I’m posting this ahead of the Ghostbusters reboot launch because I want Hollywood to wake up.
I want the industry to stop making movies that the market very clearly does not want, and start focusing on films that people actually want to see.
I believe focusing on films that people actually want to see will lead to a more stable film industry and avoid the costly mistakes such as the Ghostbusters reboot will be.
Also, I’m a Ghostbusters fan. I once created my own pitch for a sequel. I hate that one of my favorite franchises has become a casualty of the complete and total lack of understanding at major film studios on how to analyze and interpret market data. Sony in particular seems to be the worst at it, which is strange given the plethora of data it should have about users from its games business.
Let’s Get the Hard Conversation Out of the Way
I’m not going to dance around the elephant in the room.
Look, everyone knows the Ghostbuster trailer has nearly 500,000 downvotes.
That’s half a million people who care about the Ghostbusters franchise and are not going to buy a movie ticket — and that’s just the people who bothered to login to a YouTube channel so they could downvote the trailer.
Here’s some select comments from the video that I think illustrate the general sentiment people have.
I realize this is a lot of comments, but I need to put this article into proper context. There is 156,000+ comments on this trailer and I think that is probably some kind of record for a YouTube movie trailer about a film that hasn’t even came out yet.
Clearly, many people are passionate about Ghostbusters and do not like this movie. A blunder has been made at Sony.
But could it have been avoided? Was there some way for Sony execs to easily know this movie was a bad idea before it was greenlighted?
Absolutely 100% yes.
In the United States and Canada, there are somewhere between 4M and 4.5M fans of the Ghostbusters franchise. I can be confident in this number because it’s in the Facebook’s Audience Insight database.
What Is Facebook Audience Insights?
Have you never heard of Facebook Audience Insights? If so, and you work in marketing, oh boy.
If you don’t know what Facebook Audience Insights is, you do not understand how to do marketing in the digital age and you are undoubtedly wasting your company’s marketing budget on inferior sources of customer data (probably Nielsen). And greenlighting movies bound to fail, like this Ghostbusters reboot.
Since 2014, Facebook has had a tool called Power Editor which allows you to generate custom audiences. It makes it stupidly easy to do market research. Over 1 billion people actively use Facebook, and 43% of the US population has an active Facebook account. Unlike Nielsen, Facebook does not gather its data from user surveys. Instead it monitors what users do on their platform and the hundreds of other platforms that use Facebook for login access.
Facebook knows practically everything about its users. Age, gender, relationship status, income levels, lifestyle, careers, educational background, how many children they have. It knows if you recently bought a car.
If you still don’t get it, here’s the difference.
Nielsen only knows what the very small number of people it surveys tells it. Much of it can be lies, and Nielsen has no way of knowing if it’s being lied to or not.
By contrast, Facebook knows practically everything you do on your computer and cellphone. It doesn’t survey, it monitors.
You may have heard of companies like Crimson Hexagon, and their enterprise level pricing. Truth is they are mostly just repackaging Facebook’s data and charging you for it.
No other company in the world has as much information on people as Facebook does, and Facebook allows you to FREELY datamine it to conduct market research so you can tailor ad campaigns on it. But it can also be used just to get a general sense of what people like and don’t like, and how many potential customers can be in a niche market.
Everything I do as an entrepreneur is built around what Facebook tells me. I won’t start a business unless I can clearly identify a target customer profile using Facebook’s data. I just won’t do it, because if Facebook can’t validate that an audience exists for the product I am considering, that audience probably doesn’t exist at all.
What Does Facebook Tell Us About Ghostbusters Fans?
Facebook shows the demographics like this,
You’ll notice the majority of the fans are age 25-34. That’s the age group of the kids who grew up watching The Real Ghostbusters cartoon franchise that ran between September 13, 1986 to October 5, 1991. This is the demographic who made Ghostbusters a multi-million dollar franchise. We watched the TV show and convinced our parents to buy us the toys and comic books. We’re the ones Ghostbusters II was created to capitalize on.
Most importantly, we’re the ones who have kept interest in the Ghostbusters franchise alive by buying merchandise like those deluxe action figures Mattel puts out, dressing up at conventions and supporting things like the Ghostbusters board game project that raised $1.5M dollars on Kickstarter.
This demographic is critical for any Ghostbuster reboot. You cannot do a successful reboot without this demographic, because we are the franchise.
You should notice 51% of Ghostbuster fans are male and 49% are female. That’s a nearly 50:50 ratio. So obviously, you would assume any Ghostbusters reboot should star an equal cast of men and women in order to capitalize on the childhood fantasies of an entire generation who all wanted to be Ghostbusters, right?
Sadly wrong, since the folks at Sony Pictures greenlighted a Ghostbusters reboot on the premise of reversing the gender roles of the original film franchise, with an all female Ghostbuster team and a male secretary who draws boobs on ghosts.
It should be obvious by now this “reverse the gender roles” concept was a terrible idea. Half a million passionate Ghostbusters fans have been alienated based on the trailer response alone.
Say what you want about the reasons, but that is lost revenue no matter how you slice it.
But hey, maybe you are thinking the Ghostbusters reboot could still possibly sell enough box office tickets to recoup its production budget of $154 million and however much they have spent / will spend marketing it (if the marketing budget is standard, it’ll be like 3 times its production budget, so around $462M extra. My guess is Sony is probably $616M into this movie already from the budget and marketing costs alone).
But let’s not pretend. Let’s be real.
2M to 2.2M of Ghostbusters fans have been turned off by the very premise of this reboot. Half the potential audience is just thrown away at the start with a film that is specifically designed to alienate them by entrapping itself in a radical feminist message (we’ll explore why this is true later).
Let’s focus on the remaining women and why they probably won’t show up to the box office, either.
98% of female Ghostbuster fans in the US and Canada live in the United States.
Even though The Real Ghostbusters cartoon aired in Canada, Ghostbusters is largely a US-centric franchise.
The top cities for women are such,
Most of these cities are conservative hotbeds, and generally speaking, conservatism and feminism don’t go hand in hand.
Now let’s look at relationship status of the female Ghostbusters fans,
31% are single and 69% are in a relationship of some sort. 40% of all female Ghostbusters fans are married.
I realize gay marriage is now legal, but straight marriages still makes up the overwhelming majority of marriages in the US and likely will for the foreseeable future given homosexuality is a minority demographic. It’s safe to assume most of these female Ghostbuster fans are in a relationship with a man — one who is likely a Ghostbuster fan himself and feels alienated by this reboot and its divisive message.
Do you really think they’ll go to the box office without their significant other?
Let’s Not Pretend This Reboot Doesn’t Have a Pro-Feminist Message
Seriously, don’t insult our intelligence by trying to argue otherwise.It’s not only built into the plot of the film, it’s part of the film’s marketing campaign. Regardless of whether you share or oppose radfem ideals, it is not up for debate whether the Ghostbusters reboot is specifically infused with these ideas.
For example, fhe male secretary is depicted as a chauvinist who proposes this image for the female Ghostbuster logo. This is literally in the second Ghostbusters reboot trailer.
Furthermore, director and screenwriter Paul Feig’s response to initial criticism over an all-female cast was this outburst,
If you need any further evidence, just look at how they’ve been conducting the staged photo ops for the marketing of the movie…..
They are literally trying to “fight the patriarchy” with this movie.
They chose the Ghostbusters film franchise as a vehicle to “fight the patriarchy” with.
I’m trying very hard to refrain from ranting (too much) about how the feminism movement today has been replaced with a twisted, radicalized version of itself which is 99% about women attacking men in order to obtain economic advantages for themselves, rather than about women and men having mutual respect and equal legal rights which was the original goal of feminism.
(And let us be clear: Radical feminism is not Feminism anymore than Catholicism is Judaism; even if they have similarities to each other, RadFem and Feminism have substantial differences in their beliefs)
I also won’t share my deeper thoughts about how self-loathing men who endorse radical feminist ideas generally rank high on psychological tests for low-self esteem, and acts of self-hatred are generally a manifestation of deeper mental issues.
Instead I’ll just show another tweet from Paul Feig hating on men for rejecting the pro-radical feminist marketing campaign of the Ghostbusters reboot.
“Getting their own version. GB is a positive force.” is a key idea here. It’s a manifestation of his inner thought process on how he views himself, his movies and the world.
More importantly it’s how Paul Feig makes money. His career is largely tied around the idea he’s making the world a better place for women by being the only key dude on an otherwise female-centric cast and crew — which is hilariously ironic, if you think about it. If he was truly so pro-girl power, he wouldn’t be writing, producing or directing these so-called “girl power” movies. He’d step back for a woman to do it without him! Instead, he capitalizes financially by pushing a psuedo version of feminism where he is conveniently the one making the most financial gains on the projects as a director / producer / writer. Paul Feig has mastered the art of pimping.
Anyway, Paul Feig has drank his own Kool-Aid and turned a 30 year old franchise that is equally enjoyed by men and women, into a vehicle for his interpretation of social change which is female dominated. Sadly, his interpretation is that guys are chauvinistic jerks who seriously propose drawing boobs on a ghost mascot while white women are misunderstood scientists, and black women are uneducated comic relief.
The original film franchise was more progressive, since Winston was the straight man in the team, a Marine veteran and had a PhD; and while all the Ghostbusters may have been male, the females were very strong characters (Janine takes crap from nobody, and Dana was Sigourney Weaver).
Paul Feig is also under the misconception that female protagonists in horror films is some kind of novel thing that is redefining gender roles, but the truth is women have been protagonists in horror films since the 1970s. Alien, Terminator, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. etc.
I would dare to say that most horror films since the 1980s have featured women as protagonists and have managed to do so without wrapping themselves in some kind of psuedo-feminist bullshit ideology.
The point is, there’s no way to argue this reboot hasn’t been based around an extremely divisive idea — radical feminism. Regardless of your feelings on the subject, the film is a vehicle for radical feminism ideals. Paul Feig’s statements and Sony marketing campaign demonstrate they purposely intended to alienate male fans of the franchise with this movie by building it around a divisive idea.
So Who Did They Think This Movie Would Appeal To?
Fans of Bridesmaids, according to the leaked Sony emails. They were confident about this, too, and mocked people who suggested it was a bad idea.
By continuing our examination of the demographic data Facebook shares with us we shall learn why intentionally alienating the male Ghostbusters fans in a desperate effort to attract an entirely different group of fans, is a terrible business idea.
Let’s look at what Facebook can tell us about fans of the Bridesmaid film. This is a worthwhile consideration given casting and director similarities. The press has been comparing the Ghostbusters reboot to Bridesmaids for over a year and the Sony hacking leaks shows that the success of Bridesmaids was a key factor in the production of a female-centric Ghostbusters.
So let’s look at who the fans of Bridesmaids are.
2M to 2.5M people. Overwhelmingly female at 98%, and in the top age categories are 18-24 and 25-34.
Let’s look at what these women are interested in.
Romance, beauty and fashion. That’s what Bridesmaids fans are interested in. Makes sense, as Bridesmaids is a film specifically about these things.
Guess what these Bridesmaids fans aren’t interested in?
I feel I should elaborate on this here. Obviously, there are women out there who love Ghostbusters and science fiction. Women who are BIG sci-fi fans and buy lots of merchandise. I know of them. Hell, my own mother is one.
But compared to men, they are not the largest demographic, and when you are dealing with a sub-fandom interest like Ghostbusters, that minority becomes an even smaller number. Movies need to make back hundreds of millions of dollars to be profitable. You can’t build a successful film if only tens of thousands of people watch it. Thus you must cater to the majority and sell millions of tickets. That’s just good business sense.
My main point here, really, is Bridesmaids fans as a collective group aren’t interested in sci-fi, and that’s what Ghostbusters is.
Now, Facebook Audience Insights has one limitation that bugs me; it doesn’t make it easy to analyze cross-interests between a demographic. For example, I can’t simply see who has shared interest in Ghostbusters and another film property like Bridesmaids in order to demonstrate in an absolute unmistakable way how little in common these two demographics have with one another.
But I can do this.
These are the top Pages which female Ghostbuster fans are following.
In contrast, these are the top Pages male Ghostbuster fans are following,
Can you spot the contrasting interests?
The men are following sci-fi related Pages and groups. The women are not. Furthermore, while both men and women are following pages related to consumer goods, only the men are focused on pages concerning merchandise.
