Cargo Cults, Kevin Smith And The Difference Between Connecting And Going Through The Motions

from the it's-called-authenticity dept

I've noticed an interesting thing lately when talking about business models in the internet era. Critics of those business models like to brush them off as "this is nothing new," or "yeah, yeah, we all know how to do marketing gimmicks or personalized promo." On Monday, when we wrote about what Kevin Smith is doing, we got a few comments along those lines -- stating that "four walling" is nothing new. In fact, even Kevin suggested this, in talking about what Bob Weinstein said to him after the event on Sunday.

I actually think there's more to it than that, and that the difference is important, so figured I'd do a separate post about it. We've talked a lot about cargo cult science and how lots of folks make a huge mistake in just copying the superficial "stuff they can see," rather than the core, underlying reasons of why something works. If you don't recall, the basis of cargo cults, I'll let Richard Feynman, who coined the term explain the basics:
In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.
This kind of thing happens all over the place, and certainly in many of these discussions. It's easy to dismiss the various models based on just a superficial look at them. "Taking a movie around as a tour? Why that's just four-walling and it's been done for ages." But that's the same thing as looking at the setup on those islands and wondering why the planes don't land. What makes the planes land is the stuff you don't see and which aren't replicated in a paint-by-numbers fashion. What makes this work is not just the fact that they're taking a movie around to theaters. Just as what makes musicians special offerings work is not just that they're "personal promo." It's the other part of the equation which underlies all of that: the connecting with fans bit.

And, no, none of this means that everyone has to "connect" in the same way. Kevin Smith does it by living on Twitter and in doing his various podcasts, Q&As, etc. Others connect in different ways, with different tools. Some connect every day -- others only show up intermittently. Again, as with the cargo cults, connecting with fans isn't just "use Twitter/Facebook/whatever," it's about actually figuring out a way that works for that artist and his or her fans. It's about being authentic and true to those fans. When you do that, and you combine it with quality content and a plan that makes sense, it's amazing what you can do.

But if you just look at this as a paint-by-numbers answer to "what is the business model," you're going to fail. And that includes even some of our favorite tactics, such as using "free" as part of your strategy. As we've said time and time again, give it away and pray is no business model. Nor is just setting up "tiered" offerings. Those can work amazingly well also... but, again, without the connecting, who's going to buy. Taking a movie on tour is great... but without the fans clamoring to see it, then that's useless as well.

So mock these things, if you'd like. Or brush them off as "not new" (as if something needs to be "new" to work). But don't dismiss them because the superficial elements have been done for ages, if you're not looking at everything else that's happening to make the superficial stuff work. The answer to new business model development is not "well, we're using Kickstarter/Topspin/etc." Those are useful tools, but they're really there to enable something bigger. The answer to connecting with fans is not "but we've got a Twitter account." Again, that's a tool. The trick is to use those things properly, to connect with fans in an authentic way, which makes them want to support what you do. The tools can help you do that, but it takes a lot more than just "four walling" it to make the planes actually land.

Filed Under: cargo cults, connecting with fans, four walling, kevin smith

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2011 @ 10:02am

    Trying to make people with MBAs understand this is going to be hard. The whole premise for selling kids on getting MBAs is that you can automatically be an expert in any business. No one wants to hear “even with an MBA, you still need to understand the SPECIFIC business you are in” because that takes time and imagination. It takes insight and is hard to teach and thus hard to box and sell. It seems especially true in the creative businesses. The executives there seem to really have a love/hate relationship with their industry. They love the wild profits it can turn out, but gosh darn it, it isn’t predictable enough. They want a formula that they can take with them from company to company so they can get rid of the "talent" because they are high maintenance (ie they have their own mind). They are only interested in superficial copying because if they really cared about making art, they probably would be an actor or writer or director or someone actually CREATING instead of ordering around those who create. There are the exceptions, executives that really understand and care about making something new, but they seem to be few in number. So good luck getting them to admit this- they will deny for a long time because it is what they WANT to be the truth.

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