Marketing Lessons From the Toxic Avenger: B-Movie Maker and Businessman Jeffrey Sass on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

If you’re not into B-movies (sometimes referred to as “schlock”), you might fail to appreciate the campy fun of watching a movie like ‘The Toxic Avenger,” produced by the legendary independent film studio Troma.

But whether you enjoy low-budget films or not, you have to appreciate the business acumen it takes to produce Hollywood movies on a shoestring budget and make them profitable through clever branding, low overhead, and smart hiring.

Jeffrey Sass coined the tagline for ‘The Toxic Avenger’ (“The first Superhuman-Hero… from New Jersey!”) before he’d even joined the ranks at the studio widely known as “Tromaville.” Intitially interested in becoming a filmmaker, Jeff wrote films for movies and television, but eventually became focused on the business of fillmaking.

His career has spanned traditional film and TV, computer games, mobile technology, and most recently Internet domain names. Jeff is also chief marketing officer for Club Domains LLC, which operates the new top-level domain “.club.”

I invited Jeff to Marketing Smarts to discuss his new book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER: (One Man’s Journey to Hell’s Kitchen and Back).


Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Stay open to better ideas (even if embracing the better idea costs you money) (06:43): “The very first time I went to visit Lloyd [Kaufman] and his partner, Michael Herz, he took me on a tour of his office. They were working on a new trailer for ‘The Toxic Avenger’ and Lloyd showed me the trailer and asked me what I thought about it. In truth, I thought that the tag line at the end was kind of boring, so I told that to Lloyd and he said, ‘Well, what would you call it, what would you say then.” Thinking quickly, I remembered that the movie took place in New Jersey… so I thought that a funny tagline would be ‘the first super hero from New Jersey.’ I said that to Lloyd, and his eyes lit up and he said ‘can I use it?’ and I said ‘sure,’ so that became the tagline for the movie.

“You have to be open to new ideas, regardless of where they come from. I gave Lloyd a lot of credit. Even though he was probably the one who came up with the original tagline, he was open to new ideas from a stranger, literally in off the streets, walking through their office. He was smart enough to recognize what he thought was a better idea and be willing to go against what he had chosen, and spend the money to change posters and change the trailer and incorporating a new tag line, which ended up being ultimately the better choice. It’s lasted for many years, and people always smile when they hear it.”

Learn to stretch a budget like a B-movie producer (09:42): “It was definitely low-budget or no-budget filmmaking. There were no digital effects. When you wanted to create an effect, you wanted to do as much of it in the camera as possible so you didn’t have to spend a lot of money in post-production. So when you have to ‘crush someone’s head,’ I learned very quicly that you could take a cantaloupe and put a hat on it and if you quick-cut to it and stomp on it, it looks like you’re crushing someone’s head…. The reality is that you learn to be very resourceful. I think that’s important for a startup, too.

“Making a movie—any movie—is really like a startup on steroids, because it compresses all the things that a startup goes through, all the things that an entreprenur goes through, in a much more focused and concentrated time period. A typical independent film might be in production for three or four months, and in that time you do everything. You have to raise money, you have to develop your script, you have to hire staff, you have to fire people, you have to put your schedule together, which is essentially your business plan. You have to do all of that in a concentrated period of time….

“In the business world, for the most part, we’re often spoiled because there isn’t really a definitive time horizon. There is for a product release. If you schedule a product release, you have a goal with a date, but if you’re in technology and software, historically deadlines get pushed back and get pushed back and get pushed back….

“We spend every day thinking we’re productive and focusing on things, but more often than not we’re probably not focusing on every little thing that’s important. When you’re making a film, you learn very quicky what are the absoolute necessary things every single day that you must accomplish. You can’t just dilly dally through the day and say, ‘Well, I’ll do that tomorrow…’ There’s a lot of discipline in making a film—especially an independent film—that most businesses would benefit from.”

Delegation is the key to scalable growth (15:22): “Being a solopreneur is not scalable. You have to let go at some point, and I think the real talent for a filmmaker (and for a businessperson) is to know which of the things you can and should let go of versus the things you should hold on to. We all have our individual skills and talents, and ideally if you are the most talented person in the room on a particular subject matter or skill set then maybe you should be the one doing that. But if you’re not, you need to let go and let the person in the room who’s actually better than you at this particular thing do it…. You really have to be self-aware in business and personally.”

To learn more, visit EverythingIKnowAbout.marketing, and be sure to pick up your copy of Jeff’s book at ToxicAvenger.marketing. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter @sass and find him on LinkedIn.

Jeff and I talked about much more, including how to find out your team’s hidden skills and talents, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by Kabbage:

Kabbage helps small businesses get the funding they need to grow. Through a fully automated, online platform, businesses can link their latest business data, allowing us to review the overall health of their business to approve and provide lines of credit up to $ 150,000 in minutes.

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

This marketing podcast was created and published by MarketingProfs.

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is director of product strategy, training, at MarketingProfs. She’s also a speaker, writer, attorney, and educator. She hosts and produces the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. To contact Kerry about being a guest on Marketing Smarts, send her an email. You can also find her on Twitter (@KerryGorgone) and her personal blog.

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