You might have noticed that the trailers for two highly-anticipated movies dropped this week. One is a sequel of maybe the best fighter jet movie ever, and one is a remake -- well, an adaptation really, of one of the most successful live theatre productions ever. And the internet is going insane over both, but for opposite reasons.
It appears that fans love the new Top Gun: Maverick trailer, and are confused and horrified by the one for Cats. I think there are a lot of reasons why both are true, and I think there are important lessons, but first let's talk about the trailers.
Top Gun: Maverick
Let's first say that the first Top Gun movie was probably Tom Cruise's best. Okay, maybe Jerry Maguire was pretty good, but don't give me Mission Impossible or Jack Reacher. I know he's one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, but it doesn't get better than Top Gun. And I'm pretty sure I'm on firm ground to say that there's no better theme music. Ever.
But the real reason the internet blew up over the trailer is because of the way it dropped. Tom Cruise showed up at Comic-Con yesterday for a panel discussion where he surprised the audience with a look at the new film with a whole lot of scenes of epic aviation sequences.
No one expected the Top Gun: Maverick trailer, and not only was it a surprise, but it was also exactly what its audience would have expected. Tom Cruise is exactly who we expect as Maverick. The planes are what we expect, and the flying sequences -- okay those are far more than we expected, but in a good way.
Which is an important though not new lesson: it's always better to under-promise and over-deliver.
Then there's the Cats trailer. The biggest problem is that people were expecting a more traditional adaptation of what, at one point when it closed in 2000, was the longest-running Broadway production.
Instead, they got a film that seems to be set in some dystopian future land of humanoid felines, but is somehow constrained in scope to a few theatrically-minded stage sets. It doesn't quite know who it is, or who it's trying to please.
The problem with Cats is that it was widely anticipated but failed to deliver on the promise people believed they were getting, or at least expected. It did the opposite by over-promising, and under-delivering for its audience.
Which leads us to a lesson about creating buzz--because they are both creating buzz.
Creating buzz for your brand
In fact, in the case of Top Gun: Maverick, no one expected anything, but what we saw was exactly what we hoped and more. The producers clearly know exactly who their audience is and people went crazy as a result. The trailer was trending on both Twitter and Google search trends.
On the other hand, Cats doesn't feel like what we expect, and the characters seem, well, strange. When your character is well known, you can only change him so much. Consider the recent Christopher Robin film with life-like versions of stuffed animals, or how upset people got about the trailer for the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog film.
It's almost as though Cats doesn't know who its audience is, and as a result, created buzz and was trending for the opposite reason: people hated it.
A lesson for your next big thing
Which leads to a final lesson: Just because you had a big hit, doesn't mean that success will automatically translate to the next thing. The original Cats was a stage production that was widely successful, but that doesn't mean your audience is willing to extend that appreciation to an adaptation that doesn't make sense.
The Top Gun sequel is something new, that anchors itself in something familiar that continues to resonate with its audience. The story is different, but the elements and the overall feel are the same.
Both films offer a lesson in how to handle creating buzz for your brand. How you manage expectations and roll out your next big thing can make the difference between a viral hit, or the roughest of landings.