Years ago we were doing the advertising for Fosters.
Paul Hogan was the spokesman.
He’s a very funny bloke.
And he represents everything you love about Aussies.
After the shoot he said to us, “Look fellas, I’ve just made a movie.
It’s called Crocodile Dundee and I wrote it myself.
Maybe we could write the commercials a bit more like that.”
As the film hadn’t been released yet, we arranged a showing at a little preview cinema in Wardour Street.
Luckily Paul Hogan didn’t come with us.
I say luckily, because it was pretty embarrassing.
There were about a dozen of us.
And nobody laughed.
In the small cinema, the movie felt pedestrian and predictable.
Now probably that was because of the audience.
We were an ad agency creative department.
We were used to making commercials.
In a thirty second commercial we have exactly 29 seconds of sound.
If we’re shooting at 24 fps, we have exactly 720 frames.
So there’s no wasted time.
But it isn’t that way in movies.
There isn’t a prescribed length for a film.
A movie can be as long as you want.
If it takes 93 minutes and 12 seconds that’s okay.
Or 112 minutes and 9 seconds. That’s okay.
If you need more time, take it.
The audience are in the cinema for as long as it takes.
Consequently, films generally move at a slower pace.
So we didn’t find it funny when we saw it in that tiny screening room.
But then, later on, something strange happened.
The film had its release at The Odeon Leicester Square.
The client bought space to run the Fosters ads.
And he asked us to go along.
I thought, this is going to be really embarrassing.
I’d already sat through the film when a dozen people didn’t laugh.
How much worse is this going to be when a thousand people don’t laugh?
Then the film started.
And after a few minutes someone started laughing.
Then someone else started laughing.
Then someone else.
Pretty soon the whole audience was laughing.
And here’s the strange thing.
As the audience started laughing, so did I.
The more the audience laughed, the more I laughed.
As if this was the funniest film I’d ever seen.
But I wasn’t laughing at the film.
I was laughing with the audience.
I couldn’t help it.
It was contagious.
A similar effect to seeing someone yawn.
You just can’t help yawning too.
And I realised why they put canned laughter on all those TV sitcoms.
People are programmed to join in with other people.
That’s what we do.
We don’t think for ourselves, we follow the herd.
It’s a primitive instinct.
I notice this when my wife is driving.
We’ll be sitting at a red light and the car next to us starts to rev up and go.
So my wife revs up and starts to go, too.
Even though the light is still red.
She’s more influenced by the cars around her than by the traffic lights.
That’s how people are.
We have a primitive response that wants to fit in.
It’s comfortable, reassuring, to go along with everyone else.
We don’t have to think.
Once we know that, we have an option.
To be passive, and let ourselves be influenced by the actions of others.
Or to be active, and be the person that’s initiating the action.
Remember, our instincts will tell us to do the former.
Wait and see what everyone else does, then join in.
Which, if you don’t want to stand out, if you’re happy to go along with everyone else, if you don’t want to change things, is a good strategy.
Not so good though if you do want to stand out and you do want to change things.
It’s worth knowing that, if you really want to do something different, you won’t get much agreement.
Even from yourself.