Top Gun Twitter targets

That makes no sense!!! is a signal for misunderstanding. We may not need to understand. The logic may not be local to us. But people don’t do dumb things.

Tyler Cowen questions Twitter’s ad targeting, “can’t they send me a targeted ad for Indian classical music at least once? An economics book? That would be easy given who I follow. But they can’t even do that. It’s Top Gun. I know Top Gun is out and my eyes roll.” 

This is a known problem. Thomas Tull founded Legendary Entertainment in 2000 based (partially) on this idea. The fans of Batman will know when Batman comes out (2005, 2008, 2012). People reading the newspaper will not know, but people who read the newspaper also may not care. Tull said he could give his mother two tickets and money for popcorn, drinks, and a snack and she still wouldn’t go see Batman. 

Tull thought: How to persuade the middle group? Don’t waste money advertising to the huge fans or the never-buyers

The Top Gun:Maverick trailer came out July 2019! Everyone between thirty-five and fifty knew about the movie. Yet Top Gun is on Twitter. That makes no sense?

Option 1: Momentum. Paramount Pictures has an annual budget for social media and each gets their share. TG was on Twitter because it’s just something they do. 

Option 2: Social proof. PP has the annual budget to advertise on social media to build social proof. According to Robert Cialdini, social proof and authority are both tools to reduce uncertainty. Maybe lots of people heard about TG but were unsure if they should go. Seeing it on the timeline makes the film appear popular, more people go, the film appears popular, more people go, and so on. 

Option 3: Twitter ads are just bad. Cowen is right. 

Option 4: Twitter ads are secretly great. Cowen did go see Top Gun. The mechanism is something other than social proof (#2)

Option 5: Twitter ads aren’t targeted, they’re brand building. Maybe a better analogy for Twitter is the NFL, a place for national brands to reinforce their messages. My last three promoted tweets were for Google, Extra gum, and the AP news. 

Option 6: Something else. 

A viral YouTube ad from 2013 was It’s Not About The Nail. Put another way this thing isn’t really about the thing at all. A lot of life has deeper parts to it. 

Last week one of our regular players brought Gatorade to the pickleball courts. She had too much and was getting rid of it. The superficial reading is that she wants to get rid of it. Why? It doesn’t spoil. Just drink it over the next few years. But really it was about sharing. 

Status Games (review) make no sense superficially. But peel back the layers of evolution and we see that status is a proxy for power. Rather than physical conflict to create a hierarchy, certain species use status. Physical conflict reduces the individual and collective. Groups which adopted a non-physical mechanism performed better than ones who did not. 

Sometimes superficial is just superficial. Twitter might just have bad targeting and Yeah that makes no sense is a fine answer. But sometimes it’s not! And that’s where the fun stuff hides. 

Curated Creativity

Broadly there are 3 ways to spend a day online.
– trends, the algorithm or human generated headlines
– feeds, the self selected sources
– search, the internet queries of Wikipedia articles, travel plans, and what-is-my-kid’s-teacher’s-email

Articulating the ways helps distinguish when we are, or aren’t in a helpful place. On days when it’s time to work it isn’t helpful to spend too long in the trends. Naming also helps us establish healthy habits. Jason Zweig uses the fire hoses and tea cups system.

The 3 ways aren’t good or bad. They are more helpful or less helpful depending on the work to be done. Here’s some help for the feed type of work, two curated podcast feeds.

Economics. Tyler Cowen is a wonderful thinker we have looked at many times: how to eat well, how to argue well (with yourself!), and how to consider incentives. Cowen is a podcast host and frequent guest but more importantly, he shares many potential podcast people on his blog Marginal Revolution.

Periodically I cull through the blog for the MR Mentions podcast feed. These are guests or ideas mentioned by Cowen. It’s not a comprehensive list and it runs through my own filter, but it is a way to think a bit more like an economist.

Behavioral Science. Rory Sutherland is a wonderful thinker too. We’ve probably looked at his ideas even more: the room or Zoom, marathon lottos, and ambiguity aversion are just some places his ideas percolate. Sutherland has hosted Nudgestock, a B.S. conference since 2014 (the presentations are on YouTube!), a great index of thinkers.

Periodically I cull through a Twitter list of Nudgestock guests to find podcast episodes for the Behavioral Listenings podcast feed.

The pitch. These feeds are free and both contain potentially valuable ideas. The main cost is the time to listen, however with the advantages of 1.5x speed, wireless headphones, asynchronous listening, and portability those costs are reduced. Plus there’s no psychological baggage (sunk costs) to make you stick around. This is my list, not yours, so passing on an episodes is a reflection of my (poor) choices.

Happy listening and cheers to the long-tail of content. Before the fire hose it felt good to “stay abreast”. In 2021 it’s about timing: what do I need to know and when. A good feed is one internet tool.