Aspirational marketing

aspire |əˈspī(ə)r|    verb [ intrans. ]   direct one’s hopes or ambitions toward achieving something.

aspiration |ˌaspəˈrā sh ən|    noun    1 ( usu. aspirations ) a hope or ambition of achieving something.

DERIVATIVES:   aspirational |- sh ənl| adjective (in sense 1) .

I define aspirational marketing as “success by association”. You see it all the time when companies promote tie-ins with athletes, celebrities, adventurers and artists.

It’s the attempt to get you to subliminally feel that if you buy this product, you’ll somehow have the same ability, charm or success of the endorser or the achievement. Danica Patrick and GoDaddy. Daniel Craig and Omega, Leonardo DeCaprio and TAG Heuer. Omega and the first moon walk or Rolex and an ascent to the summit of Mt. Everest.

Guitar players are all too familiar with this, as nearly every manufacturer of guitars, amps and pedals has a series of signed artists who endorse the product. Many have custom deals, with signature guitars made in their name. Some feature customizations actually suggested by the artist, but sometimes these are only meant to pay homage to their style. Of course, logic tells you that using the same guitar as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai won’t make you the next guitar hero. That doesn’t stop the dream factory from running overtime in our minds – the one tuned to the wavelength of aspirational marketing.

Makers of editing systems aren’t immune to this game either. Avid touts the list of the many Oscar-winning editors who use Media Composer, while Apple counters with Walter Murch, Angus Wall, Billy Fox and others. Lightworks – always a favorite of Thelma Schoonmaker – was able to join the game again this year through Tariq Anwar, film editor of The King’s Speech. I personally enjoy reading these various case studies. I’ve also enjoyed interviewing and writing the more than 30 such stories I’ve done myself. Yet, promoting a tool by saying that Joe Film Editor uses it is often a hot topic on editing forums. Many editors feel that a Hollywood blockbuster is so far removed from the world of cutting spots and corporate videos, that it has absolutely no bearing on what they do or the needs they have in an NLE.

This association comes with some danger, because many manufacturers are happy to let omission blur the lines of how their products were actually used. For instance, Adobe products were used in various aspects of Avatar and The Social Network, yet Adobe has carefully avoided promoting the actual editing system and DI system used. As a result, quite a few folks have come away with the impression that Premiere Pro was the editing tool for these films. In fact, these films were cut on Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro respectively – with Quantel Pablo/iQ handling the DI.

I suppose aspirational marketing is like all advertising. At the purely primal level, advertising is based on the concept that using the product will make you attractive to the opposite sex, will bring you fame and fortune and will whiten your teeth. Like the guitarist analogy, I’m sure every editor knows that using Final Cut won’t impart the editing skills of Murch, Wall, Baxter or the Coens on them, but it does offer some validation. In other words, if I’m using the same product as this famous film editor, then it clearly can get the highest level job done – and by extension – I have made the right choice in using the same tool.

The truth of the matter, though, is that this may or may not be the case. Many Hollywood feature film editors are not power users of either computers or editing software. The Coens will tell interviewers point blank that they had no idea how to use a mouse when they first started with Final Cut. Many Avid film editors are quite upfront in saying that they like Media Composer precisely because they don’t have to think about how it works. They are so used to it, in fact, that little changes, like adjusting the functions of the modifiers keys or adding Smart Tool have been greeted by a surly response from long-time editors.

Most professional editors working in anonymity on spots, corporate videos and reality shows probably have a far better grasp of how to get the most out of the software than the average A-list feature film editor. These working pros probably also know what holes are left in the toolset and where they excel. Rightfully so, every time Avid or another manufacturer brings out an Oscar-winning film editor, a lot of folks simply can’t see the relevance.

I don’t discount this feeling, but I have a different outlook. I love reading these stories because they often talk about workflow or creative challenges that do relate to my own projects. Sure, the demands of a high-budget studio film are different than that of a corporate image video, but we both have the challenges of how to satisfy the director, how to get the show to time and how to deal with new technology – from RED to HDSLRs to ALEXA to Stereo3D. I’m happy to see Avid bring a line-up of feature film and television editors and mixers as speakers to NAB to share their experiences. As part of this marketing effort, Avid also hosts a very interesting set of webisodes, called The Rough Cut. Avid staffer Matt Feury hosts and produces these various episodes, which feature conversations with many working editors.

Does aspirational marketing make me want to buy the product? Probably not, but my interest goes far beyond that. On the other hand, using the same tools as a high-visibility user doesn’t hurt – IF – it still meets the needs that I have to do the best job for my client.

©2011 Oliver Peters