Wednesday, October 27, 2010


  Weight Log: 223 lbs

How do the big shots in Hollywood predict which movie is going to be the next big blockbuster? Well the simple answer is that they really cant predict which movie will be the next big deal. Jonah Lehrer, a contributing editor for WIRED magazine, recently wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about how buzz works. (read article here) The interesting thing is that the idea of buzz is not only associated with movies but also with any other product available to the potential consumer. That’s what peaked my interest. Lehrer talks about some research on buzz that Northwestern University sociologist, Brian Uzzi, has helped pioneer. In this study he used a huge sample group to analyze how their responses to current movies btwn 1999 and 2001.

Here’s what he found…

The question, of course, is what generates buzz in the first place. Mr. Uzzi's answer should strike fear into studio executives' hearts: He found virtually no relationship between levels of pre-release buzz and the ad budget of the movie or the presence of highly paid actors, even if millions of dollars were spent. The data suggest that pre-release buzz is mostly unpredictable, driven by intangible factors like the originality of the premise, the title of the film, or even a throwaway line in the trailer.”

So basically none of the conventional methods of generating attractiveness to a product necessarily work very well. In fact one could conclude that being intentional about making your product attractive or desirable may not actually have much affect at all.

“The new buzz research has important implications for marketing. While the old model of advertising is all about reaching individual consumers - Mr. Uzzi argues that future strategies should focus on getting consumers to spread the message themselves. At the moment, the science is short on practical recommendations. As Mr. Uzzi notes, the most cost-effective way to generate buzz is to make an exciting product, to create something that people want to talk about.”

Make something that excites people’s imagination and they will spread the news and reproduce engagement on the part of their friends and acquaintances. This means that while there continues to be a persistent cult of individualism in society – it is clear that basically we like what everyone else likes and we adopt their preferences as our own.

“The new buzz research demonstrates that we're much less autonomous than we imagine. Everything we do is shaped by everyone else.”

Conformity persists.

This idea gets really greasy when it is applied to food – especially to diets or food products that claim to be healthy or reduce weight or whatever. If we are as intertwined as this study suggests then the idea of something being actually healthy or slimming may quickly disappear as meaningful since we are influenced so strongly by the opinions of others. Whether one food item is actually healthy is not as important as whether our social networks are excited about that food product. They may indeed be excited about it because of the perception that it is healthy but it needn’t be healthy at all. Pick any one of the recently marked super foods as a prime example.

Sweet potatoes are healthier than regular potatoes. In fact, we may be missing out on important nutrients if we don’t eat them. But whether or not they actually are healthier makes little difference when you are sitting down at your local post event restaurant for a delicious plate of deep fried sweet potato fries with that tangy chipotle mayo dipping sauce. So why did you pick those fries, because they are healthy, because they taste good, or because under the influence of your peers you have come to regard them as the latest greatest choice to show off your engagement with what is hip? Or some combination thereof?

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