Some thoughts on why are there so many movies these days based on real-life stories

June 18 2014

As a culture, we all want to escape to a more fantastic and altered universe. A universe where magic, monsters, and super heroes are commonplace, or at least unsurprising. A universe where every one of us knows all the moves for a beautiful, spontaneous, dance number in the park, with a carriage ride into a velvety summer night in Central Park at the end. For years, audiences have used fantasy (not just in films, but across all media) as an imaginative way out of the pressures of the stressful anxiety of the “Real World”.

However, within in the past couple of years, we have seen the emergence of “True Story” films with story lines based on actual events and/or real people. Of course, films have featured true stories in the past, but typically not in the concentrated numbers of releases that we're seeing now. Films like The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, and The Bling Ring have all gained considerable notoriety in the media and awards shows as well as popularity at the box office.


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Of course, one could argue that it’s the star-studded casts that pull viewers into theatres, but I’m more curious as to why there is such an interest in real life stories at this particular moment in time. Why are we so interested in these narratives? As a nation, anxiety and stress is at peak levels. In a pro-digital, pro-tech, pro-CG-that-ocean-into-the-scene world, maybe we're just looking for a different, more authentic connection. We are looking for characters that we can identify with, and not just in the world of made-up super heroes and heroines. It seems that as a culture, we are responding or longing for characters that lived in our world, who know (at a base level) about what we experience. Spiderman may take place in the very real New York City, but Peter Parker's problems are not something we can all relate to. But a worried boat captain, trying to keep his crew safe from pirates? Weirdly it’s real, based on a real man who rose to a real crisis and became a real hero. Now that’s life, and compelling on a profound emotional level.


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Tyrells: Chips (or Crisps), Depending Upon Where You Live

March 14 2014

The other day I went to the grocery store in search of a delicious salty snack. A photo of a group of little old ladies caught my eye, and I knew I had found what I was looking for: Tyrrells English Chips (or Crisps for you Brits). The chips were absolutely delicious. In this case, the packaging was witty and effective in differentiating the product, and definitely pulled me in.


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The company was running a promotion that was featured on the bag that I decided to enter (more on that later), and after a quick google search, I found that they had two different websites, one for their US customers (tyrrellschips.com), and one for their UK consumers (tyrrellscrisps.co.uk). While the sites have the same look and feel, I could see a slight difference in the language, which makes sense given that the UK and the US are two countries separated by a common and similar language! The UK product offerings are far more extensive, offering a wider variety of flavors like Sunday Best Roast Chicken and Naked. The brand’s witty, playful voice comes across in the flavor naming and design, which is very effective (note that I bought the first time I encountered the chip = 100% success for the brand). Having a more extensive product line in the UK makes sense considering that Tyrells is well-known in Britain, and the UK is their main market.


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The US and UK sites do share a few promotions, such as a Facebook potato sack race game and caption contest, but the “big-ticket” promos differ vastly. In the US, you can enter to win a Cambridge Satchel. This style of bag has been very popular this past year in the fashion industry in the US (and still is). It is a slice of traditional English design that is still very much in vogue with the younger crowd. The bag design is a play between modern and vintage, and it works well with the Tyrrells brand voice and aesthetic.

The UK promo is quite different, and very quirky. You can win prizes like “A Monkey’s Uncle”, “A Pack of Lies” or “Inappropriate Trousers”—the actual prize being £25,000, but of course, if you’d prefer an awkward head massage, they’d be happy to oblige. The UK promo really emphasizes Tyrell’s humorous voice to a degree that a caption contest cannot capture, and as an established brand in the UK they can run an almost snarky promotion. This type of oddball promo might not fly yet America because their audience here does not know them well enough. I’m going to track them to see how they promote in the US in the future.

The takeaway? When marketing and communicating your brand in different markets, like Tyrrells, it’s likely that you will want to shade your marketing and communications to target and engage your specific audiences based on the culture and country. Your approach to marketing your brand is unlikely to be monolithic, whether you are selling a service, product, or company.