Lights, Camera, Action! 10 posts on marketing lessons from your favorite movies

We all love a good movie. When the perfect plot, setting, dialogue and characters combine with just the right mix of drama, humor and conflict, alchemy takes place and the film magically never leaves you.

There’s a lot we can learn about business and marketing if we study films themselves, as well as the promotional buzz that often accompanies them. Whether you see a big studio blockbuster with publicity tie-ins and product placement, or witness the genius of a quiet groundswell that builds for a beautiful indie film, you can learn a lot if you study and apply many of the same principles to your own business. I often get great ideas from innovative efforts that filmmakers make to get people to notice and talk about their art.

You must agree because one of my most popular posts has been the 4 business lessons you can learn from James Bond in Skyfall

In honor of my impeding sabbatical to take a summer acting program with San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, enjoy this link round up of ten blog posts that  show us what movies can teach us about marketing and business.

  1., Learning Business from the Big Screen
  2., 4 Business Lessons from Quentin Tarantino Movies by Lindsay LaVine
  3. BusinessZone, 10 Great Movies and the Business Lessons They Teach Us by Lucie Mitchell
  4. Eloqua, Modern Marketing Lessons From The Godfather  by Amanda Batista
  5. Marketo, 5 Marketing Lessons from Spinal Tap by Jason Miller
  6. David Amerland, Four Marketing Lessons Taught by Skyfall
  7. Trendslide, 5 Marketing Lessons From The Dark Knight Rises by Jeffrey Vocell
  8. Sparksheet, Marketing Lessons from The Hunger Games  by Amanda DiSilvestro
  9. Covalent Marketing, Marketing Lessons from 2013 Oscar Nominees by Debbie Rosenfeld
  10. Likeable Media, Marketing Lessons From The Year’s Top Films by Jenna Lebel

Which of your favorite movie/business metaphors would you like to see? Which movies have taught you a bit about the world of marketing, promotion and business? Please share in the Comments!


4 powerful business lessons from James Bond and Skyfall

James Bond…entrepreneurial guru?

I recently saw Skyfall,, the latest installment in the Bond franchise and it was incredible. Not normally a Bond fan, I loved Casino Royale, wiped the awful Quantum of Solace from my memory, but thoroughly enjoyed this latest turn. The characters were complex and flawed, the performances brilliant, the pace lively and Daniel Craig does wonders for an expensive suit. I left the theatre like I’d just gotten off a roller coaster. My husband – a native Scotsman – even dared admit, “I have to say that Daniel Craig can now be crowned the best Bond, even better than Connery.” Blasphemy! But very true.

That said, our favorite Secret Agent can also teach us some powerful business lessons. So strap on your Rolex submariner, put on your X-ray sunglasses and climb inside your tricked-out Aston Martin as we review Bond’s best advice:

  1. Stick to the basics: We’ve grown accustomed to Q loading Bond up with spectacular gadgets before each mission. In Skyfall, we watch with delight as Bond confronts his age by meeting the newest Q, a young techie hipster that wouldn’t look out of place at Apple’s Genius Bar.  One assumes Bond will get some sort of iPod mets Kinect device or some Google-developed driverless car. But no: Q simply hands Bond a Walther PPK, which is a small automatic pistol, and a  tiny tracking radio. Even Bond is surprised but it turns out that’s all he needs when in a pinch and Q mocks him by saying something like, “What? Were you expecting another exploding pen?” In our age of the next new shiny object coming out every 5 minutes, it’s easy for entrepreneurs and business owners to forget the basics and get lost in the glitz. But often, it’s the old, simple secrets that make the best weapons for your business success: building your brand strategy before throwing away money on tactics, delighting customers, collaborating in person over coffee, providing quality products/services, delivering what you promise.
  2. There’s always a way through: Many scenes in Skyfall leave viewers thinking, “Oh, he’ll never find a way out of this one!” And then, of course, Bond continues to chase the bad guy onto a moving train, escape an island run by a madman and outsmart an evil mastermind and all his henchmen with just his wits, resourcefulness and resolve. No matter how bleak it seems, no matter how much you think you’d stop running or surrender, Bond shows us that ingenuity can help you see every problem in a fresh way. If you are facing business challenges, step back and look at the issue from another angle. If sales are down, should you offer a new product or service, or adjust your prices? If no one is reading your blog, can you clarify your brand value or find other avenues to promote each post? If prospects don’t know who you are, can you partner with someone else for more exposure? There’s a million ways to look at a problem and a million levers you can pull before you throw in the towel.
  3. Stay calm under pressure: There’s an awesomely sexy scene in Skyfall where Bond crashes into the passenger car of a speeding train. As the surprised onlookers gawk, he maintains his balance, straightens up, adjusts the cuffs on his impeccable suit and proceeds to walk through the train car calmly as he continues chasing his man. That’s grace under pressure.  When things hurtle out of control, customers demand attention and you are juggling 637 things at once, how do you respond? Do you handle everything calmly and get the job done, or do you freak out or run and hide? It’s up to you to tame the chaos and say no to things that prove distracting.
  4. Control the conversation: Towards the film’s climax, Bond realizes he’s constantly one step behind his nemesis. Bond is reacting to, rather than controlling, the conversation. He sets a trap and then lures the baddie to his turf where he can now proactively make the moves he wants to make and keep his enemy off-balance, rather than vice versa. Sometimes, in business, we react to the everyday fires and demands that others are making on us, rather than keeping our eye on the ball and charting a clear course to our mission. We end up slaves to a to-do list, rather than making time to achieve our long-term vision. We need boundaries: not checking email every second, or making sure people know we only return phone calls between 3 and 4 pm, or whatever system works for you. Get your strategy sorted first and work towards that before you let the seemingly urgent but ultimately less important demands on your time take over. Change the conversation to the one you want to have.

