Earlier this spring, NBC announced a new show called “Kings”. They advertised it heavily, trying to build momentum for a show about what life might be like if we lived with a modern monarchy. I saw the ads and had little interest in watching (or even DVR’ing the show) and I wasn’t alone. The show ended up only having about 3 episodes in prime time before they tried moving it out to Saturday, they had one show on Saturday, with apparently such abysmal results, they put the remainder of the season to bed until the summer, with no chance of renewal.
At some point, however, I decided to watch the first episode on Hulu and was surprised by the quality of the story line, the acting, and the environment they had created. This was good entertainment, but no one was interested in it enough to start watching it. Why did a show with good quality fail in the marketplace, even with a great amount of advertising and push?
The reason: People look for entertainment that matches a category in their mind or triggers curiosity. How many people when you mention a story about a modern monarchy get excited? There is little attachment to this kind of story, it’s not something we go around wondering about. We know what dictators are like. We know about the Monarchy in England and other European countries. It sounds uninteresting at its very core, and with so many other things to entertain ourselves with, it gets very little attention. Clearly, Americans would rather watch about 20 different variants about grisly crimes being solved by forensics, or psychics, or insightful detectives.
It’s clear that Kings needed to match a pattern for what people were already looking for in their entertainment (perhaps they could have had the King solve a robbery turned double homicide :). When it comes to advertising our products, we have to match some pattern that the customer has in their mind of what they want.
Someone once used the analogy that when someone walks into the hardware store to buy a drill bit, they are really going in order to buy a hole. There is some wisdom that can be extracted from this (namely, understand the job your customer is “hiring” your product to perform), but many people walk into the hardware store to buy a hole BY buying a drill bit. If you have a new product WonderHoleMaker, right next to the drill bit, how many consumers would even notice it, much less buy it. When our customers have in mind what they want, even if there is a better way, they are far more likely to stay with what they know and to buy what they think will solve the problem they are having.
If you have something that is a brand new way of doing something, whether it’s entertainment or a WonderHoleMaker, you must find a way to connect this to what people are already expecting and looking for (maybe include a crime in the shows first episode, or include a free drill bit). This allows people a smooth path to transitioning over to the new way of doing something.
Without building the bridge, however, you’re likely to find your best new product, cancelled.
“They don’t want quarter-inch bits.
They want quarter-inch holes.” Leo McGinneva
in Theodore Levitt’s “The Marketing Imagination