The “Napoleon Dynamite” Problem

February 11, 2009
Pick a Side: Love it or Hate it

Pick a Side: Love it or Hate it

I was jamming out to Pandora radio recently and a particular song choice reminded me of a quirky and eccentric cult film hero who has posed an interesting little predicament for a company.

What is this predicament, you ask? Well, back in November 2008 The New York Times Magazine ran an article about Netflix and the challenge that it was presented with when it came time to recommend a movie for fans of the film with the lovable outsider, “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Apparently, no other film had been rated more disproportionately than “Napoleon Dynamite,” which had been rated over two million times and was rated on a scale of five by an average difference of 1.2 stars, quite the disagreement. Netflix was offering $1,000,000 to anyone who could crack the problem with a more accurate recommendation system.

Netflix found that some fans of the film were likely to also enjoy films like “Kill Bill,” but that others who were fans of the ironic humor in “Dynamite” were not so pleased by the violence in “Bill.” On Pandora, I liked the particular Red Hot Chili Peppers song that was played, but I subsequently felt pretty strongly about how much I disliked the next song from the band The Killers.

It is an impossible marketing issue as well. Even after focus groups, surveys, questionnaires and hours and hours of various forms of research, can any one single person be certain that the target consumer who loved product A will also love product B?  Of course not.

It is what makes us all unique as consumers. What makes us like what we like? Marketers spend a lot of time and money trying to answer this question. Yes, it is an answer that is very coveted, but wouldn’t the world be a boring place when the “Napoleon Dynamite” problem is cracked? Individuality would struggle to exist, so for that I am thankful for Napoleon.

That said, what brand do you think presents this problem more than any other and can be considered the “Napoleon Dynamite” of brands?