July 13, 2016

A Ghost of a Strategy, A Bust of a Movie

By Emily Locker / Group Account Director

Oh, July.  That sizzling time of year when we escape the afternoon sun by sealing ourselves in frigid, air-conditioned movie theaters.  And lucky for us, Ghostbusters hits theaters this week. 

Sorry, the all-female Ghostbusters. Their marketing team wouldn’t appreciate if I left that out.

As a female, I’m probably supposed to be excited that women will be headlining the first Ghostbusters remake in 30 years, but I won’t be rushing to see it. Why? Because I have no idea what actual value an all-female cast adds to the reboot of this classic franchise. 

IMDB writes, “Director Paul Feig brings his fresh take to the supernatural comedy, joined by some of the funniest actors working today.”  

As a consumer, I agree these stars are some of the funniest actors working today.  
As a feminist, I appreciate the usage of the word “actors” instead of “actresses.”  
But as a marketer, I like to think that every business decision is backed by a sound insight—especially when it’s executed in a solid, interesting way. 

I know my optimistic way of thinking isn’t always realistic, but I just can’t “bust” why producers and executives decided that a female cast was a meaningful way to celebrate the beloved movie’s (more than) 30th anniversary.  

Was it just a poorly researched insight? 

Was the execution plan simply lackluster?  

Was there no strategic thought at all?

Maybe studio executives uncovered that female audiences wanted to see more women portrayed as superheroes.  I think we do want to see that, but I also think we’d rather see characters, not quotas. More Hermione in Harry Potter, less Spider-Women and other “substitutions.”

Or, maybe the “deep” insight was that women want more chick flicks this year after last summer’s barrage of action films. The problem with that is having chicks in a movie doesn’t make the movie a chick flick.  

I could aim low and assume the “insight” was just that actresses are currently 21% cheaper to hire than their male counterparts, as Jennifer Lawrence has frequently pointed out. But given the total cost of this film ($150 million), budget efficiencies remain an unlikely motivation.

No matter what angle or dimension I look at this from, nothing has led me any closer to the strategic insight for the Ghostbusters remake. I had to agree with Cinemablend when they noted, “The film appears to have made the four titular heroes as women simply for the sake of doing so.”  I certainly can’t find another reason.

We would have done it differently. At Fact & Fiction, we believe that behind every great project is a core truth, but we also know those aren’t always easy to come by.  We make research and strategy the foundation of every problem, so we can uncover a nugget of truth that will resonate with people in an authentic way.  And we like to say that this nugget—or insight—is just treasure in need of a good map.  I don’t think Ghostbusters ever identified a solid piece of treasure that would resonate with audiences—male, female, or otherwise. 

But reboots and sequels don’t always get it wrong. Take Finding Dory, a movie with a number of authentic, heartfelt insights that explore parent and child relationships.  And when I look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I can find a whole galaxy of new characters that resonate with audiences because they’re genuinely compelling and not forced.  

Maybe I’m just a hater. Judd Apatow told Uproxx that “That movie [Ghostbusters] is made by the great Paul Feig and stars the funniest people on Earth, so I couldn’t be more excited.”  Maybe Judd’s right. 

Maybe Ghostbusters and its all-female ghostbusting squad could be the biggest and best blockbuster of the summer. But in my experience, when you haven’t uncovered treasure that’s meaningful to your audience and you don’t follow a good map, that’s not likely to be the outcome. From everything we’ve seen so far, audiences deserve a better Ghostbusters reboot than this. 

One with more marshmallow monsters and less pink proton packs—more meaningfulness, less suck.

- Truth Be Told

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