Lessons I’ve Learned from Hollywood’s Remakes, Mistakes, Outtakes, & Bad Breaks

I’ll bet serious movie buffs are shuddering everywhere. 

The rumor mill is buzzing that a remake of the unforgettable 1950 thriller The Third Man might be in the works. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire may take over the roles first played by the great Orson Welles and the almost-as-great Joseph Cotten. 

Imagine this: 

The Hollywood bigwigs replace the iconic Anton Karas zither score with an Abba soundtrack. 

They supplant the haunting sewers of post-WW2 Vienna with the glitz of the Las Vegas Strip. 

C’mon, you know it not only could happen, it’s likely to happen. 

Remember when some nudnik got a hankering to re-do John Frankenheimer’s classic Manchurian Candidate a few years ago, with dreadful results? 

Recall Gus Van Sant’s unnecessary 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s landmark Psycho — but this time in inappropriate color, and with second-rate actors? 

Not surprisingly, these remakes of old favorites generate almost no moola at the box office. 

How come? 

Well, the movie executives and their lapdogs predictably remove the bits of magic that made the original film work. Then they randomly replace those magical bits with trendy stuff they think will make the movie “better.” 

Unfortunately, this reminds me of a few of my clients. 

“Is that direct mail campaign I wrote last fall still pulling in business?” I ask.

“It was performing really well,” the client says, “but I got bored. So I played around a little.” 

“What’d you do?” 

“I changed the headline. And I added a photo of our grandkids’ new pony, because Audrey and I thought that’d be kinda cute. And I changed my offer a bit.” 

And they’re puzzled why the ad doesn’t work anymore. 

Here’re two lessons for business people in general and marketers specifically: 

1) If your ad or website ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it. 

2) When its results start dropping off, don’t do a random overhaul. Test it. Methodically. One element at a time. 

Test the headline. 

Did you see an upward bump in sales? Great. You’ve got a new benchmark, or “control,” to test against. 

Now test your offer. No bump? Sales drop? 

Go back to your original offer, and add a photo or illustration. Check your results again.

And so on… 

If you’ve got the equivalent of The Third Man in your marketing arsenal, show it some respect. Don’t “remake” it just for the sake of having something to do. 

Let it keep working for you. And when you test it, do so systematically.

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Lessons I’ve Learned from Hollywood’s Remakes, Mistakes, Outtakes, & Bad Breaks — 2 Comments

  1. I find it really ironic, because before reading your point 1), I was going to ask “what happened to your old theme or is this just to scare people away due to Halloween?” 🙂

  2. Yeah, you’re right, Joe, it is kinda ironic. But hey, I’m TESTING. And the old theme, much as I liked its look, just wasn’t working. This theme is much more adaptable than the old one.

    It’ll be OK. Trust me. You’ll see. 🙂