but we DO steal cars

12 September 2005, 7:02 pm

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Re-education campaigns will ALWAYS fail.

They never reach the target audience.

Once I had a college professor who was worried about absenteeism in his class. When he complained about it, he started out by saying, “I’m not addressing these remarks to those of you who are here today, but. . .” You see the problem? Your ad campaign suffers from the same misconception.

  • The people sitting in the movie theater paid to get in. They’re not your problem, but you decrease the value of their theater experience.
  • The people watching who bought (or rented) the DVD are not your problem. They just get annoyed that they can’t fast forward through your propaganda.
  • The people who shoplifted feel like they’ve outsmarted you. They think it’s funny.
  • The people in theaters making digicam bootlegs don’t bother to copy your propaganda.
  • The pople sharing your product over the Internet don’t bother to copy your propaganda.

You’re negatively reinforcing “good” behavior. You’re not affecting “bad” behavior at all. It’s a disaster.

You’re The Man. You can never be cool — stop trying.

Any message you push will lack credibility just because you pushed it. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell has some great things to say about the failure of anti-smoking ad campaigns, which suffer from exactly the same problem.

Ripping off The Man doesn’t always have to be cool (although it often is), but The Man can never be cool when he’s whining about being ripped off. Think through your messaging, and how your audience is going to percieve it in that light.

  • What’s the biggest video game success story of the past several years? You’ve heard of Grand Theft Auto, right? You do know for many teens shoplifting is a rite of passage? Risk is glamorous. You have glamorized risk (and law-breaking) for decades. When we see “Stealing is Against the Law” on the screen, we hear Homer Simpson’s mocking voice. He waggles his fat fingers and says, “Ooh! It’s against the law-wuh!”
  • Nobody hated Metallica just because they were rich.
    Their drummer, Lars Ulrich, was a millionaire mansion-dweller before Napster, and no one accused him of being a sell-out — they had an ironclad rep as a band that played as hard as they partied. Ulrich went from being an icon of cool to a laughingstock overnight when he accused his fans of ripping him off. He went from A Rebel to The Man. Rebels rage; The Man whines.
  • If you hire a hot band to perform the soundtrack for an anti-piracy spot, it doesn’t make the spot cool. It just erodes the band’s market value.

continued. . .

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8 comments on “but we DO steal cars”

  1. 2fs

    As always in your commentary on these issues, your thoughts here are lucid, clever, and compelling. I’d add one suggestion: if your bonus content includes a script (for an episode of a TV show, say - several Buffy and Angel DVDs include those), make sure the damned thing’s legible. DO NOT use a “cool” distressed typewriter face, as if the script ever existed on anyone’s actual beat-up old typewriter. Make the script a nice, large, legible typeface, and hopefully scrollable onscreen (is that possible? I don’t even know). I might be interested in a script bonus under such circumstances - if I have to strain my eyes to read it, and click to “turn the page” every ten seconds, I’m not going to bother.

    And: I’d guess that the “bonus” Wilco and Liz Phair EPs are among the most fileshared out there: something about making people who’ve already paid for something jump through further hoops enrages them enough to encourage them to violate the law. Worse yet, at some point, the bonus EP with YHF was no longer accessible - even to people who entered in the required info.

  2. summervillain


    I’d add one suggestion: if your bonus content includes a script […] make sure the damned thing’s legible. DO NOT use a “cool” distressed typewriter face, as if the script ever existed on anyone’s actual beat-up old typewriter. Make the script a nice, large, legible typeface . . .

    Excellent call, 2fs. Actually I think this is a special case — TV screens are very poorly suited to script-sized chunks of text — it’s not even comfortable for most people to read something that long on a computer monitor. And DVD players completely lack a good interface mechanism for moving around in a large body of text.

    So, Hollywood, if you’re going to include a script, that’s probably a good use of a DVD ROM portion of a disc, rather than trying to make it work in a consumer DVD player. I’ll also make an exception to my no-proprietary-software rule, and suggest PDF would be a good choice — make it easy for people to read it on screen if they really want to, and easy to print it to curl up with away from the computer. Just make sure it’s really obvious in the external packaging that you need a DVD-equipped computer.

    If you want to score extra points with me, you could even include all the DVD ROM content on a separate CD-ROM for not-so-up-to-date-users. (Or at least mail a free CD-ROM version to anyone who sends you a request for one along with their UPC or other proof-of-purchase. Or make it available for download. Make it really free, though — don’t hammer customers with a shipping/handling charge for what they already bought, on top of making them wait 4-6 weeks for your fufillment folks. Provide your privacy policy with any redemption coupon, and don’t automatically subscribe anyone to marketing mailings they haven’t explicitly selected.)

    Obviously, you should license the Acrobat Reader installers from Adobe and put them right on the discs for anyone who doesn’t already have them installed. Thanks.

