5 movies for marketers and brand managers

Films about the industry itself tend to miss the mark, but other motion pictures offer insights about emerging technology and the human condition that apply to the profession.

If you work in advertising or marketing, you know filmmakers usually get our industry painfully wrong.

There’s little to be learned from advertising-themed movies that we can apply to our work. So, after being asked to share five must-see movies for marketers, I decided to focus on movies that have nothing to do with marketing.

Instead, I looked at movies that contain kernels of truth about human behavior, our relationship with changing technology, and the creative process, because understanding these things is vital to marketers.

Here are the big five:

“Her” (2013)

Science fiction films and their visions of the future are usually accompanied by preposterous action plots.

This movie’s vision seems completely plausible. It takes the way we interact with technology today, imagines advances in that technology and looks at how human behavior will adjust.

People walk around talking to themselves in public (or technically, talking to their computer operating systems) devoid of self-consciousness. A man falling in love with his artificial intelligence operating system—the premise of “Her”—strikes me as a behavior we could find ourselves dealing with in our lifetimes, and sooner than we might think.

For marketers, it’s vital to understand how human behavior changes along with technology. Consumers’ relationships with our brands, the way our audience engages with messages, and the way customers make shopping decisions will all be different in the foreseeable future.

So, of course, marketing will have to be different, too.

“Black Mirror” (2011-present)

I cheated a bit with this one. It’s a British TV series, but each brilliant episode is basically a feature-length movie.

“Black Mirror” is reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone,” except each film deals with future technology—and an exaggerated, perhaps paranoid, vision of its potential ramifications.

Like “Her,” it’s about how technology changes behavior. With so many emerging media platforms and technological possibilities, it can become very difficult for marketers to see beyond day-to-day tactics.

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“Black Mirror” depicts a time when all this technology simply exists. The goal isn’t to figure out how to slap on an interactive ad, but rather to look at the value of the technology itself.

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves what role our brand might play in such a world. Though the outcome of each of these tales might be extreme, the scenario in each is quite plausible.

“Idiocracy” (2006)

I never claimed that each film on this list was great—just that it was worth watching for marketers. “Idiocracy” is not a great movie, but it’s peppered with brilliance.

The movie is based on the idea that less intelligent people breed considerably more often than highly intellectual folks. (The opening minutes are hysterically brilliant.) Fast-forward to the future, and the population is really, really, really not smart.

Marketers should take a hard look at the use of advertising in the movie. It would be funny, if it weren’t so true. Brands slap logos on every available sliver of free space.

Too often in real life, organizations treat customers like idiots. (In the movie, they are, of course.) It’s worth taking a close look and making sure your advertising doesn’t even vaguely resemble that approach.

“Whiplash” (2014)

Now, this one is a great movie, an intense and entertaining exploration of greatness and what it takes to achieve it. J.K. Simmons deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of an abusive music teacher who believes the only way to get the best out of his students is to push them beyond all sanity. He might be right.

I see the movie as a metaphor for the advertising industry and the pervasive pressure to create something new and amazing. I have seen creative directors and clients act in irrationally abusive ways, much like the teacher in this film. They scream. They throw things. They make people cry.

Thankfully, it’s been a while since I’ve been around this kind of thing. I decided long ago not to work with people like this ever again. I think the industry overall is moving away from this, but I still hear stories.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the movie, the young drummer does achieve greatness, but it’s kind of a lame greatness. He’s a great jazz drummer. Wow. Was it worth destroying his life over?

I feel the same when I see people stressing out over creating advertising. It’s just advertising.

I love brilliant work and the power it has to affect behavior and make a difference for a brand—but it’s still just advertising.

Smart beats crazy every time.

“The Social Network” (2010)

Watching the beginnings of a platform such as Facebook—how quickly it took off and how quickly it has been transformed—is fascinating.

We have entered an age in which it’s not the idea that’s important; executing that idea is what matters today. The Winklevoss twins may have had the concept for Facebook. I bet lots of other people had similar ideas, too, but Mark Zuckerberg actually built it, so he wins.

This industry prides itself on being an ideas industry. Today, ideas are plentiful; the value lies in bringing those ideas to life.

What movies would you add to this list? Please offer your nominees in the comments section.

Tim Leake is senior vice president and director of growth and innovation at RPA. A version of this article first appeared on iMediaConnection.

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