'Crazy Rich Asians' and Kevin Spacey's New $126 Flop: 2 Movies Offer 1 Big Lesson for Entrepreneurs

That is, $126 followed by a decimal point and a pair of zeros. No trailing millions. Not even thousands. That’s about one person per location. The one-time star of K-PAX couldn’t bring in a single K or any peace, for that matter. And that relative bomb was a big hit in comparison.

Sexual harassment allegations aren’t a big draw on screen, thank heavens. But for marketers, there’s an additional fundamental lesson. It’s one the financial services industry has delivered for years.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

If you’re in business, commit that phrase to heart. You’re going to need it.

Bias as a result of previous experiences, and the habits you develop around them, is a common problem. We all do it. That doesn’t make it intelligent or helpful.

The assumption that someone who was a great draw will continue to be so in the future is a fallacy. To blithely presume that only pretty white faces can make a romantic comedy — or a drama or anything else — a selling property is lazy.

What pulls these two observations together is presumption of knowledge. Business people are told to worship at the altar of quantifiable results. The individuals look at past results and tell themselves that what they saw was an immutable law.

That’s called being lazy and embracing rationalizations for decisions.

Many years ago, I interviewed an expert in strategic planning. He said one of the most difficult aspects of decision making is learning to toss irrelevant data. All the sales history in the world may mean little if you’re about to launch new products and markets for the first time. Strategic decisions involve a course for something new, not old.

Data becomes an excuse for habits, and habits can mean a lack of thought. Not that processes and observations of customer behavior are bad. Far from it. But when you don’t reexamine them at times — or if you never really questioned them from the start — you undercut your marketing and operations.

Crazy Rich Asians isn’t the first movie to show that an all-Asian cast could be popular. The Joy Luck Club had success and that was 25 years ago. Quite a long stretch. Prejudice — in the sense of pre-judging and the assumption you know what will happen — dies hard. Here is Janet Yang, an executive producer of that movie, talking to NPR about trying to get the studio to market the film they had agreed to fund:

I do remember [director Wayne Wang] lost his temper one day in a marketing meeting. We were going there to look at posters that they were going to consider for marketing “Joy Luck Club.” And each and every one somehow managed to avoid showing full-on an Asian face. One was, as I recall, a woodcut. So it was very abstract and angular. Another showed the backs of women.

They clearly were nervous about showing an Asian face in, you know, a larger-than-life image. And it was ironic because we thought, well, they went and greenlit this movie. We just shot the whole thing. They say they love the movie, and now they’re afraid to sell it.

Where are your marketing prejudices? What audiences or products do you discount because somehow you assume they aren’t worth your time? Which approaches to marketing do you presume to be effective even though you’re not currently testing them?

Time to drive a stake through prejudice and presumptions of all sorts and look at everything with clear eyes. Maybe you’ll make the same decisions. Maybe you’ll choose different approaches and find them far more successful. But you’ll never know until you start looking.