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Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Real Estate Marketing

December 8, 2008

I’m reasonably sure that none of you currently reading this has ever thought that those three terms belong together. But they do!

Recently, I got into a discussion with the inimitable Teri Lussier about Fred Astaire vs. Gene Kelly. Well… to be fair, it wasn’t much of a discussion. More of Teri beating me about the head rhetorically speaking. So naturally, I went searching for information on the difference between Astaire and Kelly.

And found this:

“People would compare us, but we didn’t dance alike at all!” Kelly said in a 1994 interview, quoted in the Associated Press obituary. “Fred danced in tails – everybody wore them before I came out here – but I took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves and danced in sweat shirts and jeans and khakis.”

It was the natural quality that was so attractive in a Kelly musical. While most of Astaire’s films existed only as a framework for his great dance numbers, a Kelly musical was more likely to pretend to be a “real” story in which the characters spontaneously burst into song and dance, almost to their own surprise.

In fact, here are the differences made visual:

Fred Astaire is just… ethereal. He doesn’t even look like he’s dancing in some cases, as if twirling and tapping his way across the floor were the most natural thing in the world.

And yet, there is something of real artifice in his dancing in a strange way. I simply can’t relate to the man, in some ways because of his perfection. Some of it may have to do with the characters he’s playing, or the time when those movies were made, but there’s really something unapproachable about Astaire, something forbidding in the purity of his perfection. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, Jeder Engel is schrecklich (“every angel is terrifying”).

Now, here’s Gene Kelly:

Gene Kelly’s style is much more muscular, much more physical, if you will. I’m always aware that Kelly is actually dancing in his dance numbers, in a way that I sometimes forget that Astaire is doing.

But I’m also able to relate to Gene Kelly in a way I never could with Fred Astaire. This is a man doing something that is unnatural, and doing it exceptionally well. But you never forget the essential humanity of Gene Kelly as a person in his dances. Yes, he’s capable of incredible athletic and acrobatic and balletic feats — but I feel that I’m watching a person do those things.

With Astaire, I sometimes feel that I’m watching a spirit, an angel, a personification of dance, do those things. And it isn’t the same.

I realized there’s a rough analogy to be made here between “traditional” marketing and “social media” marketing for real estate. Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly is like “traditional” marketing is to “social media” marketing.

Fact is, in the 21st century, there is no longer such a thing as “traditional” marketing — one would be hard-pressed to find a broker or agent who completely rejects web-based marketing initiatives in favor of only print, open houses, and MLS books. The books themselves no longer exist, after all.

The question, really, is one of perfection vs. authenticity.

The best of ‘traditional’ marketing — for example, sites like, is reflected in its execution. Something like the Virtual Book is a pretty slick implementation, as is something like My Dream Home. Neither of these things are “social” in any way, but you can’t help but admire the execution. Even if we don’t go so far as to call it “perfect”, fact is that perfection of execution is the goal of these kinds of marketing campaigns.

Done right, they evoke admiration from the user, as well as a measure of, “Gee whiz, I wonder how they did that!”

In contrast, ‘social media’ marketing tries — Gene Kelly-like — to go for authenticity in lieu of perfect execution. The goal with blogs, for example, shouldn’t be to present a perfect face to the world, but to present a human one. It isn’t about the professional quality of the photographs, but about the opinions of the realtor who is presenting the property. It isn’t about the beauty of the market report, but about its genuineness.

Of course, the best ‘social media’ marketing is pretty admirable too — just like Gene Kelly isn’t exactly a slouch in the dance department. The point is that the goal is different.

There is one further point to be made.

Gene Kelly was still a dancer, one of the best of his generation (or any generation). He wasn’t just some random guy who ran around prancing and pretending that was dance. He still put in the time, understood the principles, and practiced being a dancer.

Having a blog does not make you a ‘social marketer’ anymore than simply throwing your body around makes you a dancer. Twittering 24/7 does not mean you’re engaging in ‘social media’ anymore than prancing around makes me Gene Kelly. And ‘social media’ is not an excuse to completely ignore basic rules of marketing.

On the flipside, the true marketers in our industry (myself included) need to raise our game some. If we’re not going to go for authenticity, then by golly, we’d better shoot for perfection of execution like a Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers number.

Perfection vs. authenticity. Here’s another look — watch and be inspired:


UPDATE: Teri Lussier has posted a response that is worth reading in full.  Don’t miss more singing and dancing!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2008 12:18 pm

    You hit the nail right on the head, a very perceptive and well-researched comparison of the two giants. I said very much the same in a recent discussion on the Gene Kelly forum to which I belong.
    I know nothing about marketing, but I would trust you to market my property any day!

  2. December 9, 2008 2:43 pm

    Rob, I can honestly say I have never thought of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in the same space as Real Estate Marketing, but the analogy works. My time running a marketing department for a large regional real estate company was filled with the frustration of trying to sell the “Gene Kelly” side of the equation. Agents wanted to stick to what they thought worked. The problem was, the world was changing around them and they didn’t even see it. I agree that you need to balance what you do and even better, tailor it to the audience you are dealing with.

  3. kate permalink
    February 23, 2009 7:05 pm

    Hey, ROB,
    Really like your blog–the organization, links, discussion.


  1. | Dear Rob- It’s not perfection vs. authenticity, it’s authentic perfection! | National real estate marketing and technology blog | Realtors and real estate, mortgage and investment news

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