The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

A Lesson On The Folly Of Focus Groups From Cameron Crowe …

For some of the younger readers of this blog, you may be wondering who Cameron Crow – the person I reference in the title of this post – is.

Well, he’s a famous film writer/director, responsible for movies including:

+ Almost Famous
+ Jerry Maguire
+ Singles

OK, so he’s also responsible for the car-crash that was Vanilla Sky, but let’s ignore that …

Anyway, I recently read an interview with him where he talks about how he came up with the name ‘Jerry Maguire’ and it’s fascinating.

Not really because of the story behind the name, but what he says at the very end … how movie companies now operate and what the outcome of their modern-day marketing approach would result in.

The thing is, I can so imagine the focus group/movie company preferring ‘You Complete Me’ to ‘Jerry Maguire’.

I can hear the feedback …

“Who the hell is Jerry Maguire?”

“Jerry Maguire is such a boring name, so it must be a boring film”.

“I can’t think what a film called Jerry Maguire would be about?”

“You Complete Me sounds so romantic”

“You Complete Me sounds like a film that is happy and positive”

“You Complete Me is a film I want my whole family to see”

And while I accept I’m being biased – having seen the movie many times – I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to see a movie called ‘You Complete Me’, even if it still contained one of the iconic scenes of my generation.

[Which would probably be left on the cutting room floor these days, see below]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of research … but focus groups aren’t really about that, they’re about being progress killers.


29 Comments so far
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Oh this is very good Robert.
Could Crowe not do a Spielberg and demand there is no focus group testing or do you think Spielberg only gets away with that now because he owns the studio?

Comment by George

I think if Spielberg didn’t own his studio, even he would be subjected to the focus group obsession of the studio.
Given so few films become huge money-makers, I have to wonder if their goal is less about unlocking a movies potential and more about minimising the chances of taking a bath on their investment.

That’s what we have come to.


Comment by Rob

Vanilla Sky should have just been renamed Shit Sky, because it left a terrible taste in everyone’s mouth.

Comment by Bazza

Good post though.

Comment by Bazza

The worst movie.

Comment by Pete

vanilla was the fucking perfect name for it. or beige sky.

Comment by andy@cynic

At least Cameron Diaz distracted you from how bad it was.

Comment by DH

That was the only thing going for it. And the scene in Times Square where no one was around.

Even now I don’t really know what it was about. Sometimes that can be interesting, but in this case, it’s because it was pants.

Comment by Rob

It always surprises me how few marketers or agency folk have attended focus groups as participants. It’s very revealing and has biased me against groups forever.

Comment by John

That is a fair point John, but most research companies ban anyone involved in marketing from being a participant.

Comment by Pete

Yes they do. But they don’t check.

Comment by John

And to be clear, I’ve never repeated or acted upon anything I learned in a group about the client’s business or plans.

Comment by John

Thogh to be honest, I never learned anything worth repeating.

Comment by John

It’s professionally negligent for anyone to use any tool that they don’t truly understand inside and out regardless of what the provider of that tool may say. See also programmatic advertising.

Comment by John

Having not been paid as a participant of a focus group does not mean I have not been a participant of focus groups.

Comment by Pete

How did you identify yourself to all those involved?

Comment by John

you couple of fucking twats.

Comment by andy@cynic

“Hello, my name is Pete and I’m an alcoholic”?

Comment by DH

My name is Peter.

Comment by Pete

I have more of an issue with companies who rely on focus groups to make every decision than I do with the general concept of focus groups.

Comment by Pete

those fuckers who are paid to make decisions and delegate it to 8 random fucks in a windowless room are bigger fucking thieves than campbell. at least he makes decisions even if its topics hes not been asked to comment on. fuck, is that a compliment?

Comment by andy@cynic

No it’s mitigation.

Comment by John

I believe Mr Crowe is wrong in his assessment. If he wanted to make Jerry Maguire today, he would be told by the studio he had to first remake an 1980’s classic with franchise potential.

Comment by Lee Hill

Wow Lee, that’s cynic standards of cynic.

Comment by Rob

lees gone fucking rogue.

Comment by andy@cynic

There’s also the story about the studio researching ‘The Madness of King George III’ in the US, and being told by respondents; “Well, I didn’t see 1 or 2, so I guess I’d give 3 a miss”.

Comment by Ian Gee

I’d heard that too but I’m not sure it’s true.

But I bloody hope it is.

Comment by Rob

haha, that’s a pretty good anecdote, can we steal it for the future?

Comment by S

Singles was pretty shit too. Seriously, how did Crowe get such a good rep?

Comment by DH

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