Ready Player One demonstrates there’s such thing as too much Marketing

Ready Player One has not had a good marketing campaign thus far. To say it’s been rocky might be downplaying it a bit.

Based off the Ernest Cline novel of the same title, Ready Player One is a movie set in the not too distant, dystopian future about a teenage boy who becomes obsessed with solving an elaborate puzzle within the OASIS, a hyper-real virtual reality simulation, where the eventual winner wins a crapload of money.

It’s not a terrible premise, and considering that the book wasn’t exactly the Great Gatsby of its era, it really didn’t have a high benchmark for expectations. Helmed by Steven Spielberg, it could still very well become a great movie, it’s just…..well, the movie is already on the cusp of a box office implosion due to its shaky trailer, social media backlash, and poor marketing efforts.

Let’s examine, starting with the problematic trailer:

The trailer is chalk-full of what some people might consider “Easter Eggs”-an intentional message, joke, or nod to fans who may get a reference to earlier work.

Except, when executed poorly, Easter Eggs can creep into another territory altogether.

It’s a concept called “Intertextuality”, which was masterfully covered by the Nerdwriter over on YouTube.

He defines intertextuality as “something in a movie that is shaped by another text, usually another movie, or book, or play”. Basically, it’s a cultural reference to something outside of the movie. He goes on to argue that films are increasingly using intertextual references as a substitute for emotion or solid storytelling.

Because intertextuality isn’t a bad thing in itself, but when incorrectly used, or in the case of this trailer, overused, it can leave audiences feeling dull, flat, and worst of all….bored.

If at any point during this trailer you said to yourself, “Hey, I know that thing” then you just experienced weaponized intertextuality.

How Ready Player One abuses its intertextual ancestry

Yes, I’ve read the book, and I realize that the book is also structured around its sentimentality ridden narrative, possibly subverting the hero’s expectations as it relates to his obsession with video game culture and nostalgia.

But that doesn’t excuse the marketing teams behind Ready Player One for absolutely going HAM on their audiences expectations of intertextuality. Instead of going for something more subtle, they simply photoshopped old, classic movie posters and substituted the stars of Ready Player One on top of it like it was some sort of crying Jordan meme.

The problem when you try to reposition beloved pieces of art from people’s childhoods, is that the payoff rarely matches the original. I mean, if I wrote a book about a wandering traveler through the desert of the Middle East and I mirrored the cover of the Alchemist, I’m sort of setting myself up for disappointment aren’t I?

How to conjure up nostalgia the right way

I can think of two specific examples of intertextuality working the way it should be. The first most obvious choice, is Stranger Things. The genius about Stranger Things is that while it relies pretty heavily on 80’s references, it doesn’t use it as a substitute for story. At it’s heart, Stranger Things is really about a group of kids trying to find their way through adolescence, against the backdrop of an interdimensional threat that threatens their way of life. That story isn’t about the 80’s. The 80’s are merely the supporting character.

Another great example is one of my favorite comic book movies of all time, Logan.

In Logan, there are definitely references to the comic books, and previous X-men movies. But the story isn’t bogged down by these references, and most importantly, the director James Mangold intentionally didn’t want to go down the path of creating just another superhero movie.

That’s because most superhero movies are guilty of weaponized intertextuality. How many times has a friend leaned over to you in the theater and said “Ooh, a character I know from the comic books!” or “ooh, I bet that’s an easter egg for the next movie!”

Constant character references from obscure comic book issues and movies that serve as an appetizer for bigger, better movies, don’t really make a good movie in itself, do they?

All this is to say that in the modern age of filmmaking and marketing, we need to be smarter about how to connect with and resonate with audiences. People love being reminded about their past, but in a way that’s not shoved in their face, and right on the nose. Because just like advertising, people do not fall in love with products, references, or easter eggs, they fall in love with a feeling.

Originally posted on Leonard David Raymundo’s Medium

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Have Superhero Movies Reached Their Peak?

Originally posted on Medium

With the recent release of Black Panther having set a new bar for action movies (as mentioned in my previous post), one cannot help but think that the superhero genre in general may be running out of steam. Batman vs. Superman was incredibly underwhelming, the latest Justice League, while better, failed to live up to its hype, and both Marvel and DC Comics fans have been left with what amounts to a lineup of profitable, yet unimpressive films.

