Ready Player One

I understand the negative reaction to Ready Player One

The movie Ready Player One is still a few weeks from release and it is proving to be quite the lightning rod for criticism. While I still plan on seeing the film. I understand why a preemptive backlash is already occurring.

We are living in a nostalgia heavy era. This is not new. At many times in our history, entertainment has leaned heavily into nostalgia. Now though, it has become a commodity that has is so well packaged that it borders on a new genre.

Ready Player One might be the ultimate representation of that commodification. Which could mean it is a masterpiece of the genre or at the very least a milestone in its evolution.

But here is the problem with nostalgia. It is very subjective and is very tied to emotional connections with a subject. So, if you plan on leaning heavy into nostalgia, prepare for a very strong emotional response from your consumers.

Enter marketing.

The ads for Ready Player One are problematic. Outside of the 2nd trailer, they have trucked almost exclusively in references and “remember this”. The latest round of movie posters, which recreate classic films with Ready Player One branding and characters made an even bigger step towards trying to associate the film with “all the things you might be nostalgic for.” They wanted that association and people tried to put the two together and they did not like what they saw.

Ready Player One Poster

One the new Ready Player One Posters

I am not a marketing person, but I think they would have been better served by convincing us that the story is compelling. That the main characters are identifiable. These advertisements have become checklists of references to people’s childhoods and unsurprisingly the bald-facedness of this is rubbing people the wrong way.

People are already predicting that Ready Player One is going to tank. As someone who is interested in the film and who loves Steven Spielberg, I am hoping it will not.

Whatever happens though, I hope this is a lesson for people producing nostalgia-based entertainment. You are playing with fire. You might enjoy the ease at which some people just love your art direction or references, but be careful. Those same emotional responses that have people spending their money on retro gaming systems can just as easily result in the backlash we are seeing for Ready Player One.


The Retroist

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6 thoughts on “I understand the negative reaction to Ready Player One

  1. You know, what I think is interesting about the negative backlash to these new RPO ads is that Stranger Things did the very same thing with their season 2 ad campaign and it was well received. RPO is my favorite book since Harry Potter, and while I know that the film is going to be quite different from the book, I’m still hopeful that it will be good in its own right. I look forward to seeing it.

  2. It does not surprise me that different reactions would occur. They are playing with people’s memories. This is very risky and unpredictable.

    Also, I think the execution on the part of Stranger Things was better.

  3. I’ve been weirdly fascinated by all the hate that RPO is currently getting, considering it got such a *positive* response when the book came out some years back. I’m thinking it’s caused by multiple things, really…first and foremost, that the book came out nearly seven years ago. Nostalgia does indeed have a shelf-life, and I think they waited far too long between book and movie. (Yes, I know, given the time it takes to clear rights and so on, especially with this story…) It’s like talking to that guy you knew in college who kept quoting Monty Python five years after MTV stopped playing it…it’s no longer funny, and in fact a bit sad and irritating.

    Then again, nostalgia does also have a way of coming around again. What was cool once can get boring, but eventually someone will bring it up in a ‘remember when’ and it’s a positive thing again. Maybe this’ll be one of those movies that’ll get the hate now but become a cult favorite a few years down the line.

  4. You make a solid point here. The movie (and book) is very heavy on nostalgia, but instead of doing the ads like the one above, they could have made new ads with a retro-vibe to them. The latest Retroist Video Podcast (New Coleco ADAM) had two images in there that I made that were retro-inspired. One clearly used lots of stock 1980s icons from TV & movies. The second had none of that, but clearly had a retro vibe with it’s font, colors, and graphics. They should have gone that way while making clear who are the characters in Ready Player One.

  5. GammaDev says:

    I think if anyone is allowed to play the nostalgia card, it’s Steven Spielberg. After all, he was largely responsible for many of these iconic moments in the first place. Also, it’s not like he hasn’t successfully turned what could have been a nostalgia cash-in into a genuine classic of its own before in the form of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Yeah, people probably went to it because the ads showed classic Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons sharing the screen for the first (and only) time, but they ended up with a movie that was so much more than just a cash-grab.

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