While a trip to the movies is billed as the ultimate form of escapism, we can often learn more than we realize from the larger-than-life stories unfurling before us. With this principle in mind, members of the Treefall Marketing Team decided to celebrate National Movie Day by viewing (or, in some cases, re-viewing) films that can teach us something about marketing, be that lesson a faux-pas or a how-to.
Side note: what’s the deal with the lack of marketing movies on the marquee? While we think our list is pretty great, Hollywood seemingly eschews movies featuring marketers, advertisers, agencies or product developers and managers. We may be biased, but how about a few more films touching on the marketing industry and a few less focused on finance, law and Michael Bay flicks?
For a man who loathed the idea of marketing and paid advertising, Steve Jobs is a hero to millions of marketers, product managers and entrepreneurs around the world. In the 2015 film”Steve Jobs” (no, not the one with Ashton Kutcher), viewers are treated to unique, intimate access to Jobs as he navigates the intricacies of three pivotal Apple launches. With the role of Jobs played by Michael Fassbender, the film brilliantly illustrates Jobs’ demanding leadership style, vision for product positioning and his taxing relationships with both colleagues and family.
Marketing leaders could fill a small notebook with key takeaways, questions and ideas to explore after watching this film. From product development and pricing to advertising, event management and communications. Throw in a few do’s and don’ts of effective leadership, and marketers will certainly have much to consider.
One of the most fascinating scenes in the movie is set in Jobs’ garage, as he and Steve Wozniak argue about the advantages and disadvantages of open and closed operating systems. Wozniak, taking the view of the end-user and geeky computer hobbyist, believes an open system would be more appealing, as users want to be able to customize the product and “jack it up.” Jobs, taking the opposite viewpoint, stresses the need to maintain control of the product and deliver a closed system that users simply love. This debate results in a number of intriguing and controversial quotes on market research:
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Edison didn’t do market research on the light bulb versus the candle.”
“When Dylan wrote “Shelter From the Storm” he didn’t ask people to contribute to the lyrics. Plays don’t stop so the playwright can ask the audience what scene they’d like to see next.”
What Women Want
In a hit from the new millennium, we meet Nick Marshall, an extremely chauvinistic advertising executive played by Mel Gibson. His professional specialties include selling manly products and seducing women.
His world is rocked, however, when he learns his agency must market products to—gasp—women! Nick reluctantly takes the products home to further his knowledge of, you know, waxing strips. While experimenting with a new beauty routine, he falls into the (full) bathtub and is electrocuted by a blow dryer.
Instead of heading straight to the pool hall in the sky, Nick wakes with the ability to read women’s thoughts. He uses this newfound gift for both good and evil, mending marred relationships in his life, while also stealing his boss’ campaign idea. By the end of the film, Nick has a newfound respect for women, not to mention a budding romantic relationship with that boss whose idea he fleeced.
On the surface, this film watches like any other rom-com of the era, but there is an overarching lesson here that the savvy marketer would be wise to remember. We see this lesson evidenced as Marshall gains access to the thoughts of others, underscoring the truth that, regardless of gender, customers’ buying behavior is often driven by emotion, be that fear or desire, love or hate. By pinpointing specific emotional motivations, Marshall is able to learn what women want, in turn earning him what he wants: professional success.
Although Marshall ultimately trades that success for a chance at romance, the lesson remains. As marketers, it is not enough to know who our clients are, who our audience is. Rather, we must know what emotional desire is driving their actions. In short, we must know what they want and why they want it.
Set in the early 2000s, Moneyball depicts the efforts of Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane and his quest to build a winning baseball team on one of the cheapest payrolls in the league. Beane, played by Hollywood star Brad Pitt, is a former professional baseball player himself and strongly believes that finding the traditional “5-star” player doesn’t lead to a better baseball team or more wins. Instead, he employs a new strategy based heavily on advanced analytics. The problem: these analytics recommend decisions that fly in the face of conventional baseball strategy, including signing players that most teams would consider expendable or past their prime, drawing walks rather than swinging for the fences and limiting steals and bunts to a minimum.
