What Marketers Can Learn from Hollywood

By Martin Kihn | February 17, 2017 | 2 Comments

A few years ago, the New York Times magazine ran a piece called, “What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work.” It was written by a financial writer who worked for a minute as an on-set advisor and was amazed at the way a Hollywood crew takes care of business.

“Our economy,” concludes the scribe, “is in the midst of a grand shift toward the Hollywood model. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-term, project-based teams rather than long-term, open-ended jobs.”

So true. Now, on that theme — and in honor of my upcoming session at Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego this May on “What Marketers Can Learn from Hollywood” — I offer six things marketers can learn from Hollywood.

Hollywood teaches us to:

  1. Adopt Agile Teams . . . with a Plan
    We do need an agile manifesto for marketing. Agile grew out of a frustration among software developers that they were pins in a soulless machine – and that, as a tragic consequence, their spirits suffered. Command and control damps creativity, for most of us. Adaptive team units can assemble and disassemble like wolf packs to knock off the hard task at hand.
  2. Organize Teams Around Projects
    Hollywood isn’t as chaotic as it seems. In fact, by the time the team arrives on set, virtually every element of the project has been micromanaged. There is a strict blueprint: the script. This is not a work of art so much as an architectural diagram, particularly for the big-budget shoots. Likewise, marketers should think in terms of projects (or products), not job functions. Projects are the things you need to get done – the campaign, the launch, the redesign. Talent is assigned as needed to execute the project. When Delta Air Lines decided to revamp its digital business, it organized cross-functional teams around products, like the in-airport kiosk, or the mobile app. Think of your products as episodes in the series that is your business.
  3. Market Everything as an Event
    All marketing is event marketing. Watch enough cable news and you will realize every story is either “Breaking” or “Developing” – nothing is news. Same with consumer products. Look at what Hershey’s has done with their line extensions. They took the 90 year-old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and created a Broadway show out of it – from big cups to inside-out (chocolate on the inside) to white chocolate and so on. Each is rolled out as a “Limited Edition,” like an opening at the Pantages. Part of the problem is social media, which has a hour-long half-life, as well as dwindling attention spans. Things have to shout to be heard, and Hollywood is the master blaster.
  4. Build Events Around Story Hooks
    Think about the last Hollywood movie trailer or TV spot you saw. There is always an emotional element – it could be sudden fear (“Saw X”) or sentiment (“Mulan”). Emotion requires connection, which needs some kind of narrative arc. Studios have perfected the art of teasing an epic into 30 seconds – just enough to catch a story archetype but not enough to add the colors. Consider Chevrolet’s “First Impressions” campaign, which put “real people – not actors” on camera showing (apparently real) shock that the awed feelings they’re having are inspired by a . . . Chevrolet! It’s an epic of enlightenment: a journey the brand wants you to take.
  5. Make Your Assets Adaptable
    The not-so-secret secret about Hollywood is that its movies are not really made for us, meaning U.S. They’re a modular product that can be adapted to the global market, which yields higher payouts. Since the DVD cushion started to evaporate in 2010 or so, the industry has had to make up the slack with global revenue, which requires dubbing and pan-cultural relevance . . . which favors big sets and broad strokes. Fewer words, less nuance, more bing-bang-boom. Marketers should be thinking in terms of multi-market relevance too – how to make their messages adaptable to different channels, formats, geographies, even countries, with minimal detail work.
  6. Be Successfully Self-Regulating
    Considering the load of violence and moral squiffiness stuffed into most movie product, it’s impressive the industry has been allowed to police itself for half a century. The MPAA provides ratings, and the government backs off. Video games have followed suit, with even less respect. Marketers and advertisers would do well to grab this model and run with it – jump in front of runaway trains like privacy, ad targeting, cross-device identity, user-level tracking, all of it. That’s a vacuum somebody will fill, either the industry or the government.

See you at the Odeon.

2 Comments
  1. February 18, 2017 at 8:17 pm
    David H Deans says:

    One more thing worth noting, the production of a movie is not a committee decision, the Director leads with of vision of what the project must become to achieve the desired outcome. My point: there needs to be one wise and experienced person who provides meaningful and substantive direction. That key ingredient is often missing in the typical inert corporate marketing we see today, where unimaginative agency ideas are endorsed and executed by the timid flock of marcom onlookers.

    • February 19, 2017 at 2:54 pm
      Martin Kihn says:

      That’s a great point David – I often ponder why TV seems to be so much better now than in my youth and the answer is pretty obvious: The suits stepped back and let the artists work, for a change.

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