    Oh, and yeah, despite being a long-term fan of the band and purchaser of the requisite CD, I’ve yet to hear the Wilco EP in question. Such is life.

  3. Flasshe

    Hear hear. This should be required reading… everywhere.

    Let’s not forget about paying for a theater movie and overpriced snacks, and then having to sit through 20 minutes of commercials before the trailers even start. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic. Hollywood… sheesh.

    Speaking of “exclusive content”, here’s something that really bugs me. The iTunes music store has a bonus track for the new New Pornographers album. However, you can’t download it separately. You can only get it if you purchase the whole album from iTunes. What’s up with that? So if you’ve already done your duty for the band and purchased the actual hard CD, you are penalized. You can’t get the one extra tune without paying $10 and purchasing the entire thing again in an inferior format with copy restrictions. Even once you have that track, you’re limited to what you can do with it.

    It’s like there’s no motivation to buy the actual CD, which is maybe what the record company and the band want. Why not have something on the band’s website that lets you download the extra track if you’ve got the CD in your PC’s drive, or something like that? It just infuriates me.

  4. Ezra

    *Bing*. What you said.

    The only thing I’d add is that I’m not sweating this issue. I really believe that the day is coming when people will realize, not only are the “content creators” making it hard for us to enjoy their stuff, but, you know, really, most of it just sucks. It’s not really worth the trouble. I, for one, would rather watch Magical Trevor over and over for two hours than, say, “Must Love Dogs” once. In fact, I have done this. (Why? Because everyone loves Magical Trevor!)

  5. summervillain

    I dunno, I’m just not as sanguine. You and I may not be going to see Must Love Dogs but somehow it grossed over 42M$ without our help (and without video/foreign markets/merchandising in the figures). Most people buy what’s put in front of them, rather than making an effort to find something else, and I’m not sure why I should expect — rather than just hope — that will suddenly change.

    I do think the generations that grow up post-Internet will be more tech-savvy, but they’re not un-foolable, and (so far) considered en masse, they choose paths of lesser resistance. Consider ringtones: there are plenty of freeware tools for converting any clip you want into the appropriate format, and easy-to-follow directions for using ‘em — but folks who won’t spend a buck to download a full song will spend a couple bucks to download a fragment of it.

    I keep thinking the next intrusive piece of tech will be the camel-back-breaker, but they keep doing down the übermaw with only mild grumbling. This program won’t work unless you let it pass arbitrary data over the Internet through backchannels you can’t control? Um, okay. You have to call a software company to reauthorize your application software after you put in one interface card too many? Cool. Hey, it’s an 800 number, so at least it’s on their dime. This CD crashes your computer if you put it in a CD-ROM drive? Well, just don’t put it in the drive. (patient: “Doctor, my arm hurts when I do this.”)

    And yeah, sure, there’s a vocal minority of technophiles that complain about these sorts of things, and some of those boycott certain products, and maybe at some point it becomes a genuine groundswell that affects the powers of commerce. But I think the connected elite tends to over-estimate its importance. Cf the campaign of Howard Dean, frinstance.

    Trevor: cute. Is Mark Bodé involved somehow? (I couldn’t find credits.) The drawing style of Trevor and his desert milieu remind me a bit o’ Cheech Wizard.

  6. Ezra

    But see, the Must Love Dogs example backs up your thesis, and gives reason for sanguinity. If something can gross $42M with nothing more going for it than it just being easy and “there”, if the distribution co.s make it harder, people won’t bother.

    Put another way, if you’re serious that you hope people find something else, you should be *encouraging* Hollywood to be as annoying as possible, and start your own distribution company.

    Re: Trevor, I do not know who’s behind it, other than that they are also behind badgerbadgerbadger.com

  7. 2fs

    Flasshe, thanks for mentioning the New Pornographers dealy. Of course, it’ll probably come out on some comp or other in a year or two (a la A.C. Newman’s “Homemade Bombs in the Afternoon” - which at least you could buy separately on iTunes). But in the meantime: don’t those folks realize that the resentment created in people by such bullshit (I paid $12 for the actual CD - now I’m supposed to pay another $10 just to get one track that I can’t otherwise get, and get a redundant album on top of it?) simply encourages people to do things like, oh say, if by chance they did buy the album at iTunes, de-DRMify it using something like JHymn, and then post the clean mp3 online somewheres? Not that I’d actually suggest anyone do such a thing - I’d be shocked, just shocked - nor that I’d rather pay that person a buck than pay $10 to iTunes for the privilege of getting the one track. Just sayin’…

  8. summervillain


    you should be *encouraging* Hollywood to be as annoying as possible,

    Well, but my whole conceit here was that I had my schmarketing hat on to offer sound advice to Hollywood execs. Even hatless, though, I think draconian intellectual property protection measures are bad news for everybody.


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