Monday, July 18, 2011

Missing Meta-story management affects toy movie effectiveness

Attached is an interesting article from Toy News online that describes a glut of underperforming movies that haven't driven the toy sales to the level the brand owners expected.  It underscores the need for true Meta-story development for these properties and these formats.

Large organizations like toy companies can make formulaic decisions about story that really have nothing to do with good Meta-story creation. Early success can make a whole industry certain that all they need is their own competencies to move into another form of expression. here's an example of how some of that thinking translates into unsuccessful direction:

"If there is a direct relationship between rating/box office and toy sales, that must mean that the more they see my toys the more they'll buy them!" This leads to "product cramming" and losing the key empowerment and narrative in service of product placement and feature opportunities.

Many of the movies that have failed to perform at box office and in product retail have this particular belief baked-in to the development.

Here's the article. Read it through and below is a few additional things to consider:

Toy movies in 2011 - Has Hollywood gone too far?

Having read the article, several things pop out.

First, as pointed out by the author of the article, it is astonishing just how many of these movies are demographically right on top of each other.  The first transformers was sharing the demographic audience Pie with just a few others.  Now, its a pile-on so naturally, all slices are going to be much more hard won.

 Second, is that not all of these movies are what the toy industry calls "Toyetic." Through Meta-story, we learn how to deeply understand the nuanced but profound needs within each product and media format. Within the toy industry, no one expected John Cameron's Avatar to be a runaway hit for kids. It never contained the right kind of aspirational empowerment for kids to adopt it given where they are in their psychosocial development.  The same is true for Kung Fu Panda, Tron Legacy, Thor and Pirates. Just because a movie has cool things in it doesn't mean that those things translate to sustainable role play for kids. The movies themselves can even be wonderful cinematic triumphs (Kung Fu Panda) but performance in other media and formats is independent of single media success. I'll repeat what I always say to clients about shaping their narratives:

"Stories are like software. If you don't build them to run on their intended platforms from the beginning it is likely they won't perform well."

Third is that in spite of lower box office for Cars 2, it is such a spot-on concept for kids that it will still drive sales of product quite well over time.

Fourth and perhaps the most important, is that in the rush to create huge movies out of toy properties, executives seem to be forgetting that what makes a story become a lifestyle brand is when it becomes so meaningful to it's audience that it become "beloved!" Product doesn't make a story meaningful. At times the play you experienced as a child does but, if you can't excavate what is driving the meaning and empowerment for your audience and move that to the forefront of your development, then you risk doing damage to your narrative and franchise by making it an advertisement.  Cool is not the primary measure of a successful kid's lifestyle and product brand. Kid-Empowerment is.

We seem to be stuck in a whirlwind entertainment trend to spend enormous amounts of money making gigantic special effects movies that are mostly very edgy and full of intensely cool action.  High School and College guys are loving this no doubt but why are we surprised when children of 4 to 11 don't seem to be captivated by the same things we were in love with when we were kids? Because we've turned those stories and themes into entertainment that is mostly out of their reach and/or inappropriate for their aspirations.

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