The Oscars: a Mirror for Millennials
It was always a reasonable bet that Spotlight would land the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Oscars may be getting a bad rep for its lack of diversity but in other, subtle ways, the films it honours unconsciously reflect the zeitgeist. And the trend of the times is clear; Hollywood – like its audiences – craves the authentic. Or to use its own particular quaint phrase, it likes movies ‘based on true events’. To my mind, Hollywood holds up a great mirror of our new generation of shoppers: the millennials who crave authenticity, transparency and shared purpose. All values top of the agenda for major global icons including Unilever and Nestle.
Let’s fact check. Half of the eight nominations for best movie this year fell into this category: The Revenant, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies and The Big Short, and this is no blip. Spotlight is the fourth reality-based movie in six years. The King’s Speech, Argo and 12 Years a Slave all drew on true, authentic stories.
This longing for authenticity is not unique to Tinsel Town. That isolated, crazy place, often considered to be detached from reality, has an uncanny talent for reflecting it. Think of the explosion of fantastic, wish-fulfilment films of the 1930s’ depression years. Crowds flocked to Busby Berkeley musicals and the Wizard of Oz to escape their grim reality. Hollywood knew what they wanted, and it delivered.
Today, in contrast, our world is already quite fantastic enough, and increasingly we don’t quite believe it. According to the General Social Survey in the US there has been a steady decline in trust of strangers. And according to the Pew Center, it is the youngest of all adult generations – the Millennials – who are the least likely to trust others.
As media consumers, this generation is also the most likely to be members of a cinema audience. This is the audience making successes of films like Spotlight and The Big Short. The cynics want to believe. They crave the authenticity of a story based in reality.
While Pew research shows the Millennial generation to be the most cynical of all, it is also the most widely connected online, and the most likely to share. Millennials typically have over 300 friends on Facebook. Boomers have less than half that.
The more we share, it seems, the less we trust. Perhaps that’s ironic, but perhaps it makes sense. When everyone can share everything, who do you trust to tell the truth?
The answer is that you become increasingly selective about the people you do trust, and as a result those select few wield tremendous persuasive power. Anyone can create a YouTube channel and post to it, but only a fraction of these video bloggers are widely trusted. Two weeks before the Oscars, British girl-next-door Zoella vlogged her latest ‘Boots haul’ – a 20-minute review of beauty products. In those two weeks the video clocked up almost 2 million views and over 100,000 likes – invaluable profile for the high street chemist.
Smart brands marketing today know this. They realise that pushing their own version of reality is unlikely to persuade viewers, who are savvier than ever. Instead, they prefer to engage in conversation to influence behaviour during the purchase decision journey – either directly or through trusted intermediaries such as YouTube’s superstar vloggers.
This quest for the authentic is not new. After all, the success of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – the first English book widely recognised as a novel – stemmed in part from its claim to be based on a true story. It is, however, more marked today than ever. As the seminal 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto pointed out in the first of its 95 theses, markets are conversations – a brisk counterpoint to the prevailing view at the time that marketing consisted of pushing out messaging.
Hollywood survives by keeping its finger on the contemporary pulse and this year’s Oscars reveals to us that society today craves an experience rooted in reality. It’s a lesson that smart brands are already putting into practice as they seek to transform brand equity into action to boost bottom line growth.
Pietro Leone is CEO, Geometry Global EMEA
Pietro Leone is CEO, Geometry Global EMEA