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. 

*Their* restricted action section

One idea around here is that of the restricted action section, and how to unlock it. Broadly the goal is to limit any reduction in the range of choices. For example, the willingness to look stupid is a way to reduce the restricted actions section.

A common cause of restriction are stakeholders. Employees are stakeholders, movie financiers are stakeholders, and institutional investors are stakeholders. In the case of DTC, the most underrated part of the success of companies like Dollar Shave Club, All Birds, or Warby Parker was their competitor’s stakeholders. It wasn’t that Gillette didn’t want to sell their razors for cheap, but that would undermine their retail partners. Stakeholders limit actions. What’s there to do? Tyler Cowen gave a 2022 talk at Yale and advised this:

“Never stop listening while you do this (advocate your position). Don’t make it a crusade, make it a way you are expressing your opinion but trying to learn at the same time. I think especially in university environments you will be more effective that way. If you’re a top line university administrator, the pressures you’re under and the number of constituents you have to cater to is so extreme. Those are frustrated people. A lot of them may be on your side way more than you think but they can’t say so.”

Tyler Cowen

Whenever I find myself flummoxed by someone’s action it’s a sign I don’t understand the incentives. Sometimes the incentives are satisfying the stakeholders. I like Cowen’s approach here: be curious and find the incentives.

Need a louder phantom Tyler Cowen? Here’s more.