A film is a world that doesn’t really exist. Much like a company is a person that doesn’t really exist. In both situations we try to make it as real as possible so that its story or message might stick to our audience. Successful marketing (and storytelling) contrives every manner of detail in fashioning this suspension of disbelief – because marketing is the traffic of audience attention. The intent - to captivate.

The annals of modern marketing are still written in an abrasive 2nd person imperative. But these days the hook is the free account, and the trumpeting call to action is the humble click (preferably on the “Buy Now” button). The real success of any marketing machine is, of course, driven by, and measured in results, sales, and profits. And since there’s more to sell than might ever conceivably be consumed, no one is spared from the hook.  (Just ask the next telemarketer who calls).

The telemarketer owes his inheritance to the door-to-door salesman. For the salesman the “foot in the door” was the crossing of the Rubicon, the point of no return. The telemarketer’s Rubicon is the little little “yes”. As in:

“Good morning sir. May I ask if you’ve ever thought about your own mortality?”

“Well, yes, I suppose.”

“Do you love your family?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And you would want them to live well after you pass?”

“Yes.”

“Well what would you say if I offered you that piece of mind – right now?”

Well, what would you bet he’d say? That’s how the little “yes” works. It’s almost a dance. It owes it’s success to orchestrated rhythm and repetition.  But it’s a narrow cast. The telemarketer and the door-to-door salesman, they both do battle one-on-one. And in your home – for your convenience.

Broadcast was an agricultural term until radio: a method for sowing seeds cast widely about. Television inherited this “see what takes” legacy. It was a one-to-many model. It found a new way into your home, but to a large extent it then relied on you getting off the couch to make good on the big “Yes”. And in that sense it was self-defeating, a victim of its own success. It was also a very exclusive club.

And then we got internet. This seemingly democratic if not anarchic web of pipes and information. But in fact, we didn’t just get it, did we? (Indeed some of us still don’t really.) The internet’s been around as a dominating phenomena for 20 years now. And marketers are still baffled how to use it. It’s not really a one-to-many model, it’s actually a many-to-many model, a multi-cast. We reel to understand how it works, and again, it’s in your home. It has all the markings of marketing technology but we can’t seem to find the power button. How do you commit to the little “yes”?

What’s particularly interesting is this ubiquitous march of new technology, which consistently gains traction. The marketing game is now overwhelmed by short attention spans, and we’ve lost the relationship with the salesman.

The internet isn’t so hard to understand. It’s simply signals in wires or waves that transmit and receive information in the form of files. But it’s anyone’s files, anytime, and with mobile – anywhere. That is – no longer only in your home.  In a way its prevalence has come at the cost of audience captivation. The tweet, the emoticon, the status update – these are all measures of time. The continuous reduction of (hopefully) more complicated moments has transformed language. And we anthropomorphize punctuation ; )

The parceling of storytelling is a response to these issues of time. We’re giving up TV for Netflix to be able to manipulate when and where we get our stories. Shorter stories are smaller files. The very fabric of the internet is woven in bits and bytes.  

The audience should have ever increasing agency in this multimedia environment. And yet storytelling, and in particular filmmaking, has remained a passive and linear experience, lagging with it’s large files and bandwidth.