The Benjamin Button Effect: Standing out in an era of spoon fed entertainment.

Now Reading:  
The Benjamin Button Effect: Standing out in an era of spoon fed entertainment.

Children are terrible at eating. Most people probably don’t remember being a terrible eater as their lizard brain was still gaining consciousness. But luckily, for most of us out there, there was always a parent or guardian to chop up some chicken nuggets into little pieces and guide us on our culinary journey.

This idea of being ‘spoon fed’ is something we associate with not being capable to provide ourselves with what we need. But why is it that now, as we see in the end of 2023, with almost everything we could ever want at our fingertips, that we’re choosing to watch Season 2 of The Bear in 243 parts.

“Open wiiiide, here come’s the episooodes!”

By now you’re probably very familiar with the phrase “I saw a TikTok about that”. The phrase that has turned girls on the London Underground into signed fashion ambassadors, humble food establishments being invaded with 2 hour queues, or giving us coverage of wars that we’ve not yet experienced before in this lifetime. We all know it’s a platform that is revolutionising human behaviour. But the effect that this platform has had on video content is impossible to ignore.

I was recently sitting on my laptop scrolling through YouTube looking for a video with my partner, and (unsurprisingly) a Mr Beast thumbnail was sitting on the homepage. She pointed at it and said something I’d not heard before. She said “I’m watching that on TikTok at the moment”. A phrase with a present tense ‘watching’, that’s usually used in conversations about streaming platforms like Netflix, has now made its way into the feed-based platforms.

But like the hundreds of people who are moving towards short form platforms to watch long form content, there was no intention from her to seek out the next part herself. “I’ll just wait until I get served the next one in my feed” she said. And with this idea of being ‘spoon fed’ in mind, the spoon was there to be picked up at any given time, but we’re now living in a time where we’re totally OK with the algorithm becoming the spoon and the chicken nuggets becoming the episodes. 

There’s an entire generation of Gen Zalpha content consumers now who now “think” they’ve seen a movie, but are unsure because they’ve experienced it through the 7 most exciting parts that they’ve been served in their ‘for you page’. So what does that tell us about how to create with them in mind? 

It’s worth mentioning that this anecdote has been approved for use by my partner as a human insight for this article and she has definitely not asked me to say that she is my muse.

Stories reign supreme

While there’s a whole world of people who now choose to embrace the algorithm for episodic long form content, on the other side of the coin you have those that are actively choosing to control their own consumption of episodes through short form platforms.

This year to mark the 10 year anniversary of Mean Girls, Paramount uploaded the entire movie to their TikTok account in 23 parts. And as expected it got a lot of attention. The resulting conversation around this ‘stunt’ was TikTok users in their hundreds coming out claiming they’ve never felt so seen in their lives. A stake in the ground moment for this movement of episodic long form making itself known as the ‘new kid on the block’ on short form platforms.

In a similar vein, this year Nike worked with Amplify to release their first ever ‘tokumentary’. Rolling out on their global TikTok account, ‘1000 Victories’ was a 19 part UGC-fuelled documentary about the future of women’s football in Australia - released during the final week of the World Cup. While each part in itself had it’s own mini narrative, the sum of it’s parts showcased a rich story of the community, one that the community themselves were crying out for while the world’s eyes were on them as a footballing nation. 

The similarities that these two examples share (besides insanely iconic and powerful women) is that the stories were being asked for by the audience. And while people like to talk about attention spans and dopamine addiction when it comes to these short form video platforms, let’s focus on what this movement means for content: The one thing that MrBeast, Mean Girls, Nike all have in common is that they all have undeniably good stories at the heart.

WILD THEORY: Has the ‘nostalgia movement’ mutated?

While we’re very much living in (and loving) all things 90’s and 00’s - it begs the question of whether or not this nostalgia is starting to seep beyond Y2K fashion and swapping your iPhone 15 for a Nikon Coolpix digital camera from 2003. The whole idea of why nostalgia is booming is because of simpler times. WILD THEORY ALERT: We’re actively moving towards this spoon fed entertainment behaviour because, like the 90’s, it reminds us of those comforting times when we never had to do anything for ourselves.

Does everyone wish they were a 1 year old, or a 101 year old? Most likely not, but if you’re a clinical psychologist and think I’m onto something then I’ll gladly be credited for this discovery.

The Benjaminbuttonisation of Content

Whether it’s the introduction of chapters to YouTube videos or a movie turned into 78 parts and uploaded to TikTok, the lines between short-form and long-form content are so blurred we can barely make them out. And it’s fun to liken this new viewing behaviour to the iconic Brad Pitt man-turns-baby film from the 2000’s. A world of fully evolved content absorbing brains evolving towards what seems to be a more spoon-fed, baby-like state. But rather than seeing this spoon as a bad thing, let’s embrace the spoon - and put our focus on what matters.

Because the one thing that remains unchanged is this: good fucking stories get people’s attention. And the best chicken nuggets can be eaten whole, or chopped up by your mum.

While it’s never been more important to understand how your audience is consuming, it’s also a time where we shouldn’t be afraid for a story to exist in multiple forms. It’s a film, it’s a TikTok series, it premiere’s in cinemas and in feeds, it’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere. As long as it’s a story worth telling. A24 - if you’re reading this, I dare you to drop your next banger on TikTok and in cinemas at the same time. For science. My money is on it being the most viewed movie of all time - even if one version of it is hundreds of 1 minute parts.