In the last 5 years there have been 23 films released based on Marvel and DC properties alone. You would think that this would create something of a superhero fatigue, right? Well, not exactly, and that’s because the superhero genre, after experiencing a bit of a rough patch in the mid-to-late 2000s, has now hit something of a renaissance. And what is the contributing factor to this renaissance, you may ask? Well, put simply, it is creativity, passion and a clear vision.

Let’s take one my favorite superhero movies of all time, Logan for example. Released just last year, Logan was the 10th film in the hit-or-miss X-Men franchise that saw the final story of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Why was this film such a critical and commercial hit? Aside from the fact that it had a great story, terrific acting and some of the best action sequences ever created for an X-Men film, it had used creativity to disrupt the traditionally conventional superhero genre. 20th Century Fox could have put out another PG-13 movie to make a quick buck, but instead, they took a risk and gave fans what they have been asking for for years: a violent, gritty, almost sociopathic Wolverine. Logan featured no shortage of foul language, grisly death and a realistic tone. This was a huge change of pace for the franchise, which previously leaned on toned down violence and language. Because of the passion of everyone involved in the project, namely by director James Mangold, we were left with a beautiful love letter to a character that many of us grew up with.

In fact, Logan is less a “superhero” movie, and more of an old western. If you haven’t already, watch “Unforgiven” with Clint Eastwood sometime. You won’t regret it.

Now let’s take a look at a film that fared poorly with critics and audiences: Justice League. Also released last year, Justice League was a meager attempt at cashing in on the tremendous success that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has had. A garbled mish mash of CG action sequences and funny, but off tone comedy, Justice League was destined to fail — but why? Because it relied too heavily on traditional genre tropes, failing to pack the emotional punch that other superhero films (like the Dark Knight series) did before it. In fact, the film made more headlines for its trouble behind the scenes than it did for being a film. As leadership changes troubled DC’s film department, Zack Snyder, the creative director who’d made the DCEU what it was (for better or worse), was having problems of his own. Due to personal reasons, he was forced to leave the film before finishing production, and DC had no other choice but to find a new director.

Enter Joss Whedon, the nerd’s nerd. DC, and by extension, Warner Brothers, were hoping that Whedon would be able to add his creative touch to the film and create a box office darling; they were wrong. Instead, Whedon attempted to undo most of Snyder’s dark and gritty atmospheric choices and replace them with lighthearted fare that would appeal to audiences, leaving us with a superhero film that has no clue what it wants to be. Fans noticed this and didn’t bite. The film failed.

This is precisely where Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and to a certain extent, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men universe, is getting it right. They are taking creative risks and putting their films in the hands of creative and passionate individuals whom all have a clear vision for their project. The MCU is headed by Kevin Feige who understands that taking creative risks and playing homage to the source material of these films pays off big time. The first two Thor films didn’t necessarily flop at the box office, but they were not critical darlings; however, once Taika Waititi’s brand of off-the-wall humor made its way into the franchise, Thor: Ragnarokgave a refreshing take on the character, and saw massive praise and box office receipts; Ryan Coogler’s heavy African influence on and passion for the source material of Black Panther made the film the billion-dollar behemoth it is today.

Is the superhero genre dying? No, I don’t believe that it is. I simply believe that we are now experiencing something of a “revolution” in superhero films in which the traditional genre conventions must be disposed of, in favor of originality and authentic storytelling. Black PantherThor: RagnarokWonder WomanDeadpool and Logan all share one thing in common: they were made with a clear vision, and did not limit themselves to what a superhero film “should” be. Superhero films have not reached their peak, not as long as we have young professional filmmakers who care about these characters as much as fans do.

Vetting Online Stories in the “Fake News” Era

We are, unfortunately, in an era where the term “fake news” has become somewhat of a socially acceptable (yet still grossly misinterpreted) phrase. While nearly everyone has taken sources from the internet with a grain of salt for decades, the past few years have been controversial to say the least, now that the “post-truth era” has commenced.

The unfavorable reality is that our current president is one who has been accused of and caught lying on several occasions. Forgetting about the Russian scandal for a second, or his alleged sexual misconduct, he has lied about simple facts; such as the number of people at his inauguration, or the fabricated correlation between immigration and crime rates.

Now, whether or not everything he has said is entirely factual word for word, vetting this information online can be extremely difficult given the turmoil American politics are in at the moment. With that said, how can you trust a story you come across online?

Skepticism is essential in maintaining factual knowledge. Never should you immediately assume a story you read online is 100% accurate. However, that is not to say that you should dismiss everything you read right away. The answer is to dig deeper, and verify from multiple resources. Find additional publications, stronger evidence, and avoid falling victim to a pushed narrative (that last point being stressed the most).

