April 13, 2010

Mediatown: Do "As Little As Possible" After the SuperBowl


Ludacris and Green Day might have been better music acts than Stevie Wonder and Rolling Stones, the legendary musical heroes from the 20th century. The new age music-doers would have fit in with most of the advertising, which was clearly aimed at the Millennial generation. Still, we would suggest that the NFL was correct at going with yesterday's music icon heroes.

We would also recommend that all the SuperBowl's brave sponsors who advertised or those who studied the SuperBowl for clues for their campaigns not fool themselves into thinking they have figured out the mystery of how to speak to our next generation of product-service purchase leaders. In fact our advice would be to "do as little as possible" before they think, act, advertise and finalize anything.


For those watched the game at a bar or neighborhood party and couldn't hear the ad game between innings, check out Google to see and hear them all. Last year's Paul McCartney and this year's musical talent was surely NFL's knee-jerk reaction to the backlash they had from the MTV-produced Janet Jackson 2004 whiplash.

For as dated as the NFL's selections were, we think that was not a bad idea. Why? The answer to that question is both part mystery and stark reality.

Let us explain. Following in the NFL's footsteps, we ask you to take a walk back with us to Chinatown, the baby boom era film. Still considered the best screenplay ever written, it's always had a mystery to it which has relevance here.


We may not have learned about it without Millennial-era technology. The film was released as a DVD, which finally helps explain the genesis of the film's most important and quizzical line. The line was delivered by Jack Nicholson, not once but twice in the film. The line is, "As little as possible".

It's first delivered as an answer to Faye Dunaway's question about what Nicholson's character, Jake Gittes did as a detective in Chinatown. Then he repeats it as a subconscious statement for the stark reality of the film.

What did it mean? As compared to today's films which spoon feed us every nugget of pre-tested "entertainment" Chinatown's subtlety would most guarantee that the film today would not be made. It almost didn't get made then. Back in the early 70's, Paramount pictures didn't understand the line, neither did almost everyone who read the 1971 screenplay, yet the entire story turned on it, even more so than Hollywood's other classic line, "Rosebud".

Robert Towne, Chinatown's screenwriter was interviewed on the new DVD as to what "As little as possible" meant. Get it to see Towne's full interview. This is what he said about the line's genesis:


[Interviewer: Where did the title, "Chinatown" come from and what did the line, "As little as possible" mean?]

Towne: The title had come from a Hungarian vice cop. He had said that he worked vice and he worked vice in Chinatown. And I asked him what he did there. He said, "As little as possible". I said, "What kind of law enforcement is that"? Then he said, "Hey Man, when you're down there [in Chinatown] and dealing with all different languages, you can't tell who's doing what to whom. You can't tell whether you're being asked to prevent a crime or you're inadvertently lending the color of the law to help commit a crime. So we decided that the best thing to do when you're in Chinatown is "as little as possible".

Like the vice cop back then, today's marketers also don't know the language of Millennials. That's a fact. Most major player on MadAve have kids who are at the Millennial age. They can't understand them, so how does one think they will understand the next gen. First impressions count the most. A marketer can't go back, re-introduce itself and have the same level of believability if their language is not understood. Millennials are likely to do "as little as possible" reacting to them.

Marketers don't have the same benefit that the Steelers' had to carefully refine their message as our SuperBowl championships were able to perfect the precision of their game-winning screen pass. The game also gets more complicated as new screens of media enter the field of play. How many writers right now are fit to produce game-winning messages on mobil? We bet not many.


Up until the very end, even with his slick suits, automobile and cigarette case, Nicholson's Gittes character somehow never lost his innocence. He still retained his naivete even with his lengthy experience as a seasoned detective and private investigator. This is what got the screenplay made into a film. It was the paradox of his being employed by the District Attorney's office and then a professional snoop that is a mystery in itself.

Jack/Jake's ability to retain his innocence notwithstanding his being exposed to more corruption and cynicism reflects the innocence in us all. He never let it in.


Similarly, "Mill's" are also still a mystery. Their interests and triggers are just as subtle as Chinatown, the film. They are being exposed to more advertising, promotion and media gimmickry than any other generation before them. They also have the clothes, cars and technology, yet underneath it all are still very innocent. They intend to hold on to it as much as possible.

We find their story and market potential interesting because of this. For as much as the NFL party just ended, the 2006 marketing SuperBowl is just beginning. Those who think they have solved the mystery of how to market to Millennials should for the moment "do as little as possible," or they will find that--like the star-crossed Gittes--they will never let it in.


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