Illumination’s 2023 feature film, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, grossed over $146 million across its opening weekend. It even looks like it may out-earn some of the year’s biggest films and its infamous 1993 predecessor. When you hear of this blockbuster’s financial success and popularity, you might be surprised to see its Rotten Tomatoes score: only 56%.
Yup, 56% of critics’ reviews on this show were negative. But the audience rating on this movie is a whopping 96%. How does a film with a disappointing ancestor and a critical rank of “rotten” wind up so widely liked and successful?
Let’s explore the way The Super Mario Bros. Movie listened to its audience to win the day!
Not for Everyone
If general audiences adored the Mario movie, why was the same story dismissed as mediocre-at-best by critics? Well, it simply wasn’t for the critics. Whether or not a movie is “good” is up to you. This massive divide shows us that perhaps the film wasn’t intended to resonate with all viewers.
I read many negative reviews for this piece, some from professional critics and others from casual moviegoers.
The primary complaints against the Mario movie boil down to this; while visually stimulating, the show had a thin, simple plot and contained more “easter eggs” and references than substance.
Then, I read positive reviews. Interestingly, these reviewers liked the exact elements that negative reviewers disliked. Loyal fans of the Mario franchise were thrilled to recognize characters, locations, and items from the games sprinkled throughout the movie. Many people were happy to have a simple, nostalgic family film. These viewers happily overlooked “flaws” in the storytelling or acting, simply enjoying the movie.
When creating the movie, the filmmakers could have adjusted the film to appeal to everyone, perhaps by cutting down on references to video games. Doing that would likely have left fans disappointed and critics still underwhelmed. Or they could have tried to make it more mature, losing their younger audience and, again, underwhelming the older. Instead, they catered to the fans and kids. Did they lose a few critics? Yes, but that’s ok; their target demographic loved it!
One of the biggest mistakes a marketer can make is thinking that their product, service, or film is for “everyone.”
It might initially seem counterintuitive, but selecting a niche is almost always more effective. Yes, anyone could enjoy a product or service, but trying to cater to everyone is difficult—at best. As with any task, there are specific tools used for different situations. And while you could drive a nail with a screwdriver–you’re better off using a hammer. Like the Mario movie, people hated and loved it for the same reasons.
The key is discovering the audience that will most appreciate your brand. You’ll have a better aim when you only have one target to hit. Defining a strategy for your audience will attract them. Other people may trickle in, but you won’t waste time and money chasing after a fruitless demographic.
Think Like a Customer
Next, discover why they like your brand and what they want.
Another Super Mario Brothers Movie was released in 1993. They took loose inspiration from the games but turned it into a darker, gritty, “realistic” version of the Mario World—and most people hated it. Some people might say this approach was a bad idea. But there’s nothing inherently “bad” about it; it just wasn’t what audiences wanted.
The creators of the 2023 film experienced far greater success by identifying their audience’s wants. Illumination also redesigned and reimagined aspects of the world and story (changes are necessary for any adaptation). But they discovered what fans loved: a straightforward interpretation and passion for the source material.
What you love about your business might be different from what others love. The 1993 movie attempted to sell itself on creativity, something critics say the 2023 movie lacked—but nostalgia and familiarity ultimately sold this new film. Stepping away from what you think is an excellent way to find more success. Your customers will tell you exactly what they want if you take the time to listen to them!
You Can Reach your Audience Too
Now, you may not be turning a popular videogame property into a full-length animated feature. Yet, you can use the same principles of finding the right audience and listening to what they want. Some of the best insights for your business will come from recognizing who your audience is and what you have to offer them.
Want help reaching your audience? Contact the Big Red Jelly team today!
Written by Avie Eichelberger