Any other business lessons that Bond (or other movie heroes) have taught you? Please share in the Comments below and get some link love back to your site!

What stage are you in?

Traveling home for the holidays, I watched a charming little indie comedy/drama called Beginners. The title refers to how we all act when dealing with relationships. The film is about how “deeply funny and transformative life can be.”  And one part in particular struck me as truly profound.

Hal (Christopher Plummer) has passed away from cancer and as his commitment-challenged son Oliver (Ewan McGregor)  navigates a quirky new love, he reflects back on his memories with Dad. After the death of his wife, Hal came out as a gay man at the age of 75. Oliver recalls watching his dad experience this  renaissance: going to gay bars, throwing parties, becoming an activist and even finding a hot new young lover. Hal used to be the typical middle-class surburbanite but it’s not until he comes out that his flamboyant, joyful, adventurous side really shines through.

And then he’s diagnosed with cancer and dies, only five years after this new lease on life..

But there was one part in particular that stuck with me.

When Dad is diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he decides to throw a party instead of revealing his condition to his friends. Oliver is flabbergasted that his father refuses to tell anyone, especially his own lover, about his diagnosis.  They argue: (and I’m paraphrasing here)

“Dad, this isn’t going to get better! You have Stage Four cancer!”

“Oh, son, that doesn’t mean what you think it means. It just means there have been three other phases before this one.”

How often do we look at “the end” as a bad thing? How often have we looked at getting older as a bad thing, rather than simply “another stage that is happening after the ones that came before?” Or can you recall times you’ve looked at the end of something as sad or bad, when maybe it’s just about making room for rebirth or new opportunity?

For me, I never would have started my consulting practice and this blog had my old company not layed off the entire marketing team. What others might see as bad, I was actually hoping for so that I would have no excuse not to try my hand at freelance consulting. I saw it as the beginning, not the end. And I haven’t looked back since.

I love this idea of viewing every “stage” as merely another step in the journey – not to be judged as good or bad. Hal’s character proved that he was his best self and led his happiest life in what could be considered this last stage of it all. Maybe it’s not about the chronological order of things -but about what you do within that stage of the journey that makes it count. Just because it’s the last stage doesn’t imply it’s the worst one. Chronology has nothing to do with it.

Check out the film if you get a chance. It’s a bit slow and “cerebral” at times, but I found myself thinking about it long after the end. PS: There’s also a charming subplot about the human/dog connection as Ewan adopts his father’s dog, Arthur – and Arthur’s thoughts are revealed in subtitles.

When has an ending actually turned out to be the beginning of something wonderful for you? Did leaving a job end up helping you find one you absolutely loved? Did something bad happen in your business that opened up a new opportunity for you? Please share in the Comments!

Ask the Expert: Using social media to delight & provoke, plus how studios know whether to cast Ashton or not

Part 2 with Scott Montgomery, (see Part 1 here) this time about social media mayhem and his new firm that tracks and analyzes entertainment buzz, 

RS: Tell me about social media’s place in the branding equation? Who’s using it right? Do you think it works better for smaller or larger companies?

SM: Well I know how companies are doing it wrong. There is nothing more obvious than planted comments to a planted glowing review of a product in a planted blog. I don’t know, maybe that fools somebody, but I think it’s pretty transparent to all but the newest of newbies who would still use the word “newbie” in conversation.

