or: Majority Illusion Paradox and Backlash vs The Oscars
(for most that title will be too wonky. Below is the article that inspired it followed by commentary about how you too can benefit from scrutinizing your “network” of assocations and might even win your own David vs Goliath story)
Researchers at the University of Southern California recently uncovered the majority illusion, a paradox within social networks that makes some ideas, behaviors, or attributes appear widespread even when they are not. Since we can’t keep an eye on what the entire world is up to, we’re limited to witnessing what our social network says and does. At times, well-connected members within our network can skew our perception of how common an idea or behavior actually is.
When it looks like an idea or action is much more popular than it is, it greatly increases the likelihood that others will adopt it too. In other words, the majority illusion may be a driving force behind why something eventually becomes truly popular. For example, one of the study’s researchers, Kristina Lerman, believes the majority illusion was a factor in the Arab Spring gaining momentum and the shift in public opinion toward same-sex marriage.
And yet under insidious applications, the majority illusion can even cause people to adopt false beliefs or extreme viewpoints without realizing they are rare, which helps explain how fringe political and ideological groups may develop.
+Commmentary: While ostensibly about ‘Influencer’ Marketing, it has a greater reach than that. While that marketing scheme is very popular right now, and certainly measurable, it still relies heavily on this perception or the assumption that all activity is equal. Loosely implying quantity over quality. That influence is not as complex or nuanced, by making it relative solely to connections and ‘closeness’ with cross-pollination building the momentum.
The reason this issue popped out for us today was the fact that the Academy Award just held its annual Oscars ceremony. Under a second year of protest entitled #OscarsSoWhite started by April Reign in response to the lack of diversity in the nominating process. This is a real-world example of influencer marketing which happens to take the form of activism.
We’ve long counseled our clients to look closely at activists as a template for how they can disrupt their respective industries and how in modelling those ideas, you can change the dominant narratives which serves to drown out most if not all competition. Often creating a hostile place for your own marketing messages and nullifying your reach. Their prevalence may provide dominance, but you as a microbrand can effectively challenge major forces to provide that much needed shift in the conversation. Allowing yourself to be heard by thoroughly positioning your brand against these forces and aligning it with a message of what you are about as opposed to against. Your network is key, identifying them and as this article illustrates with their “Betweenness centrality” concept and by stressing repeatedly that it isn’t necessarily those with the largest followings who wield the most power.
That is the secret recipe. Whether you are a start-up, a solo entrepreneur, freelancer, or other microbrand which needs to often swim well against the considerable tide. #OscarsSoWhite is actually in itself a backlash movement, centralizing the forces of the margins to push against a narrative that for too long has gone unchallenged. Last night with Chris Rock hosting, we saw an injection into the mainstream and open discussion about the racism viewed by 34 million viewers. This was a low-water mark for the Academy as well.
Which could be seen as a boon for the protesters who in amusing themselves elsewhere proved that even Chris Rock was not going to counter the tide of discontent. This is lower than last years record setting lowest viewership, and continues their downward trend. A wake-up call to an insular industry that is representative of the consolidation of power & the representation of the people you are hoping to appeal to. You know the users, consumers, or the people who help to fund your entire industry. Be that through the low number who actually see it in the theater, or masses who buy or download, or even those that watch when it is on cable or streaming. While ostensibly the Academy Awards are a chance for them to reward artistry and achievement in the cinematic arts, the awards show is not about that at all. It is about selling advertisements, getting swag, and showing off pretty attire & jewelry to be the envy of the world. The broadcast is about the watching public and they would do well to remember that in ways that aren’t pandering but actually representative.
This year in the lead up to the awards, there was considerable coverage from many mainstream outlets as it became their cause célèbre, and with good reason. They are aware that this narrative, counter to one the Academy would like to project, in a charged election season that is making the most of creating a for-or-against us mentality, will get people to click or read, to tune in, even if that is around the already over-employed outrage mechanics.
Yet something very strange happened last night. After watching Chris Rock skewer racism in Hollywood at every chance he got, with a steady string of zingers, in a vain attempt at showing: “We get it!” This spurned Non-black People of Color (NBPoC) with considerable influence & platforms to form a backlash to what has now ironically become perceived as the major narrative. That the #OscarsSoWhite somehow only represented black representation. When nothing could be farther from the truth or intention. The progenitor has been very vocal, last year & this one too, to be inclusive and to say that it is all about erasure and representation in the awards. Irrespective of color/gender/ability. That somehow didn’t seem to matter as much to the predominantly “model minority” who were using this opportunity to inject themselves into the conversation, and draw attention to their struggle.
In what can only be described as the Struggle Olympics, they were bemoaning their bronze medal status. What immediately struck as a worthy conversation somehow turned into the quick retorts of “Well start your own” or #NotYourMule. Buoyed no less by the deep interconnectivity of April’s network and support. This however can be harmful, divisive, and ultimately counter-productive. It does no one any good to simply start their own movements when in the end power will concede little if nothing to a clamoring of disparate voices.
