It Happened One Night

gable-taking-his-shirt-off2 1934 may have been the height of the Great Depression, but it is also the year that one of my favorite movies came out: Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.

In a famous scene, Clark Gable removes his shirt before going to bed and reveals that he is not wearing an undershirt.  Legend has it that undershirt sales dropped 75%, immediately, in the U.S. After all, if Clark Gable doesn’t wear an undershirt, why should I?

Imagine you are an undershirt manufacturer in 1934.  You have three choices:

  1. Say, “this is just a fad,” do nothing, and wait for undershirt sales to return to normal levels.
  2. Say, “this industry is dead,” and get out of the undershirt business.
  3. Say, “our world is different now.  We need to recalibrate our whole approach to our business in light of these changes.”

Not hard to guess which choice I think is the right one.  Think about this: T-shirt sales after 1934 grew exponentially, as the t-shirt became not only an undergarment but a special piece of clothing in its own right.

Now, think about your world, right now.  Changes in your world happened, essentially, in one night, and it didn’t take Clark Gable undressing for bed to cause these changes.  Your world today, on April 16, 2009, is completely different than your world on April 16, 2008.

So, what are you going to do?  Hunker down and wait for the undershirt business to come back to “normal?”  Get out of the undershirt business?  Or … recalibrate your approach to your business, finding opportunity in the new world order?

The choice is yours …

(P.S. As Arna and I were being married, on January 21st, 1984, the VHS recorder in our apartment was, at the same moment, recording It Happened One Night off of our local PBS station.)

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Posted in Invent Your Future, Latent Profit
5 comments on “It Happened One Night
  1. Great reminder to watch out for the unexpected. The t-shirt folks have done ok since then, but this also reminds me of what the hat folks went through around the time of Kennedy. Neil Steinberg wrote a great book outlining the decline and the lengths some went to bring them back.

  2. Andy Thorp says:

    This got me thinking about other cases of ‘what the movies did for us’. Here’s my top 6 of ‘help or hindrance’:

    Hindrance
    Jaws – swimming (and sharks)
    Deliverance – river trips
    The Poseidon Adventure – cruises
    Marathon Man – going to the dentist
    Fatal Attraction – infidelity
    The Shining – getting away from it all

    Help
    Amadeus – classical music
    The Italian Job – the mini
    Lord of the Rings – New Zealand
    The Full Monty – naturism
    Saturday Night Fever – disco
    The Big Lebowski – bowling

    Any more suggestions?

    • Andy –

      Awesome list!

      A few more that come to mind:

      Boogie Nights – roller skating
      Lion in Winter – putting your wife, the queen, in prison
      The Graduate – going into Plastics
      The Frisco Kid – transferring to a new city for a job
      Blazing Saddles – eating around the campfire
      Pulp Fiction – robbing diners, checking if the pistol’s safety is on
      The Philadelphia Story – wedding crashing, way before Wedding Crashers
      Slumdog Millionaire – paying attention to what goes on around you

  3. Andy Thorp says:

    We could go on forever with this stuff on movie links (believe me, I would!) but there’s a more serious point to this too I think. The best directors and writers know how to play their audience and that means understanding how the viewers think and feel. Those emotional strings are pulled brilliantly by the likes of Hitchcock and that’s why they achieved ‘master’ status. Only in the best movies do we really identify with the characters, and truly care about them. Think about Tim Robbins’ character in Shawshank, or Jamal (Dev Patel) in Slumdog. There’s an emotional connection between the audience and what’s presented to them.

    This sounds awfully like sales to me! We buy on emotion, so if we’re to become a ‘master of sales’ we have to get under the audience’s skin and become truly engaged.

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