It’s not surprising that, right now, most of the branding successes in social media are directly related to enthusiast brands, those that can offer value through social engagement, and those that are creating a bit of controversy. Google, for example, wins in social media not just because they engage in it, but by the fact that their innovations are worth tweeting about. I can’t tell you how often we’ve seen Google Wave as a trending topic on Twitter, not because of active seeding, but because their tactics have got people talking – releasing controversial videos of Wave in action, beta-testing by invitation – that sort of thing. I’m certainly not ruling out some kinds of seeding, but it’s all more powerful if you devise your product’s strategy to be inherently “political”. By that I mean, create things where the audience has a reason to take your side (or at least a side). Let your product efforts, promotions and events be retweetable.

Guys like me sometimes get a bit of stick because we sing the praises of social media to a background chorale of “where’s the ROI?” I believe we do create mass movement in behaviors. But as in any medium, it pays to harness the energy where the mass is, and not necessarily via a custom community. You don’t have to be a huge company to do it. A few weeks back, a motivated Facebook group succeeded in making an old Rage Against the Machine single 2009’s Christmas Number One. Now, Christmas Number One is a big deal in Britain (remember Love, Actually?) and Jon and Tracy Morter were disgusted that for the last few years, whatever won on Simon Cowell’s X Factor automatically went to number one at Christmas. Did they build a custom website to vent? Nope. They went to where the mass was – created a Facebook community and translated online behavior into real-world results – results that have a real economic impact on all the players in the controversy.

If Jon and Tracy from Essex can do that, shouldn’t a company with resources be able to move online behaviors to real-world action too? You just have to create something that makes people care.
Back here at my agency, we recently won an OMMA award for best standalone video for Microsoft – a review of the History of the Internet  by some of the odd characters who inhabit it – to promote the launch of Windows Internet Explorer 8. But it wasn’t the video itself that was unique (though it is kind of hilarious), it was the way we distributed it. IE8 was set to launch at MIX09 to a crowd of developers. The video preceded the launch, and we made sure the amused attendee had a url to share. As insiders, they were emotionally driven to distribute the link to everyone they knew. IE8 was a trending topic for a big part of the day, and chatter about the video was a big part of it. Getting the Windows community to download IE8 was a key effort for 2009 – motivating those downloads though harnessing social media was a big part of accelerating the effort.

RS:  Tell me about and the new way companies are using social media in their marketing mix
RS: Fizziology  is a tracking company we started in mid-2009 to take advantage of information that can be gleaned from what people post on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media tools. Right now, we’re providing insights to movie studios and production companies, tracking what people are saying about movies as they approach release and upon opening – we’re consistently performing better than traditional tracking companies do.

So far I think it’s pretty amazing.A lot of companies are springing up here and there, trying to make marketing sense of this mountain of data – it’s becoming known as the Real Time Search industry (which I think is a stupid term). But almost all of them use some form of automated keyword scoring methodologies, and they just aren’t real accurate. In our world, “dude, that movie is sick” could mean something bad or good, but you can’t know that from a prejudged keyword algorithm. We actually read and score a statistically significant number of the total volume of chatter relating to a person, entertainment property or brand, and treat it like the world’s fastest, most honest focus group. So we believe we know more about the tweeting public’s intent to take action than a lot of our competitors.

Just recently, and we reported this before anyone else, we saw that the movie The Blind Side was going to significantly overperform reported estimates. Turned out we were right. And we knew The box office for Saw VI was going to be a lot weaker than estimated – we saw very high negatives in the chatter and correlated it with a lower than expected “intention to see”. We could also see the way the interest shifted in Where The Wild Things Are after opening, as people realized that it wasn’t a kids’ movie.

As we move forward, we’re building a database in which we can compare the behaviors of these entertainment properties by genre and seasonality, and we’re building it so we can make comparisons as the public’s usage of social media evolves.

We’ve been asked to track individual actors for insights about how the public might respond to them if they’re cast in a certain kind of role or with other actors. That’s a valuable insight for studios, casting agents, even the actors themselves. We are also beginning to apply the same model to brands.

Every marketer who’s even paying a little attention knows all this sharing is a goldmine for understanding public sentiment about all kinds of things, but there’s no clear gold standard yet. We think our methods give us a good shot at being that.

About Scott Montgomery

One of my favorite people in the world, and the man who teaches me so much about branding and advertising, is Scott Montgomery. Scott is Principal and Executive Creative Director of Bradley and Montgomery,  which has made both traditional and very untraditional advertising, branding and communications for clients like JPMorgan Chase, VH1, MTV, Knoll, Microsoft and many others.

He is also founder of, a firm that tracks and analyzes social media chatter for entertainment companies so they can tell if their movie or TV show will be a hit or a flop.