So Everything Everywhere won. All at once.
I’m looking forward to seeing it. In fact, I bet it is so good, I won’t watch it twice.
This is the great paradox of the Oscars. The films we like most, are not the films we like watching most.
Take the previous 10 ‘best pictures’, the likes of ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Birdman’. Their average global box-office of $145 million was eclipsed by every one of the 31 recent Marvel movies – averaging just under $1 billion, each. The differences between the ‘most popular’ and ‘best’ IMDB lists tell the same story.
This is worth remembering for anyone making content. When we are tired, hungry and scrolling through our phones (‘ego-depleted’), we want McDonalds, not Michelin Stars. The same goes for what we read, or watch. Dopamine wins.
The second insight is that our tastes are malleable and socially adaptive. We publicly ‘like’ the things which will make us most liked ourselves. If enjoying ‘Everything Everywhere’ makes me look good in front of my colleagues, I will wax lyrical. If my Twitter hates it, I will keep my Tweets to myself.
As David Pinsof has elegantly explained, such ‘social signals’ are time-limited. Once too many people like a niche film, liking it no longer displays your niche, informed, taste. Other fashion, cultural and linguistic signals work the same way: when they become too widely adopted, they lose their signaling function and are replaced. Catch the cultural wave or you will miss it.
Lastly, there also exists a significant driver of our tastes which is much more fixed: our personalities. A whole host of fascinating academic studies have found associations between the films that people liked and their personality (e.g. the ‘big 5’ traits). More ‘open’ people over index on Sci-Fi. More ‘neurotic’ people like more horror. This might be why film fans and critics disagree: they think differently.
It is highly likely that behavioural scientists, brand strategists, or even politicians differ vastly in personality from their target audiences. This is obvious but underappreciated by communicators. We stay in our bubbles at our peril.
But even then, we can’t be everything to everyone all at once. We have to choose where to play. Be most liked or most watched. Your pick.