinforce its executive ranks with people who successfully found and retained audiences for Stranger Things, Westworld, and the other surprise sleepers you mention that knew their audience, made their audience feel special, and grew their audience by word-of-mouth.

Or don’t.

Author of 𝘒𝘪𝘤𝘬 𝘓𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 and co-author of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘱𝘱𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘪𝘧𝘧 𝘊𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬. @perredicarlo

Author of 𝘒𝘪𝘤𝘬 𝘓𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 and co-author of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘱𝘱𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘪𝘧𝘧 𝘊𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬. @perredicarlo