Can You be the Steven Spielberg of Content?

July 12, 2016

by Robert Rose

Allow me to geek out a bit.

I was surfing Reddit last week, and a thread caught my eye. It was a question about the classic movie Jurassic Park. The person asked why, after 20+ years, the CGI (computer-generated imagery) seemed so much more realistic than some of today’s movies that feature state-of-the-art technology.

The overwhelmingly prevalent answer – which, after some research of my own (aka watching the movie for the 19th time), I agree with – is, well, two words: Steven Spielberg.

For the most part, Redditors contended, the better experience was due to Spielberg taking the time to care for every shot and use CGI sparingly. He used animatronic puppets on real sets, and he blended in computer-generated effects only when he needed them. This is what’s missing in most of today’s CGI-heavy movies.

In other words, because technology is now easier (and cheaper) to use, many of today’s movies (I’m looking at squarely at you, The Hobbit trilogy) get lazy with computer-generated imagery. And audiences can sense that something is wrong. We are “snapped” out of the suspension of disbelief – and the story isn’t as strong as it could be.

Anyway, so then in my Facebook feed this week, a colleague asked how much personalization an email can (or should) have before recipients get “weirded out” (his words).

And you’ve all experienced it right? You see an email or a web page that’s somehowless personal because it’s so personalized.

This got me to thinking.

This is the same “snap” that today’s moviegoers experience.

By the way – computer and robotics engineers have a name for this phenomenon: the Uncanny Valley. The “valley” is the dip in people’s comfort level when they encounter a nearly human image – a likeness that’s just a little bit off. People feel repulsed rather than attracted to the almost-but-not-quite real.

Today, as marketers, we are offered an extraordinary array of special effects when it comes to using data to dynamically manage and display content. We can optimize, personalize, segment, test and even automate more than ever. As a side note, if I see one more demo of a content management system that uses the weather to personalize content based on whether it’s raining where the visitor is coming from, I might scream.

But, with our marketing content, we’ve got to be careful. It’s very likely that we can “snap” our audiences into the Uncanny Valley, and it is not good. It’s lazy directing, and it’s lazy content.

But the answer is not, necessarily, less technology. Spielberg is one of the most technologically savvy directors ever. In fact, movie critic Roger Ebert said this extraordinarily well in his book Awake In The Dark when he said:

“Some directors place their trust in technology. Spielberg, who is a master of technology, trusts only story and character, and then uses everything else as a workman uses his tools.”

As marketers, we can learn from his example and pay more attention to how and when we use technology. Great content, displayed intelligently, strikes the right balance between human care and software – between art and science – resulting in more-resonant audience experiences.

That’s what makes a classic.

About Robert Wendt


Robert Wendt is the President of Cultivate Communications.  Robert’s entrepreneurial spirit began at age 12 with a successful paper route. Who could have guessed that 25 years after hand-delivering individual copies of the Milwaukee Journal, he’d own and operate a tech-based business that uses the latest in digital marketing applications to reach multiple client lists – in an instant?