Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Great Divide:

You're dong it wrong.

So apparently it took a few years for Constantin Films to realize they were the source material for a popular meme, but only a few moments for them to react in a way that would have only seemed logical over a decade ago. If you’re reading this, chances are the only reason you know of the existence of “Downfall” is because of this meme. The parodies had not escaped the attention of the actual makers of the film, and director Oliver Hirschbiegel has even been quoted as supporting such parody creations. Although this kind of parody is not protected under fair use laws, the fact that value for the film is generated from these activities should be obvious. Apparently, the people who work at Constantin are such marketing geniuses, they can not understand the source of value for their film in the English speaking market and why having such a thing is not only valuable, but often so very unlikely in the first place and should feel quite fortunate. This kind of thing has happened for so long now, that there are business school cases written about how companies like Constantin have fucked up a great source of publicity because it goes against the grain of “old media” thinking.

(see, all he needed was some "re-branding")

Of course, most of everyone reading knows that it’s not only a dick move, but unprofitable as well. However the crux of the matter is that while fans and people in the know are aware of this kind of thing, they have still been unable to articulate exactly what is happening in terms of this meme helping the film’s sales, and why it is important. The fact is that these companies simply have not been illuminated to the actual principle as it operates, that once a piece of media has passed into the level of public meme, not only can it not be stopped, but should be taken advantage of. So lets look at the situation:

This thing shows up on the internet and eventually becomes an anticipated regular to most major news developments from the death of Michael Jackson to the victory of BluRay over Microsoft in the battle for Hi-Def DVD industry standard. Before too long, hundreds nay, thousands, of people who otherwise would have never heard of this film were looking it up on IMDB and sure enough I am sure that someone somewhere bought a DVD of this movie because of seeing the meme. But that kind of purchase is the exception, not the rule. In reality, this kind of meme awareness high speed take-off rarely means that there is any increase in actual packaged media sales beyond a fraction of a percent. The Academy Award™©® nomination would have a stronger effect on sales, since it broadly reaches a narrow cluster. This kind of thing is not something that increases sales with a narrow reaching of broad clusters. But it's also not about sales.

It's not the increase or decrease in sales that is the real source of value here. Although intangible and abstractly qualitative, it is the awareness and commonality across very different segments that can be taken advantage of and felt in terms of other areas such as new IP development, or (in the short term) getting the thing into some rental accounts. In the end, it's not about protecting "good" brand awareness by pulling the video, but avoiding "bad" brand awareness by making sure your company's actions do not come off as seemingly as douche-tastic as possible. In a singly publicized move, Constantin Films has gone from having a fairly innocuous brand status of "the company that made that Hitler movie that get remixed on the internet" and brought it straight to "that evil company that doesn't know how to relate to how people interact with media."

Now I am pretty sure that Constantin Films is not so retarded that they actually think they are losing sales or really being financially hurt because of this, so that only leaves two other options, both of which lead to the same conclusion of absolute douchebagery and dickishness. Option one; some cock producer (obviously not the director since we’ve established he is happy about this kind of thing) thinks that the “art” of the film is somehow being corrupted and like George Lucas they want to control everything that happens with their “baby” of a film. Second possibility is that people at Constantin are Hitler fans and don’t want him made fun of. I’ll go with option #2 since this blog has yet to pull a Godwin. So I will say right here that I firmly believe that Constantin Films are Nazis and love Hitler, and that's why they filed the take-down notices.

If there were ever a textbook case of what not to do in terms of marketing and brand management in the digital age, it would be Constantin Films and Downfall. Hopefully, this episode will lead to the actual downfall of this sadly uneducated and misguided company. But as an individual incident with individual players, this is just another short term flash in the pan of the universe that is internet shenanigans, and in 6 weeks no one will care, let alone 6 months.

(You know who else invented the first non-smoking campaign?)

Now the thing is, this is actually indicative of how far behind the media industries of other countries are in terms of where they should be, and Japan is no exception. It’s strange to come from an American generation that has to groan and roll their eyes when told to do such ancient clichés like “think outside the box” or “give 110%” in what we do. The fact is, that in countries like Germany, China, and Japan, “think outside the box” is actually still considered groundbreaking and using that phrase in a sentence in a non-ironic way can still have people take you seriously.

So what do we do when the mindsets and operational expectations of consumers are so far advanced from the old world media that produces the entertainment content they are keen to purchase? Aside from what Shogakukan has done with Viz (at least in part), the basic Japanese strategy has been to simply ignore those segments that are more advanced in their thinking than you can be. Companies simply go on to make what they make, and neither take advantage of, nor pay much attention to viral awareness indicators like internet activity or meme status. That’s not to say these companies don’t realize something should be done. I just spent a month-long consulting gig at a Japanese media company that wanted to “activated” their viewers in some sort of “new community” but had no intention of changing what they were doing in the slightest. The sad fact is that most of these companies still believe that they can take advantage of internet-born marketing phenomena, while retaining pre-internet strategies and business models.

People have accused the recent Shogakukan request to take off the scanned manga out there to be part of this misunderstanding, but that is in all honestly bullshit. Shogakukan properties have just as much right to as much protection as novels or other commercial media have. Raw scans lead to scanlations, which don't necessarily take away sales, but ruin the value of a license. This is something I talked about before way back when, in response to Justin Sevakis and fansubs, so we won't rehash that here.

Welcome to the future, you’re the only one here.

Speaking of tackling people that are "out of touch", the recent post by Miss Dynamite creator has, on his blog, posted an example of the kind of level of head-up-ass syndrome that I thought was only relegated to urban legend at this point. But then again, it involves a government agency, which might explain why they're so behind the curve of understanding.