What Trends in Film-going Tell Us About Employer Branding

Aug 9, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 10.17.25 AMHollywood’s summer season is in full swing, and a Monday morning review at our company of the weekend’s box office led to an impromptu employee survey about appreciation of movies beyond the multiplex.

The interest level in old films is nonexistent among our 20-something graphic designers and account managers. None of them have ever really seen a black-and-white film or any of cinema’s best from decades past, which says something important about their relationship with films. Their generational disinterest in traditional narrative carries important implications for employer brand marketing.

In the rabbit ears days, if you wanted to watch a movie on TV, it would be an old movie. Raised on old movies, viewers developed a sense of movie history while absorbing them. With VCRs (and later on, DVDs and Netflix) viewers no longer have to bother with older films. Why trouble with old films when the latest releases are readily available?

In the past, most movie zealots revered the old movies. Their love of movie history went hand in hand with loving movies at all. Nowadays viewers find old movies unwatchable — technically creaky, narratively dull, and slowly paced. The love is lost. Changes in taste are inevitable, and today’s culture embraces blockbuster movies that feature sensory stimulation in special effects and pacing as much as compelling narrative.

One recruiter trying to take advantage and earn consideration with today’s moviegoer is the National Guard in the U.S. As Man of Steel hit the big screen this summer, the National Guard worked hard to tie in its name and employer brand to the Superman franchise as part of the “Soldier of Steel” advertising campaign.  This included commercials and theater spots filmed with Guard members  painting them as real-life superheroes. The Guard held advance screenings of Man of Steel in multiplexes, created posters and social media support campaigns, and sent out Man of Steel-themed direct mailers to potential recruits providing details on the reserve military force.

The Guard’s participation is entirely outside of the Man of Steel film itself, which may limit campaign success, because these days a film’s inherent value may matter less than its ability to be talked about. Movies are deeply embedded in the social networking process and have become interactive events. Young viewers tweet in anticipation of a film’s release and continue discussing them afterwards. It’s another opportunity for an ongoing social exchange, without which it has little value.

As new films become a part of young people’s social lives in a way that older films can’t, it is tough not only for old movies to survive but for movie history to matter.

Even the ways in which movies are watched tend to diminish their effectiveness. Watching films over multiple sessions on computers, smartphones, and tablets reduces films’ narrative effect. Old movies with subtle, sustained narratives don’t fare as well as new movies that make up for it with over-the-top effects and pacing.

In Present Shock, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff writes about society and human experience in a world that’s always connected, always in the now. He depicts a new post-narrative world of digital technology in which participants no longer need the official story to get the information they want. The new media consumer generation entering the workforce is actually really capable of getting a sense of things without ever moving through them in a sequential, narrative way.

Movies were the art form of the 20th century, but the baton may be passing to newer forms of immersive experience. Always live, always now, and always with the consumer at the center, video games make the participant the star of the show, directing their own experience through a world, then sharing that personal experience with others. Syfy’s Defiance may be a prototype for movies of the future, in which participants watch and then play with seamless interchangeability.

The lesson for recruiters is to help talent make the employer brand story their own. Create opportunities for them to make the message personal, immersive, and sharable. The social media overlays surrounding a campaign need to deliver more value than the shared experience the paid media delivers live. Counting on great narrative alone to tell the employer brand story is like planning to take in the double feature at the Odeon. That ticket not only doesn’t retain any cultural currency with today’s talent — it’s no longer even for sale.

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