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.
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.
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.