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Why It Doesn't Always Work The Second Time Around: Marketing 101 and Psycho

  In marketing you will often hear that if you do something once and it works, it will work again. No doubt. No uncertainty. A mailing to a direct mail list is successful, so you do it again. A banner ad brings in people, so you run it again.

  Often what works does so because of proven, underlying reasons. Marketing at the highest level is becoming very scientific. InfluenceAtWork.com is a good site to introduce you to the science of persuasion and influencing others.

  Yet, sometimes, what works once does not work the second time around. Understanding why what worked one time did not work the second time is fertile ground for increasing your understanding of marketing.

  The goal is to learn the "Whys" of success. If you can understand why what worked once didn't work the second time, you will be ahead of most marketers.

  Take a simple example of the movie Psycho. The original Hitchcock thriller stunned the audience and won a spot as one of the all-time great thriller movies.

  Recently, there was a remake of Psycho. Did it work as a successful film? No.

  Why not?

  Well, one, it sucked. Sucking the second time around will lead to failure. You need the quality of the original. But, even if the remake had been exceptionally well done, it could never have made the impression the original Psycho did.

  The reason that Psycho so shocked the audience the first time around was due in part to the expectations of the moviegoers. Think about how the movie starts.

  We are following around this attractive lady who has a bunch of money and who looks like she is embezzling it. She gets in a car and drives to a hotel. We are about a third of the way into the film.

  What is the viewer's natural conclusion about this lady? She is the protagonist. The assumption is that we will be following her story through the rest of the movie. The moviegoer is not used to seeing the main character killed one-third into the film. That is unexpected. That is shocking. The shock is that we have not been following the main character!

  Forget the big knife coming down behind a curtain and the blood. That you could have dealt with, if you were only a few minutes into the film. Horror flicks have never been new!

  What you couldn't deal with was the sudden shock to your expectations in the natural flow of the storytelling. Moviegoers have expectations of how a film will unfold.

  The new Psycho could never achieve this. Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows the plot. The original magic can never be restored. You can't shock the audience by killing off the "main" character the second time around.

  Take a more subtle way of distracting a movie-going viewer. Of making the viewer feel just a bit uncomfortable. Watch the scene in Saving Private Ryan where typists are composing letters to the families of those killed in action. We overhear what is being written. We see the stacks of letters. We see row and row of women at typewriters.

  We stop to watch one attractive lady as she types and glances aside. She glances aside and looks straight into the camera. She looks at us, the audience. It is as if we have been discovered eavesdropping on private thoughts.

  It only takes a split second, but it startles the viewer. Filmmakers have long been aware of this effect. And, new actors often try to sneak a look into the camera spoiling the shot. But, here the effect is intentional. Or, maybe, Spielberg is just losing it.

  Great filmmakers not only understand the film medium, but also understand the relationship between the characters on screen and how they influence the audience. They understand the interaction between the audience and the film.

  In the same way, marketers should try to understand the interaction between the product they are marketing and the people buying the product. Even if the product and the offer remain the same, the perception and needs of the person can change a great deal.