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What Hollywood Teaches Us About Marketing

By Martin Kihn | May 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Last Sunday, the New York Times magazine ran a piece on “What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work.” It was written by a financial writer who – like, ahem, me – worked for a minute as an on-set advisor for some fancy project or other and was amazed, astounded and aghast enough to put fingers to tip-tap out a screed on the slick way that a Hollywood crew takes care of business.

Apparently the highly-paid and super-privileged craftspeople actually show up for work, execute their tasks, and function as a greased-up unit even though they may not know one another [many of them do – it’s a small town] and may never work together again [they probably will].

“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.”

Now, this “Hollywood model” may or may not actually be a thing, but it’s hard to argue with the money shot: we are all turning into temps – high-paid or low-paid, depending on our circumstances, but temps nonetheless. So far, so 1999. What surprised this reader was not (yet another) example of self-organizing teams and agile work environments but rather the modest range of the thesis: that Hollywood’s grand lesson was a project management system shared with every software developer, ad agency, and management consulting firm.

No, I’d say it’s worse than he thinks: Hollywood is a model for everything. There are at least six lessons we can draw as marketers from the glamourama (and only one of them is negative and cynical).

Hollywood teaches us to:

  1. Adopt Agile Teams . . . with a Plan
    We do need an agile manifesto for marketing. Agile grew out of a real frustration among software developers that they were pins in a soulless machine – and that, as a tragic consequence, their spirits suffered. Command and control kapows creativity, for most of us. Adaptive team units can assemble and disassemble like SWAT teams or 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 (“Poltergeist”) or treacley sentiment (whatever Nicholas Sparks is up to). 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 puts “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, glamourtown 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 for the public weal. 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 or Robocop. Somebody.

See you at the Odeon.

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