Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marketing, dreams, and Hollywood

I was watching Inception for the fourth time the other day – it was like being in a dream (inside (inside a dream) a dream). I finally got it. I think.

Hollywood and the marketing industry have a lot in common: both create fantasy worlds that spark our imagination. Both build dreams.

Hollywood’s goal is to entertain (and some of the more ambitious movies also aim to make us think).

Marketing’s goal is to make us want stuff, or more technically, to increase the perceived value of stuff.

Hollywood builds dreams in 90-minute shots that we generally watch once, when we choose to watch it. We pay to watch.

Marketing is about repetitive exposure, through multiple media, and we’re exposed to it incidentally, while doing other things. We do not pay to watch.

Of course, sometimes the lines are blurred. Product placement puts marketing inside movies (dreams inside dreams). Sometimes, the movie is basically one long advertisement. Take, for example, a typical Disney animation. For these movies, the licensing revenue from merchandise sales (the Princess lunch boxes, the Dalmatian blanket and pillow sets, the Simba pencil cases) exceed box-office sales several fold. The movie is a 90-minute ad that gets kids to want stuff with the logo on it. They pay to watch the ad.

But there appears to be one big difference between Hollywood and marketing. Hollywood has the capacity for self-reflection and self-reference. Marketing, it seems, does not.

Movies like The Wizard of Oz, The Truman Show, The Matrix, and yes, Inception, speak of the human capacity (proclivity) to a construct reality, a fantasy world, and then live inside it like a fish in a bowl. Behind the curtain, the wizard is Hollywood itself. And it is not shy of pointing to the fish bowl.

The red pill, or blue pill from Chris Messina on Vimeo.

Marketing has no such self-referential, self-reflective equivalent. Perhaps because it is too self-conscious, or not enough so. Or perhaps it is too risky for marketing to talk about a constructed reality: you can’t let the consumer go there. If you start alluding to the constructed nature of the fantasy, the fantasy bubble pops. You can’t sell a popped bubble.


BenW said...

Diesel's campaigns have done this "pointing to the constructed bubble" well. It's a postmodern cultural idea that is outside the paradigm of the business school marketing playbook. Seems risky and most large executives are too focused on the short term to think about long term risks. They want to make their product into a kind of god. Usually more narrative products like the hollywood films mentioned, or the simpsons opening by Banksy are better vehicles to express this kind of thing.

Films like 'Fight Club' or 'V for Vendetta' are ironic because they are capitalist cultural objects which also are scathing attacks on aspects of capitalism. In a way too they appeal to the human interest in rebelling against authority which always has existed.

Niraj Dawar said...

Yes, Diesel's campaign does this. As did the Canadian campaign for Shreddies a couple of years ago in which the great debate about Shreddies Squares versus Diamonds played out with a wink and nod to the constructed, and ultimately spurious, nature of brand differentiation. I wonder what happened to that campaign, and whether any other brands in other categories picked up and built on it.