Spoiled for choice • 23 March 2010 • The SnowBlog
Spoiled for choice
Anna, who for the purposes of this discussion I might call "Snowbooks' secret weapon" (although, strictly speaking we do have more than one secret weapon) made a fine and eloquent point recently, in between discussions of kittens, about the way content and the marketing of that content can get in each other's way.
"I really wanted to like the American version of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' -- it's an interesting subject, after all -- but I can't stand wasting time hearing about what's coming up after the commercial break. If you have to plan a teaser for every segment, just so people won't wander away, there's probably something fundamentally wrong with your content (or you've severely underestimated your viewers)." I've had previous grumbles about something similar myself, like the practice of summarising a (scripted) TV or radio show just before you air it. "And now: an unexpected visit from Dave's ex has far-reaching consequences, particularly for Paul and Rachel." Arggghhh! Are there really people out there who only make the decision to watch a program or not in the six seconds before it starts. I mean, if you know who Dave, Paul and Rachel are, presumably you're a regular. (Although they're hypothetical in this case.) And why sacrifice the enjoyment of the loyal viewer in favour of Gadfly McChannel-Changer?
The battle between showing the show and marketing the show plays out in all sorts of arenas. Trailers of all types - but especially movie trailers - are a prime example. The forgettable 1985 Smith-and-Jones comedy Morons From Outer Space was notable for being the first time that every funny moment from a movie was in the long version of the trailer. It was the first, but undoubtedly not the last. Only if you know people are going to come and see your movie could you afford to respect the audience by giving nothing important away in the trailer - or so the logic goes. I saw The Blind Side in the States. Presumably that movie is close to a guaranteed success in the UK what with the feel-good plot, the positive press and the S. Bullock Oscar. But the UK TV trailer which highlights the 'best lines' is also giving away the major plot points at the same moment.
This really is one area where the much-vaunted and little-delivered promise of interactive media could help. I hope that at some point in the future you can opt out of spoilerish marketing if you pre-emptively promise to watch the darn thing they're intent on ruining for you. The pact would be "If I promise to watch your movie would you kindly not spoil it for me in advance." Though I imagine 'opt out' marketing would make the marketeers nervous. You'd probably have to actually purchase your cinema ticket or pay for the DVD before they'd risk leaving you spoiler free. (But then again, a lot of people like spoilers because they like instant gratification.)
Of course this is also where what I call 'honest marketing' could come in. If anyone ever develops something akin to Amazon's Recommendations - but which actually works* - then we might be prepared to watch what we're told to watch without needing a deluge of hype to sway us. But the marketeer's temptation to abuse or rig a Recommendations system would be so great - and their restraint is so notoriously weak - that I can't quite picture it happening. Until then, the fast forward button is my friend. As a rule: watch/listen to nothing but the show itself and you might remain spoiler-free (though I've still been caught out by the occasional late announcer's desperate voice-over attempts to reveal the first act twist to me before the programme begins).
The other question I suppose is how many of us as audience members would like to enjoy a book, movie or TV show un-spoilered. It's tempting to find out tidbits about something you're really looking forward to. Would it require too much self-restraint to say 'no' to cool-looking trailers and revealing interviews? And are others (and not just me) convinced that spoilers give you a short-term treat at the expense of overall enjoyment? If you're not convinced that spoilers spoil then maybe you see them as 'bonus content' and want whatever you can get. Am I accidentally championing fuddy-duddy-ism here? Don't eat sweets or you'll ruin your appetite for sprouts later. Surely not.
*I've rated dozens - maybe hundreds - of purchases and 'already owned' items on Amazon's website and I've never had a single, useful Recommendation. Many of its suggestions follow the non-existent logic: if you liked the paperback, maybe you'd like to buy the hardback too. Or, if you bought a children's book as a gift, maybe you'd like to buy some for yourself.