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.