16 Nov 2016

8 Content Lessons From Fast & Furious

You might think that a franchise about illegal street racers is irrelevant to your organisation’s content strategy. That’s because you’re not me. Once you watch these movies about 16 or 17 times, you realise the only thing Fast & Furious movies can’t teach you is how to drink beer. (Friends don’t let friends drink Corona without a lemon or lime wedge.) Still, a movie franchise where the seventh instalment is the sixth highest grossing film of all time is clearly doing something right.

Sure, the idea that all problems can be solved by driving really, really fast probably doesn’t strictly apply to your content since you can’t type in a moving vehicle. But there are plenty of other takeaways.

  1. Take An Idea You Love And Make It Your Own

If you haven’t seen the first movie, The Fast and The Furious – and I can’t imagine why not – it’s the story of cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), whose loyalties are tested when he goes undercover in an LA street racing and crime gang and bonds with leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). The pitch for this movie was supposedly “West Side Story with cars instead of singing”. After we’ve all paused to reflect on whether it would have been even better had it included cars and singing, consider how to take the same approach. It’s fine to be inspired by your competitors, the movie also borrows liberally from Bullit and Point Break. But don’t be scared to look to an unexpected quarter.

  1. Family Is Everything

Family is important in these movies. We know because Diesel says it every six seconds. Seriously. It’s like placeholder dialogue that somehow made it through to the finished product. Through various hijinks, these characters formed a bond that’s stronger than friendship. It’s so strong that in Fast & Furious 6, they established that having a barbeque together is far more satisfying than living separately in wealthy exile. As hokey as it is, this “family” notion is a key to the franchise’s success. Wanting to spend time with this group is an incentive to come back for the next film. Your audience has the entire internet to look for content. Making them feel like they belong to a community that’s providing value will draw them to you.

  1. Be Diverse

These movies are unusually ethnically diverse for Hollywood. It’s a large part of their success in both the highly multicultural US, as well as overseas. People want to feel like they’re being spoken to, and the more voices from your organisation you include, the more likely they will find one they respond to. You’re also less likely to post something other people hate because you’re tone deaf to their concerns.

  1. Don’t Focus Too Heavily On One Thing

This franchise is bigger than its stars. When Diesel didn’t come back for 2 Fast 2 Furious, they kept Walker’s character and introduced two cast members who would become “family”. Walker walked, so we got Tokyo Drift, which had neither actor. Admittedly its lead was forgettable, but charismatic supporting character Han (Sung Kang) became a regular. This probably applies less to the franchise now that it’s evolved into Ocean’s Eleven on wheels, but you should take the same approach to your content. Build as many channels as you can do well. That way, when Facebook starts behaving like a demanding Hollywood star and your reach inexplicably plummets, it’s not difficult to switch your focus to other platforms where you’ve already had success.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid To Evolve

The Fast & Furious gang started out as a street racing crew suspected of stealing DVD player shipments. By Furious 7, they were working with a government agency called the Diplomatic Security Service to stop a Somali terrorist from getting his hands on a dangerous computer hack. Why? I have no idea. But they’ve figured out what works and done more of that and it’s arguable that the last four movies are better than the first three. Start with a vision, but tweak your content based on audience response.

  1. Find A Way To Make It Work

Characters die in Fast & Furious movies and then a movie or two later, they’re not dead anymore. Sometimes this is because the dead character was in a coma and now has amnesia and is working for the enemy. Other times, they simply shift the timeline so that the movie where they died is suddenly set in the future, even though everyone is using iPod minis. The audience accepts this because it means the return of characters they like. Keeping up a consistent supply of content is not easy, but if you want to make it happen, you might need to come up with some creative methods to keep doing it, such as figuring out a new way to bring back what worked in the past.

  1. Use Social Media To Find Out What Your Audience Wants

You know how Sexiest Man Alive Dwayne Johnson came to be in Fast & Furious 6? Vin Diesel asked fans on his Facebook page who they wanted to see added to the cast. It will probably be more difficult for you to get The Rock, but if you ask your audience what they want from you, it’s easier to deliver.

  1. Harness Your Influencers, No Matter How Offbeat

In 2015, Helen Mirren told Yahoo! Movies “My great ambition is to be in a Fast & Furious movie”. This will happen in Fast 8. I’m going to assume the makers didn’t just happen to have a part for a 71-year-old British lady at the ready but instead decided to incorporate the unexpected request. Nor will they treat it as an invitation to make the next movie completely Mirren-centric. The Venn diagram of people who like these movies and those that think Mirren should be able to do whatever the hell she wants is probably quite small, but it is worth pursuing. It may encourage a few people who otherwise had no interest to check it out and it’s a good talking point to keep the brand relevant. If your organisation gets atypical support, your content can acknowledge and harness it, while staying true to what you are.

The Fast & Furious movies have the handling and responsiveness to give them the confidence to take risks. Follow their lead and you won’t have to live your content life one quarter mile at a time. Family.

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