Is there any finer feeling than getting lost in a movie? Whether you’re at the theater or relaxing at home, a cinematic adventure offers an experience like none other. On top of that world of wonder and magic, some movies also provide useful marketing lessons.
These marketing lessons cover a variety of strategies that can help improve your brand’s message. Things like tapping into your customer’s journey, being smart about how you position your brand, and working with influencers. Take a look at five of our favorite marketing lessons from movies below.
Note: There are a few spoilers here. But all of these movies are at least two years old (and most are over ten years old) so hopefully you’ve seen them by now.
Boyhood takes us into the customer’s journey
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was a unique cinematic experience in that it actually showed a boy’s coming of age story unfolding in front of our eyes. Mason, the “boy” of Boyhood, goes from six to 18 years old.
Ethan Hawke, who played Mason’s father, summed up the experience of filming like this: “Doing a scene with a young boy at the age of 7 when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls, and have it be the same actor – to watch his voice and body morph – it’s a little bit like timelapse photography of a human being.”
Much like Mason is at different stages of his life throughout the film, your customers are at different points of their buying journey. Some are ready to purchase your product right now. Others may be more hesitant or just looking to learn a little more. The messaging you use with them shouldn’t be uniform across the board. Rather, take the time to get to know your customers and how you can best engage with them.
Coco is a good reminder to stay true to your brand
Coco follows the story of young Miguel, who absolutely loves music. His family hates it, though, thanks to his great-great-grandfather, who left his great-great-grandmother to pursue a music career. The great-great-grandmother banned music and the family runs a shoemaking business instead. That means Miguel is working at something outside of his passion— and his talents.
Naturally, that leads to him running away to find his great-great-grandfather. Along the way, he meets his idol, enters and wins a talent contest, and learns quite a bit about his family’s culture, all because he pursued his dreams of playing music.
Coco reminds us that brands shouldn’t try to force themselves in places where it doesn’t make sense. You’re good at what you do, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with outside the box thinking, but if something isn’t a good fit, you don’t have to join the conversation. You can simply sit back and enjoy the music.
Pixar stays true to its brand, too. Good luck not getting misty-eyed at the end of this movie.
A Christmas Story is a lesson on overselling
While A Christmas Story is most memorable for the scene where a boy gets his tongue stuck to a frosty flagpole (don’t let anyone triple dog dare you into trying this), there are plenty of other lessons throughout the film. Lessons like “don’t shoot your eye out,” how to pronounce “fragile,” and that Santa has a surprisingly strong foot as he kicks kids down the slide at a department store.
But the greatest lesson of all comes from a commercial. Main character Ralphie is an avid fan of the Little Orphan Annie radio program. Astute listeners of the program can apply for a decoder pin—they just have to drink gallons of Ovaltine, the show’s sponsor. Ralphie is thrilled when he receives a notarized letter welcoming him to the Little Orphan Annie Secret Circle, where he’s “entitled to all the benefits and honors occurring hereto.”
That night, Ralphie furiously jots down Annie’s secret message, which is read aloud during the program. He runs to the bathroom to reveal the message. The anticipation builds as he decodes the message letter by letter. He ignores his brother, who needs to use the toilet. His mom’s screams for him to be nice to his brother are also similarly dismissed. As he unveils the final letter, he sees Annie’s secret message: “BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE.”
Nobody wants an advertisement screamed in their face. Having rewards programs like the Secret Circle can be a great way to engage customers, but you have to do so tactfully. Provide value to those loyal fans, such as a free checklist or e-book, and they’ll come back for more. If you’re constantly selling and shouting about yourself, you’ll see those fans cursing at your “crummy commercial,” just like Ralphie does. Good thing there’s plenty of soap to wash his mouth out.
Risky Business teaches us how to scale a business
Risky Business gave us the memorable scene of Tom Cruise dancing around in his underwear to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” It’s the ideal way to celebrate your parents being out of town for the weekend, and Cruise takes full advantage of it.
What fewer people may remember is the movie’s actual plot: Cruise’s character, Joel, invites a call girl (Lana, played by Rebecca de Mornay) over to his house. After a night full of passion, Joel leaves to go get money to pay Lana. While he’s gone, she steals a Steuben crystal egg from his parents’ house, setting off the events of the movie.
Joel learns that Lana works for a pimp named Guido. After Guido pulls a gun on Joel and Lana, they head back to his parents’ house. Joel goes to school and finds that Lana has invited a friend—another call girl—over, as well as some of Joel’s friends. He’s upset and asks them to leave, but there’s the planting of an entrepreneurial idea here.
When Joel accidentally sends his father’s Porsche into Lake Michigan, he’s suddenly less opposed to Lana’s idea of hosting a party at his parents’ house, with her friends serving as entertainment for the evening. Thanks to the pair’s shrewd marketing and negotiating skills, Joel ends up making $8,000 in one night (about $26,000 in 2019 money). Sure, he ends up losing all of that money paying Guido to return furniture he stole from Joel’s parents’ house, but still. Not a bad night’s work!
Incidentally, Steuben Glass Works went out of business in 2011, primarily due to a lack of demand in crystal. Perhaps Risky Business is a cautionary tale of the perils of entrepreneurship, as well.
Pleasantville is a microcosm for influencer marketing
When a repairman with a mysterious remote enters the home of David and Jennifer (played by Tobey MaGuire and Reese Witherspoon), he magically transports the siblings into the set of Pleasantville, a 1950s sitcom where everything is…well, pleasant. All the roads circle back into town, fire doesn’t exist, and the town’s players literally can’t miss shots while playing basketball.
However, as David and Jennifer bring their “real world” personalities to the fictional town, Pleasantville slowly changes. Black and white turns to color and the town starts to experience new emotions, feelings, and experiences, such as books and rain.
At first, these new feelings are met with rage. If things aren’t perfect, what’s the point of having them? But eventually, most of the town comes around and life in Pleasantville becomes much more authentic, with people enjoying the genuine lives they’re now experiencing. Jennifer even decides to stay in the town as David returns to the real world.
It’s a great analogy to how influencer marketing has evolved. Fans want to see the influencers they follow being real and genuine. Brands working with influencers must let them keep that natural voice—it’s what makes them unique. After all, wouldn’t life be boring if everything were the same?
Feature image via blu-ray.com.