April was right to call for a coalescing of these voices and a banding together to exert even more influence. The calls to start your own awards shows or build your own industry seem rather politically naive. If we can’t get them to make movies for us even marginally, do you think they are going to let you build your own? They can not only undercut you, they have eons of marketing & PR behind them and a galaxy of influence that would in effect kill this idea before it ever saw its first real return. People don’t want ghettoized placement products. They don’t want separate but equal, nor should they settle for it. They want and as many examples will prove (*cough* Star Wars franchise *cough cough*) that actual representation can & will be good for the business as well.
In fact it is divide-and-conquer at its zenith to suggest otherwise. If within each smaller power structure there are, as we see in the above paradigm, less interconnectedness then the message is easy to ignore, override or subvert. This is counter to the actual change that all interested parties have in seeing a more inclusive experience. This isn’t about diversity for diversity’s sake, it is about having representation and opportunity where there has been a monotonous drone of a tone-deaf establishment. This alone could account for their ratings, but the stories this morning in the press are how we should imply that blame onto a black host who addressed the issue with humor (at times failing and even his own problematic discourses) but again. It is too easy for the power structure to say: “See it isn’t working.”
With the billion dollar industry, and what is well into the eight-figure range to produce (that accounts for the Academy’s cost only) while raking in nearly twice that in revenue. That is only a sliver of the picture. Ad revenues, gown costs, the ancillary and tertiary cottage industry that spring up around it, not to mention the bump most films receive after winning. The TV coverage alone of the red carpet and lead ups to it is worth a half a billion dollar in itself. The value would clearly be in the multi billion dollar range for the entire enterprise not just what the Academy declares on its taxes. Which provides for why they are so conservative to embracing change, and hesitant to appear as if they are pandering.
With all that power, influence, and money what you need to remember is one person with a hashtag & a purpose, and well-connected network has forced this Goliath to its knees. Yes with the slingshot of a single issue, and a message, April was able to get no less than the President of the Academy to stand up on the stage last night & talk about the need to diversify to the millions watching, but more importantly to insert that much needed PSA to the most influential people in the global enterprise that is Hollywood. The tastemakers and the gatekeepers to that change. Will it result in more opportunities and better Hollywood films? That is the test of time that we will have to monitor as the industry experiences its natural growing pains from what it has always done (tokenism) to actual inclusion & diversity. This not only benefits African-Americans, but Latinos / Hispanic, Asians, women, LGBTQ, and the differently-abled. It ends up in a win for all parties.
Perhaps the backlash will come in binary forms of White vs Black, but it really is about every shade and all the grays in-between. Having worked in both TV & Film, and mostly with minority filmmakers, it is not an easy thing to admit, but the ones who have been propelled to the head of the table, and the ones with the corner office slots were those that were white. Almost entirely male. That is the problem the Entertainment industry has to face if it is going to continue to remain relevant when a sizable chunk of its ever decreasing revenue is coming from a flattened earth perspective. When your global sales are equal to that which you are able to generate in the US, you have to start seeking to tell stories that the world can connect to, not just the ones the white guys in suits can.
Right now and probably for months now they have been planning next year’s Oscars. They will be meeting over the coming weeks to pour over the numbers, and scrutinize each detail in a post mortem. Make no mistake that they are taking into account all these varying factors and trying to figure out how to better deal with this. Not just in the Cheryl Boone-Isaac’s office either, but advertisers, network executives and media people the world over.
The greatest takeaway is one person with a passion and a vision can actually move the conversation. That those things you see as weaknesses or nuisances can be the Achilles heel to your competitors or even the dominant industry standard. That if you clearly plan and market, and have the narrative you carefully crafted, both with your experience and wisdom, then you too can have that message adopted through a network of people to the point that the whole world is watching.
These principles should guide you. You have a product, a brand, and need a message to match that. A narrative that highlights what sets you and your brand apart, and what it is at times diametrically opposed to. That is usually found in whatever problem your brand helps them overcome. In what needs unmet you can fill, and then leveraging that to be sure that it is what sets you apart and assures that people will take notice. It helps again too, making sure that you have a network, not filled with simply the most followers, but the ones with the best overlap to what you want to achieve. These are the areas to concentrate on when it seems like the world doesn’t get you or your message. Make them listen, it can be easier than you think.
Start with identifying and recognizing what it is you have to offer, and in the case of #OscarsSoWhite that is a world that offers to the majority of movie-goers a world that better represents them, and their stories. For white males are definitely a minority in this instance and should not by dint of power feel comfortable only making movies they want to watch or give awards to. The real power lies in the people who go to the movies, who talk about them endlessly on social media, and who the real influencers are.
So our hat is off to April Reign, against seemingly impossible odds she was able to make the world listen, and in a global broadcast of unprecedented scale. That is no easy feat, and it does everyone well to pay attention to not only, what she was able to accomplish and her network, but what push-back and backlash that will garner. For certainly as night follows day, there will always be a struggle in trying to revolutionize any industry, medium, or technology. Best to plan for that eventuality even as it seems like it is impossible for your message to take hold. Yet history will only remember this moment as the one the world sat up and was forced to take notice of itself and ask if it doesn’t deserve a seat at the table.