Marketing Lessons From The Year's Top Films

By Jenna Lebel And the Oscar goes to…

I can’t even put in to words how excited I am for this weekend’s 84th Annual Academy Awards. A self-proclaimed Oscar buff, I make it a point to watch every film nominated in the major categories. This year’s top films, though admittedly not the best batch in Oscar history, provided us with love, drama, humility, lessons in history, escapism and conflict. In addition to captivating audiences for roughly two hours, these best picture films brought us much more. They brought us a lot of lessons, specifically for marketers. Here are those lessons from some of the year’s Oscar nominees. 

The Artist Summary: As the silent film age draws to a close, popular screen star George Valentin and rising star Peppy Miller find their careers and their relationship jeopardized by the coming of talking pictures.  Valentin resists the transition to sound, while young Peppy Miller embraces the transformation to the modern age that is leaving Valentin behind. Lesson: It is important to welcome and embrace change, especially in technology, otherwise your business and your offerings may become outdated and ultimately outdone by competitors. Keep an open mind and don’t fear novelty.

The Descendants Summary: Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, this film highlights the complexities of life, death and family relations through the story of Matt King who is quickly forced to play the primary caregiver role to his two daughters when he is wife Elizabeth is left comatose after a boating accident. The film follows Matt’s trials and tribulations as he learns some truth about his daughters and wife and battles a tough financial decision that may alienate him from his extended family. Lesson: There are a few lessons to be learned here that may not immediately jump out at you. First, sometimes we mess up, as humans and as brands. And that’s ok. Admitting mistakes is important and sometimes the best way to exude strength is to admit your weaknesses. Another lesson learned here is that there is no possible way for us to know everything about the people around us. For brands, this means that no amount of money put into consumer research and customer profiling will tell you everything you need to know about your customers.

The Help Summary: In this racially charged film based on the 2009 book, a young white aspiring author from Jackson, Mississippi convinces a group of African-American maids to chronicle their stories of social inequality and injustice from working in white households in the 1960s. Lesson:  There are 2 (among many) memorable quotes that illustrate lessons for marketers. One of the maids, Aibileen, who basically raised her employer’s daughter Mae Mobley, would give her positive affirmation usually after her biological mother dismissed her. She repeated the following phrase to her, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." Like Mae Mobley, consumers also need to feel their self-worth and need some regular positive reassurance. The second quote is a little less memorable in the film, but still important for teaching marketers a lesson. “Courage isn't just about being brave, it's about overcoming fear and doing what is right for your fellow man." We talk about this nonstop, but transparency is paramount. Push past your comfort zone and have the courage to dive into new territory by showing your true identity and being honest and transparent with consumers.

War Horse Summary: Spielberg brings the horrors of war seen through the eyes of a valiant horse in this epic motion picture.  The horse’s owner Albert enlists to serve in World War I after the horse is sold to the cavalry. The film follows his hopeful journey to reconnect with his beloved horse. Lesson: The first takeaway here deals with leadership. Brands should seek to be leaders in their category by taking initiative and paving the way for others. The second lesson is to be adaptable.  Quickly adapt to change and new situations, but never lose sight of who you are as a brand.

Hugo Summary: The most nominated film of 2011, this Scorsese-directed film is a 3D picture based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Hugo is a young orphan living behind the walls of a Parisian train station in the 1930s maintaining the clocks, a skill he learned from his late father.  His persistence to repair an automaton that he believes holds a message from his father leads him on a mysterious adventure involving many of the train station patrons. Lesson: An underlying theme of the film is self-discovery and self-purpose. This theme stems from Hugo’s fascination with machines. Machines never come with extra parts, they come with the exact amount to operate and each part serves its purpose in the overall operation of the device. Brands need to define their purpose in the marketplace just as Hugo and Isabelle sought theirs. Don’t confuse a purpose with a promise. Every brand makes a promise. But it’s your brand’s purpose—reason for existing—that separates you from everyone else.

Can you think of other lessons from this year's Oscar nominees? Or past winners? Share with us!