Marketing Case Study of Catfish: Job Seeker Lessons

The 2011 Oscar nominations came out today! I am a movie person, so that excites me. I have waited to see most of the nominated movies because I discovered that AMC hosts two Saturday Manhattan Oscar showcases where they show all the movies (five each day). I did one showcase last year and it was so much fun, I hope to do it again, though with pillows.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been impressed by the Oscar nominated movies I’ve seen so far. I thought The Social Network was on the boring side (Jesse Eisenberg plays the same character in every movie and Andy Samberg’s Mark Zuckerberg is much better), Inception would have been good if the acting hadn’t been so bad (Ellen Page is generally overrated), and Toy Story III wasn’t as good as the others. The Kids Are Alright was just plain annoying. I thought about the 2010 movie I liked the most this morning and I’ve decided it was Catfish.

(Spoiler alert going forward if you haven’t seen Catfish…)

Catfish is a “documentary” (some believe the movie was staged) made by a trio of young New York City filmmakers who became Facebook friends with a family in rural Michigan. One of them, Nev, begins a long-distance flirtation with a daughter named Megan who’s the same age. After some time, the guys begin to believe something is amiss and travel unannounced to Michigan so they can meet the family. They find that most of what they experienced on Facebook, including Megan, was imagined by a woman named Angela who is a lonely mom with a difficult family situation. People had very strong reactions to Catfish. If you didn’t like it, you hated it because you thought it was staged or because these young, arrogant New Yorkers took advantage of old, simple Angela. 
(Yes, I know I am generalizing here.)

Catfish I am not suggesting that Catfish was worthy of an Oscar nomination, but it was definitely the movie I most enjoyed last year. I questioned whether parts were contrived, but I didn’t feel that they exploited Angela. For me, a good movie is one that touches me emotionally and hopefully makes me both laugh and cry and Catfish achieved both. I laughed at the silliness of the main character and I cried at Angela’s humanity. In the photos she stole and chose for her online persona, or in her self-portraits that she painted, you could see reflections of her true self, but with longing and regret. I think we can all relate to feeling stuck, but hoping for “more” at some point in our lives.

Some people would say Catfish was successful for a first-time documentary, but it initially had more potential. When the movie came out in September, there was internet chatter that this movie could be called the “real Facebook movie” over The Social Network. Obviously that didn’t happen, and that’s partly because the studio and filmmakers made constant mistakes in the marketing, mistakes that are easy to make in job seeking, too. Here are some lessons from Catfish I’ve been reflecting on and how they relate to careers.

One: Make sure you’re marketing yourself authentically.

The studio marketing of Catfish was a textbook case of what NOT to do. I decided to see Catfish based on a small paragraph I’d read in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly and hadn’t seen the trailer. The trailer markets the movie as a thriller- what will these young men find in Angela’s house in the boondocks of Michigan, which they first approach in the dark? Scary, but 5 minutes of the entire move. I am assuming that the studio thought that kind of movie would appeal to young moviegoers, but no one wants to feel cheated about what they’ve paid to see. I wouldn’t have gone to the movie if I’d first seen the trailer, which would have been a loss, based how much I enjoyed the movie.

It’s always best to market yourself authentically when you’re searching for a job, too, so you can find your right audience. If you’re marketing yourself as someone you’re not in your online and written documents, people will find out once they meet you at the interview, anyway. So please disregard bad career articles that tell you to focus on flirting over substance or to botox your resume (anyone notice these articles are always written for women by women? Ugh. That’s a dissertation, not a blog post).

Second, there are implications for your happiness. Say you even fool the hiring manager (unlikely), are you prepared to keep pretending you’re someone you’re not every day once you have the job? Why would you want to keep that up? Even if you’re not job searching because it was your choice, don’t you want something better for your next gig where you’re comfortable, happy, and successful? It’s hard to build success on lies and misrepresentations, just like Catfish, and for that fact, Angela.

Two: Emphasize your likeability.

We’ve talked about the importance of being likeable because above all else, people want to do business with people they like. I read lots of articles about how the filmmakers came off as punks in press tours and interviews. I am sure they felt attacked by the exploitation accusations, but they came off as likeable in the movie and had the opportunity to be that way with the press. No one wants to see a movie with people who seem like jerks and no one wants to hire someone who seems sketchy.

Three: Understand that everyone has preconceived biases and sometimes you can’t change them.

There were lots of people who didn’t like Catfish because they have predetermined notions about social networking and who uses it, as well as people like Angela. Some people were going to believe that Angela was exploited no matter what they saw in the movie. When I read the New York Times review of the movie, I wondered if the critic had seen the same movie. If you read his review, and others, you see opinions about the usefulness of Facebook creeping in and realize that it’s impossible to see a movie like this through an impartial lens. I wasn’t impartial, either. I have first hand experience with people who NEED to use social networking, who are unable to develop in-person relationships due to real phobias and related issues. Without the internet, they’d be unable to relate to anyone because of chemical reasons. While I would never advocate that people lie about their persona like Angela did, or believe her behavior was acceptable, I understand where the overwhelming desire to connect with strangers via the internet comes from for people who are stuck in their worlds. Of course I was going to cry at her story.

As a jobseeker, you have to realize that you only have limited control over people’s opinions on your candidacy because some of it is developed before you step in the room. Sometimes, the hiring manager will not give you a fair chance based on what s/he believes about people of your generation (young and old) or employees who worked for your previous company. Listening for those biases and addressing them is important, but it’s also essential to understand that you don’t have ultimate control over other people’s decision-making process. Your only responsibility is to do your best and accepting that lack of control is powerful. Perhaps the Catfish team could have done more to educate the general public about the different sides of social networking, but it’s likely that people would have brought their own Facebook experiences to the movie anyway.

As a wrap-up, yesterday was my book list and today’s my movie list. Here are my evaluations for the 2011 nominees pre-AMC Oscar Showcase. I am also including my 2010 ratings for reference if you’re trying to figure out my taste.

2011 Nominations

Loved

Okay

Whatever

Didn’t See

Inception
Toy Story III
The Social Network
The Kids Are Alright (hated) Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
True Grit
Winter’s Bone
127 Hours

2010 Nominations

Loved

Okay

Whatever

Didn’t See

Up
The Hurt Locker
The Blind Side
Precious
An Education
District 9
A Serious Man
Avatar (probably better in 3D)
Up In The Air (hated)
Inglorious Basterds (been on my DVR forever)

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