Like most change, Beane’s strategies were met with skepticism and opposition from scouts, coaches and players. At a time when baseball experience and “knowing the game” were valued above all else, relying on numbers seemed crazy. But then something interesting happened. In the 2002 season, the A’s won 20 games in a row, sending them on their way to baseball’s best record. All of a sudden, “moneyball” had legs, and teams across the league were jockeying to hire Beane and other like-minded statisticians.
While metrics and analytics certainly aren’t new for marketers, Moneyball is a critical reminder of the importance of data-based decision making. Much like baseball coaches and scouts, marketers habitually implemented strategies and tactics without ever really knowing how effective their efforts were. Many even reveled in “the magic” and enjoyed the organic ecosystem of creativity, advertising and communications. In today’s marketing world, that practice won’t fly. Chief Executives want to understand and manage ROI and ensure that money is well-spent. Marketers that blindly swing for the fences will be quickly left behind.
Our Brand is Crisis
Sandra Bullock plays “Calamity” Jane, a political campaign strategist that comes out of retirement to help manage a Bolivian presidential candidate who is falling behind in the polls. The candidate is arrogant, 20 points behind and his rival is represented by Jane’s professional nemesis, Pat Candy played by Billy Bob Thornton.
The turning point of the movie occurs as Billy Bob Thornton’s character hires someone to smash an egg on Jane’s political candidate during a press conference. Enraged, the candidate punches the egg-smasher on national television. This incident propels Jane to convince the team that they need to rebrand the campaign message to play to the candidate’s strengths. Their new message highlights the fact that the country is in the middle of a crisis, one in which only Jane’s candidate is qualified to solve.
While there’s some clever marketing strategy at play, the movie makes sure to showcase some bad marketing, as well, including bad political commercials, uncomfortable TV interviews and low-blow smear campaigns.
The best marketing take-away from the movie is the pivotal rebrand after the egg incident. In the movie, Jane realizes that her candidate’s weaknesses are also his strengths. She doesn’t try to change her candidate to fit the message, but instead creates a message to fit his character. In the end, it works. The candidate wins. But as Jane later finds out, at what cost?
To sum up the movie, “Take a candidate the people don’t like, rebrand him, then sell him! Sell him! Sell him!”
How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days
Although not strictly a marketing movie, this early-aughts rom-com follows journalist Andie Anderson, played by Kate Hudson, as she embarks on her journey to write the titular piece “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” Under the conditions of her assignment, Andie is tasked with dating a guy and intentionally committing the common mistakes women make in relationships.
Simultaneously, Ben Barry, played by iconic “alright-alright-alright-er” Matthew McConaughey, is prowling for a pitch to advertise a new diamond advertising campaign. Ben is a noted playboy, so when his boss questions his love-IQ, Ben bets that he can make any woman fall in love with him. If he’s successful, he wins the lucrative account. If he’s unsuccessful, he returns to his lowly desk, corner office dreams forever dashed.
In classic rom-com fashion, girl meets boy. Girl tortures boy with relationship antics. Boy tolerates said antics in hopes of gaining a promotion. A love story for the ages, no? Despite their impure intentions at the outset of their union, Ben and Andie overcome the odds and end up together, lip locked on the pedestrian lane of a bridge, all to the melodic tune of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”
Although this film doesn’t teach any hot tips for marketing strategy, it does teach us that marketers are people, too; that we marketers are not the cold-hearted, ruthless, do-anything-for-a-buck figures often portrayed in pop culture, but rather that marketers are human, people who pine, love, long and lose.
Although these five movies follow different leads in different lives, one universal thread winds through: whether you’re Steve Jobs or Calamity Jane, Ben Barry or Billy Beane, being a successful marketer means being able to view the world through a unique lens, creating a shareable vision that makes your audience wonder how they lived this long without access to your landscape.