This is key because while women may be a fan of Ghostbusters, they aren’t necessarily a fan of science fiction itself.
Who do you think is more likely to go to the box office and buy lots of related merchandise?
A. Lukewarm fans of sci-fi.
B. Hardcore fans of sci-fi.
The answer should be obvious, but since it probably isn’t for some people, here’s the stats of science fiction fans in general.
66% are male. It’s also worth pointing out that there is a total of 35M – 40M sci-fi fans. Ghostbusters fandom is a niche within the broader sci-fi fandom category.
Here’s another important fact that can be gleamed by the politics filters. 500K to 600K of female Ghostbuster fans are listed as either Very Conservative or Conservative, and 45% of them are in the 25 to 34 age bracket.
So there’s another half a million people who are fairly unlikely to watch a movie that is being marketed around a pro-feminist message.
It’s not looking so good for the Ghostbusters reboot, is it? Of the 4.5M Ghostbuster fans, only 682,000 of them might show up at the box office. The rest are very likely to reject the film based purely on their displeasure with the polarizing premise of the movie.
At this point you may be thinking, “So what, a bunch of Ghostbuster fans will not watch this movie. There is still a lot of people who may still go see it.”
Yes, that’s true. Some people will go see the Ghostbusters reboot, but it is certain that not ALL the fans of Ghostbusters franchise will watch it. That’s the point.
Why would you intentionally alienate over half the fans of a franchise? This is a product, and purposely turning off potential consumers of the product means you lost potential revenue from the product you put out.
It was not necessary to make this reboot in the manner they did. They could have produced a Ghostbusters film that didn’t alienate any of the fans, but they specifically chose to do so anyway. That demonstrates an extraordinary level of incompetence. This film should not have been greenlit because the market data suggests a movie specifically designed to alienate its male fans was not going to work.
The only explanation for this movie being greenlight is that Amy Pascal and Paul Feig were arrogant. The market data demonstrates this movie not was a good fit for the franchise.
So What Should Sony Pictures Do?
Release the film, to whatever theaters will still carry it knowing the seats will mostly be empty.
Try to make back whatever you can but accept this movie is not going to be the flagship for a new Ghostbusters rebirth. Don’t try to force the matter, the fanbase will not embrace it.
Instead start working on the movie we actually want to see.
Actually, market data tells me it absolutely will be something like that pitch because the overwhelming majority of Ghostbusters fans are in the appropriate age group for when The Real Ghostbusters cartoons were airing. That dream is unrealistic, but it’s still in our hearts. That’s what we have nostalgia for, that part of ourselves which was a little kid.
We wanted to grow up and inherit the legacy of the Ghostbusters, so make a movie where some stand-ins of our generation can do so. And put a girl on the team. Hell, go ahead and put two. Just don’t build your script around radfem ideas like “Girl Power” and depict the guys as chauvinists who don’t understand why putting boobs on a ghost might be offensive.
Hell, don’t make the film about politics at all. That’s not what Ghostbusters is about.
It’s not complicated. It’s all in the data.
tl:dr: The market data demonstrates the Ghostbusters fanbase has a near 50:50 male / female ratio, and a significant portion of the demographic is politically Conservative. Therefore basing the film on the concept of gender-flipping the roles and then crafting a marketing campaign around the pro-feminist messaging was a terrible idea that would only serve to create unnecessary controversy and fan backlash.
Meanwhile the audience which has been counted on to show up — fans of Bridesmaids — are overwhelming uninterested in sci-fi and very unlikely to save the film.
Edit: More discussion on the reddit thread, https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/4bgcqv/why_facebook_audience_insights_showed/
Lastly if you are a Ghostbusters fan and want some insight into how this reboot was made instead of the originally planned Ghostbusters 3 movie, watch this video. It is based on review of leaks emails from Sony regarding the development of the film.
Update 5/9/16: Enough people have asked me to create a guide on how to use Audience Insights to conduct market research that I spent a few hours and wrote a guide. Here you go. ‘How to use Facebook Audience Insights to Perform Market Research‘.
Update 7/18/16: The Ghostbusters reboot flopped so my prediction proved correct. Here’s my follow up article about this.