For a while now, I’ve been a member of a research panel at yougov. You probably know the drill. Every few days I get an e-mail asking me for my views on everything from supermarket advertising (maudlin, uninspiring) to how I would vote if a general election were called tomorrow (early and often).
Then out of the blue on Monday, I received an e-mail from them asking me to take part in an interesting new project. Would I be prepared to take part in an experiment? (Of course I would). Would I like to help yougov produce a movie? (You betcha).
All I had to do was spend 30 minutes watching an animatic with voiceover of the first act of said movie. I won’t give away any of the details of the plot, because they’re not really interesting. What is interesting is that although they were asking for personal responses to the story that was being told, they were then going to aggregate them into a piece of quantitative research that would tell them what was working, and what wasn’t about the film.
Now I’ve seen some interesting research methodology recently – and I’m very excited about the potential of dial testing to produce instant quant responses that can be reacted to and fed back into the process instantly – but this is something I’ve never encountered before.
I know the studios frequently research alternate endings to see which one will make a movie more appealing. (Interesting, given that most people don’t know the ending when they arrive at a movie, so who knows how making it more appealing will affect the potential audience?) But the idea of crowdwriting is really unusual.
Most movies are essentially the product of a director, a writer and a producer, with a number of execs at the studio and the distributor ‘contributing’ in their own inimitable way. It’s a process that has been honed over time that involves individual specialists making value judgments based on what their talent and their experience tell them.
What yougov seem to be saying is that rather than trust the judgment of individual development people, we should judge the wisdom of the crowd. I’m not sure if they’re right, but I’m certainly excited to see how the project turns out.
My only caveat would be the example of the last version of the Ford Escort. So much of Ford’s profit rested on this family compact’s tiny shoulders that the new model was focus-grouped to the point of destruction.
It should have been the most popular car on the market, because everything about it was designed to appeal to someone. Instead, it sold less than the famous Dacia Duster. It failed because in trying to please everyone a bit, it didn’t please anyone very much at all.
Here’s hoping that yougov the movie turns out to be more Harrison Ford than Ford Escort and we all get to crowdwalk up the red carpet together.