Today more than ever, both political parties are pushing their own narratives to attempt to disprove or derail the “opposition,” when in reality, no one should be opposing anybody. American politics were founded upon freedom of speech and freedom of beliefs, which should come with a mutual respect between every party. This has now turned into “right and wrong” in the eyes of more extreme party members, but that is rant for another blog. Why that is dangerous should be obvious, but the one I’ll point out for the sake of this article, is that you become oblivious to factual details that can cloud your judgment.

Train yourself to be able to spot false narratives. Propaganda may seem like an issue that was only prominent in the early 20th century during World War II, but it is alive and well, and smarter than ever, making it harder for individuals to actually recognize it. While traditional news sources are more reliable than a blog found in the dark corners of the internet, narratives can still be forced (see CNN, Fox News, etc.), even if they are factually correct. Besides not relying on your Facebook feed for news updates, there are several steps you can take in seeking out untrustworthy sources and stories.

  1. First, if the headline or what you’re reading seems to crazy to be true, it most likely is. Similarly, if it seems so ridiculous that it must be true, that could be a sign of the source effectively playing on your predetermined beliefs.
  2. Find outside sources that are linked out from the article. Chances are, what you are reading was repurposed from its original format, and due to plagiarism and intellectual property laws, that original article is more than likely linked somewhere. Once you find it, see if anything has been changed to alter the context.
  3. Any story that claims something will happen in the future should be immediately discredited to some extent. No news source is psychic.
  4. Any attacks on a certain demographic or group should indicate a heavily biased story, and thus, should not be given your full trust.
  5. Was an opposing idea or someone who disagrees consulted for the sake of argument? This is a great way to validate the original story. Showing that there are multiple sides is a selfless practice that often gives more credit to a news source. Simply focusing on one side and saying those who disagree are wrong does not have strong evidence.
  6. Consider if what you’re reading is actually news or not. This might seem like a no-brainer, but nowadays the “news”, even coming from the President, is not news-worthy at all.

Always remain skeptical when reading stories online, no matter if they are political or not. When diving into a subject or story, try and find as many sources as you can, and form your own opinion without being swayed by a writer on the internet. Strive to learn, and develop an individual mindset in this increasingly challenging world.

Artificial Intelligence in Advertising: Smart or Scary?

Ever since the Terminator movies of the 80’s, people have been pretty cautious of technology, to say the least.

Technology can be both exciting and terrifying, depending on your perspective. The impressive leaps and bounds that modern technology is able to make today has paved the way for advancements in nearly every facet of the business world, and the field of advertising is no exception.

AI and automation have allowed professionals in advertising to reach their target audiences much more quickly and accurately through advanced algorithms that can memorize and predict what exactly a certain customer has searched for and is looking for. This makes an advertiser’s job much easier, as well as much more effective.

Technology has reached a point where it knows us better than we know ourselves. It’s something that sounds more like a sci-fi plot than reality, but it’s true. Because of AI’s ability to take note of the things we search for and the pages we spend the most time on, many platforms are able to predict what we intend to purchase or search for next. Strategically placed ads can then be seen throughout the internet, most prominently on social media. Think of how many times you’ve looked up product on Amazon only to find an advertisement for something similar on Facebook.

A good way to look at this (no pun intended) is to consider the way the human eye operates. We are only able to clearly see what our pupils are looking at while the rest of our field of vision is blurred. We also have trouble deciphering complex visual stimulants. In other words, an ad that is too “busy” with too much text, too many images, or varying colors. Intelligent advertisements take this into consideration when placing their ads.

When applied to advertising, artificial intelligence aims to mimic the human eye. Many forms of technology today have allowed advertisers to study where exactly a person’s eyes are drawn on a certain website or landing page through heat maps. These give professionals an idea of what attracts readers or buyers, which they can then use to adjust their advertising efforts accordingly. The goal is to increase interaction between the ad and the customer. A more engaging experience is one that is more likely to end in a sale.

Artificial intelligence is powerful, and it’s important we consider how we can use it for a greater cause. It allows people to connect with others on a much more human level, as ironic as that is. Advertising has benefitted greatly from these technological breakthroughs. With more precision in their strategies implemented, advertisers can harness the power of AI to reach further and wider than they may have ever thought imaginable.

And hopefully, it never turns around on us like it always inevitably does in the movies.