The great jazz legend, double bassist Ray Brown once said, "the better it gets, the fewer of us know it." In this content crazy world, where pageviews and big blue thumbs act almost like currency, it's important to remember that what's popular isn't always great, and what's great isn't necessarily popular. In fact I think Ray is arguing that the inverse is true, that in order for any particular art form to achieve popularity it must first round off the sharpest edges which would make it truly unique and special. I thought about this quote last night during the Oscars, a hugely popular awards ceremony that generally honors films.....that practically nobody has seen. Take this year's Best Picture, "The Shape of Water", whose all important opening weekend box office tally came in at just over 166. Thousand. 166,000 dollars. That's a rounding error on the daily catering budget of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And while I don't have the actual numbers, I'm quite certain that "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" likely beat that total at a single multiplex near a Target somewhere off the Jersey Turnpike. After all the buzz, The Shape of Water will come in at #48 on the box office list, narrowly beating out #49 "Happy Death Day" and 2 steps below the incredibly inspiring, uplifting, and well-crafted art film "Baywatch."
As a video producer in primarily a business environment, most of my clients would be thrilled with a video that got millions of youtube views, and was " liked" hundreds of thousands of times. On the surface, that philosophy makes so much business sense that it's hard to think any other way. More views, more likes, more likes, more views, more views, more customers, more customers, more profit. But between the two posts of popular and influential lies a vast wasteland of nothingness, too boring to be remembered, and too safe to be different. In video production, this push/pull can sound like this- "Wow that music choice is completely unique, but it doesn't really sound like what people will expect from us. Can you put in something more like this (insert link to competitor video)? Or "I love the headshot and look of Talent A, but I don't know if the rest of the team will go for him/her. Maybe we should just go with Talent B." Or "Wow that's a completely unique location. I've never seen our category presented in that setting. It just makes me a little nervous to go with that, we've never done it that way before." And listen, we get it. Sometimes the reason things are done a certain way are because that "way" generally gets results. But perhaps it is worth asking yourself-in the process of wanting to appeal to the masses, are you rounding off and dulling your sharp edges, your points of difference? Perhaps you don't have to completely break the mold, but maybe there can be a couple of elements that take a chance, that make you slightly less comfortable. When crafting your video strategy, maybe it's wise to consider the words of another jazz legend, the great Miles Davis, who once said of his own genius, "I don't play what's there, I play what's not there." But if that's too much to ask, maybe the advice he used to give young musicians will resonate. He would tell them 'Play what you know, and then play above that." KP