A view from Dave Trott: Where aren't they fishing?
A view from Dave Trott

Where aren't they fishing?

In 1996, Will Smith had a dream: to be the biggest movie star in the world.

The problem was he was just a rapper with a TV show, he’d only made one movie.

Smith knew there was no point waiting and hoping for it to happen – so at the opening of Planet Hollywood, he walked up to the three biggest movie stars in the world and asked them what he needed to do.

Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis were both actors, so they knew their advice about acting wouldn’t be helpful.

But Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t an actor and he knew the question wasn’t about being an actor, the question was about being a STAR.

So Arnold gave him some really great advice: “You are not a star if your movies are only successful in America. You are not a star until every person in every country on earth knows who you are. You have to travel the globe, shake every hand, kiss every baby. Think of yourself as a politician running for Biggest Movie Star in the World.”

Smith knew that most actors hated travelling abroad to do publicity and promotions, all they cared about was being successful in the US.

So what Smith did was what none of them had bothered to do, he researched the numbers.

A film might make only $10m in Spain, but with some promotion you could easily double that to $20m.

If you did that across 30 countries you could double the overall gross, you could grow a $250m film into a $500m film.

The studio would see you as a star whose pictures made huge amounts of money, they’d be fighting to get you to make movies for them.

And when Smith saw how that made sense, he noticed one of the biggest stars was also doing it: Tom Cruise. So his next question was: what can I do that Cruise isn’t doing?

And he thought: music.

So instead of just interviews, he started doing free live shows outside the movie premiere.

He had 10,000 people in Piccadilly Circus, the same in Berlin, and in Red Square, Moscow.

His movie premieres weren’t just entertainment news, they were headline news.

Arnie, Sly, Bruce or Tom couldn’t do that.

And his film Independence Day earned $306m in the US.

But it also earned $72m in Germany, $58m in the UK, $40m in France, $23m in Italy and $93m in Japan.

In fact, its final global gross was $817m, the second highest-grossing film of all time, on a budget of $75m.

All by looking where other people weren’t looking, and doing what they weren’t doing.

And that’s how he beat the people who were the most successful in the game.

Not by beating them at their own game, but by playing a game they weren’t playing.

And that’s how Smith made himself the biggest movie star in the world.

By being the biggest movie star IN THE WORLD, not just in America.

By bothering with all the “little countries” that the others wouldn’t even bother with.

By knowing it wasn’t just a case of being better than other people.

It was a case of out-thinking people who are actually better than you are.

As Arthur Schopenhauer said: “Therefore the problem is not so much, to see what nobody has yet seen, but rather to think concerning that which everybody sees, what nobody has yet thought.”

In other words, if all the most successful people are fishing in the same place, where aren’t they fishing?

There may be less fish there, but you’ve got them all to yourself.

That’s niche marketing

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three