The line ‘nobody knows anything’ is attributed to William Goldman, Hollywood’s highly acclaimed and awarded story and screenplay writer.
According to him, it is not possible to predict people’s tastes and therefore the success of a movie script. However, studio executives (the suits or corporate B-school types) of Hollywood are in a state of perpetual denial of this fact. They constantly try to pre-test scripts and modify it with the hope of creating a winner. More often than not, the scripts produced this way fail at the box-office while the scripts that were lucky enough to escape the suits attention do well. For example, this year’s much awarded Hurt Locker was never researched. It was produced without a single change to the script and the rest is history.
Isn’t there a sense of déjà vu for people in the agency business when they hear this? Creative routes are constantly researched in an attempt to attain brand salvation. All it results in is brand homicide. Why does this insidious practice happen time and again?
Celebrated marketer Scott Bedbury says - it is the inability to take responsibility for the advertising that has been created that drives agencies and advertisers to take refuge in pre-testing. Focus groups can be like expensive toilet paper - they cover your ass.
Be it movies or advertising, big monies are involved. Research can play an important role in our understanding of the situation and in helping evolve a sound platform for the creative to be developed. Thereafter, any attempt in trying to predict the outcome of the creative through research will only lead to disaster.
William Goldman’s line is at once profound and simple. It comes into play in far more critical areas of our lives than Hollywood and advertising. Economic forecasts and stock market analysis have been known to be repeatedly way off the mark. People’s hard earned savings and nation’s wealth have gone up in smoke as a result of trying to predict macro-economic behaviour. All this makes the mistakes in Hollywood and advertising seem trivial. Don’t they?