I’m in Las Vegas this week speaking at the IBM Amplify marketing conference. It’s quite a big deal. With a lot of people. So I was skeptical when IBM booked one of my favourite people Will Smith to do an interview, wondering how relevant he would be to marketers and whether it was simply an exercise to get bums of seats for the main purpose of the conference ~ to showcase new Watson technology. I shouldn’t have worried.
Will Smith was brilliant. Being the consummate professional, he described not only how he saw himself as a marketer in the way that he needed to tell (and sell) his stories, but he needed to understand the shifts in consumer behaviour if his projects were going to receive any kind of commercial success. Will described how he lost all his money to the IRS in the early days of being the Fresh Prince by not paying his taxes (he got paid cash for gigs), so he got pushed into TV in order to buy some more stuff!
It was a heartwarming story, but his interview gave me two things to really think about. With his marketing hat on, Will described his mission to add value to people’s lives by becoming a movie star and how he didn’t let anyone get in his way as he was fighting his way through Hollywood. These are my two highlights.
If ever there was a marketing mantra, Will set it up well. He always wanted to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He didn’t pretend that wasn’t his plan ~ but he went on to explain exactly how he was going to set about becoming the world’s biggest movie star. “Storytelling is everything”, he told the Amplify audience, “but you need to understand *exactly* what makes a commercial success”. With that in mind, early in his career Will studied the most successful box office hits of all time and made a few simple observations.
Will made sure that he would target the films most likely to become the big box office successes. So when you look at the movies (good and bad) that Will Smith has done on his way to becoming one of the world’s biggest stars, the big films (not including Wild Wild West!) which propelled him to super stardom all have heavy special effects, creatures and a love story for that reason. Independence Day, iRobot, Men in Black, I am Legend… The big films allow him to do the smaller projects that he really believes in or have a deeper message, and they provide him with the audience and global reach to carry his influence further. Kudos.
There is a line from the Pursuit of Happyness which people quote a lot. It was a spontaneous scene with Will and his real life son Jaden, and how you should never let people tell you that you can’t do something. During the interview, Will reminded everyone in the audience that
“People will always tell you that YOU can’t do something if THEY can’t do it”
I love that line. It was a great interview from a great man. I remain a big fan and will now relish even more every opportunity I have to show my favourite clip from the Pursuit of Happyness in my keynotes, explaining to marketers and executives how you need to be good with people AND good with numbers.