October 21, 2015

Chris Tuleya

When we think of movies that make accurate predictions about advertising in the future, we tend to think of sci fi dramas like Minority Report.  But I wonder whether the second comedy movie from the greatest movie trilogy of all time did a better job.

October 21, 2015 will be upon us in just a few short months.  Over these past 18 years my college friends and I have debated what the greatest movie trilogy of all time was (thank you, Jar Jar Binks). As I introduced my kids to the Back to the Future trilogy recently one Sunday morning, work started to creep into my mind and I began looking beyond flying cars, hoverboards and the Cubs winning the World Series. Instead, I started thinking about media consumption habits in Back to the Future 2, and how close the writers came to today’s reality.

In case you live under a rock, Marty McFly and Doc Brown go 30 years into the future to 2015 to change the course of Marty’s family after his son gets into trouble with Biff’s grandson, Griff (quality script writing here folks!). The date seemed so far in the future that everything Back to the Future 2 predicted during these scenes were believable when the movie debuted.  Here are some of those predictions and some detailed on how the movie fared in its prognostication of media behaviors:

  1. Newspapers are NOT dying. The film portrayed USA Today as having 3 billion readers. Billion… with a ‘B’; that is a bit off from the 4.1 million reported at the end of 2014. What is scarier is that they predicted the paper would cost $6 on newsstands, while the actual price is $2. The remarkable aspect of this entire prediction is that the paper barely had a circulation over 1 million at the time of filming. The revenue USA Today captured from readership numbers so high did allow them to have drones that could capture events like Griff and crew getting arrested after destroying the Clock Tower.
  2. Where is our dependency on cell phones? Today it is hard to find a person without a mobile phone attached to them, but in BTF 2015 there were no mobile phones to been seen. Just think how much easier it would have been for Marty to update Doc had they been able to communicate with something other than a 2-way radio. Also, how would Marty and Doc brag about their awesome trip to the future without Facebook or Instagram? This prediction is not a complete bust, since BTF did predict iPads – sort of. The guy collecting donations for the Clock Tower appears to have a device that allows for digital donations to be made. This is a big upgrade from the coffee can used in the 1985 scene about the same Clock Tower.
  3. They have digital billboards. Not only did BTF 2015 have digital billboards, holograms played a big role. Jaws 19 anyone? Ok, so they stopped after Jaws 4, but if you do the math, they would have produced 9 additional movies after Jaws 4 to bring the total to 13 at the rate they were making them by 1989. Still off, but since they didn’t predict the power of social media, they likely didn’t account for the fickleness of the American public and the role they play in making or breaking franchises. This prediction is still an accurate one since the writers realized the need to break away from traditional forms of advertising and media by having hologram sharks attack people on the street to raise awareness.
  4. Fingerprint, voice and facial recognition technology runs our life.  These technological advances were spot on; whether it is turning the lights on, getting into the house, changing the channel or asking for fruit, our life is run by our fingerprint and voice in BTF 2015. If you have fingerprint technology on your phone or computer, you know the significant time saved by not having to type passwords (almost 2 seconds per login and 8 hours over the course of a year). I give this prediction props for seeing the opportunity our unique fingerprints provide beyond just booking someone into jail… even though the cops do still use it to identify Jennifer after Doc hypnotizes her and leaves her on the street.

While 2015 did not end up exactly like the one we watched Marty and Doc navigate, Doc Brown said it best in the final scene of the greatest trilogy ever: “Your future hasn’t been written yet, no one’s has, your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” And remember, those boards don’t work on water… unless you’ve got power.

Back to the Future 2 got some other things right about business, communications and how we live our lives in the real 2015, too: 

  • Mailboxes do still exist, and the postal service is still unreliable
  • The weather service is extremely accurate
  • Lawyers are gone
  • Texaco still exists
  • Fax machines still exist
  • The NSA is not the only one able to monitor our calls

Chris Tuleya is EVP, Media, at Underscore Marketing, a firm that creates and manages integrated marketing programs for health and healthy brands.