I say coincidental but as always I do believe things connect for a reason. As I was flicking around Youtube looking for references for a new version of my “toilets as social media” speech I came across a marvelous twist on the famous car wash scene. Hopefully you do know the movie, and if you don’t then please buy it on your favorite format and watch. The people at www.worldH2Oday.org have done an excellent job of using celebrity to get people to take notice of their important message by taking classic “water scenes” from great movies and re-editing to point out how different they would be without access to clean water. Which is of course why celebrity is still such an effective marketing tool. It takes the VERY familiar and forces your attention even if you are not interested in the product being commercialised.

But I digress.  Watching the clip then whetted my appetite to watch the actual movie again, for the umpteenth time. My wife who is not such a fan left the room and I sat back for the next two hours loving it over again. Always great.

Of course there is that one fantastic line. When Strother Martin’s character says  “what we have is failure to communicate” every marketer, researcher, advertising consultancy has to prick their ears. It sums up the dilemma we all face : is our message getting through and being acted upon in a way we might hope for.

Clearly the Luke character is not (in the latest poor marketing jargon ) an interactive consumer adding to the brand story through content building. He is in fact what we used to call “a get away”. The person who comes into our brand world through some trick or forced circumstance and then keeps busting out no matter how much we abuse him with incentives to stay.

Now whether you are talking about Cool Hand Luke, or The Shawshank Redemption, or Papillion or The Great Escape (Steve McQueen as the great movie escape artist?) or any other “breakout” movie you are really talking about deprivation and invention. Societies of all kinds have used deprivation as the ultimate punishment. Maybe it was being banned from the tribal lands, sent to a penal colony in Australia, or as we do today placing those who break the rules behind bars and away from the rest of us. Regardless the idea that depriving people from normal social interaction is punishment invariable leads to “hero” stories of those figure out a clever way to overcome their restraints and in doing so, at least in the Hollywood world, teach us something bigger about the human spirit. It’s a classic story stereotype. But that is OK as there are afterall only seven stories in the history of mankind and all that we do is refresh and localise them.

So deprivation and the creation that comes from it is ingrained as a culturally accepted norm.  We like Cool Hand Luke not just because Paul is great looking and that the bit part players are a laundry list of some of the great characters actors of 60s Hollywood. We like it because it makes us feel good. Here is a troubled soul, a restless spirit and here is how he reacts to deprivation

Deprivation that, incidentally, he bought on himself because in greater society he still felt deprived of knowing how he was supposed to fit. So here is a great story of some one having less than we might think the normal situation, and finding inventive ways to entertain themselves, to gain self respect, to tell ‘the man” where he can go. With scene after scene of creativity.

Now why don’t market researchers think about that a bit more. Of course they have. There are lot’s of examples of deprivation studies. Lot’s of examples of marketers “taking away” something that would be scene as normal and seeing what it teaches them. Why not more ?? To ask a bunch of questions, to search massive data sets for patterns of behavior is all well and good. But how often does it lead to confirmation rather than discovery. Ask someone to react to a given stimulus and it soon gets easy to predict. Ask people to fill in a blank with no boundaries and you go off in whole new directions.

My good friend Vanessa Oshima and I have talked about the role of deprivation a lot. And fortunately the organising committee at this years ESOMAR Congress have agreed to give us some main stage time to share our own experiences of quite often by accident discovering that being deprived of something gave us more than expected. Examples like the benefit of not listening the the discussion in focus groups, just watching. Or what happens when you force people to be deprived of a favourite object, a usual stimulus, or any stimulus at all. What you get is results you probably did not predict. Because just like Luke deprivation makes you creative. Go watch that “i can eat 50 eggs” scene again and think about it as testament to our ability to create entertainment from anything when deprived of what we would normally do on our day off. Then think about how interesting it might be in research what people would do if they could not do what is at all normal. I will guarantee new product ideas will flow.

Less is More. Nice idea, coolly played.