Movies, the wisdom of crowds, and successful products

I visit both Box Office Mojo and Box Office Guru pretty regularly to see what kind of business new movies are doing.  I’ve noticed something interesting about the movies that have been released over the past month that I thought would be worth sharing with you folks.

One movie, Stick It, was expected to hit only 5.5 million its opening weekend.  It surprised everyone and did 11 million.

Another movie, Mission Impossible III, was expected to do around 65-70 million.  Unfortunately for the experts and Tom Cruise, it only managed a 50 million take this weekend.

Now, what I find interesting.  I could have told you ahead of time that the first movie was going to do better than expected, and that the second movie was going to do worse.

What did I know that the experts didn’t?  Honestly, and obviously, I don’t know any more about these movies than any other movie buff out there.  But what I did do is talk to a couple of female friends about these movies before hand.

When you hear things like “That movie just looks really fun” and “I’m not giving that crazy fool any more of my money”, it makes you think differently.

None of the guys cared about what Tom Cruise’s overexposure in the news.  But the girls all did.

Of course, this observation made me come back to something I read in The Wisdom of Crowds. Groups arrive at better decisions and predictions when they incorporate a diversity of opinions.  You could talk to ten guys and probably never pick up on the fact that Tom Cruise acts nutty.  Talk to just a couple of women, and you’ll pick up on that piece of information really, really quick.  In fact, you won’t be able to stop wondering how much the exposure hurts his box office take.

Are the people responsible for making movie estimates are even bothering to get opinions from women?  Maybe the estimators wouldn’t be so surprised if they made the effort.

This observation, of course, is easily drawn out to a broader context.  Most iconic megahits cross boundaries and social groups.  iPod’s have that rare quality in a technical product of appealing to both male and female sensibilities alike.  Pixar films reach men, women, and kids.  Titanic made so much money because the women liked the romance story and the guys wanted to see what 200 million dollars looked like on a big screen.  Nintendo, right now, is trying to pull off a genre busting strategy with their new Wii gaming system.

I suppose this is a challenge to the reader.  Is your company gathering opinions from truly different groups, or are you counting ten of the same folks as enough to offer the right feedback?  What crucial insights might be missing from your product because you asked a lot of people, but you didn’t talk to the right people?

Work on establishing a good, diverse mix of people when you gather feedback.  It’s hard to produce a megahit without the mix.

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