Inception Marketing


August 29, 2010

Another title for this post could have simply been All the ‘Big Brother’ Stuff That Makes Most People Really Hate Marketing. First, let me apologize for being like two months behind the rest of the world on seeing Inception but parenting the Fantastic Four leaves little time for my formerly robust cinematic dance card. As many of you no doubt already know, Inception is a movie that leaves your mind turned on end like one of those Parisian streets Juno folds over on itself during the course of the flick. Rather than even attempting to dissect this story, I’m going to examine it from a marketing perspective assuming you have at least a rudimentary understanding of both marketing and Inception (trailer below to help — but you should really just see it).

6 Marketing Parallels from Inception

  1. Planting Ideas — Yeah, this is probably the spookiest marketing-equals-big-brother tie in but couldn’t one reasonably describe what we do as marketers as inception? We seek to plant ideas in the minds of our subjects usually for the purposes of personal, corporate, political, or organizational gain. Not saying this is a great parallel but rather simply observing the core similarities. This also reminds us that this practice carries with it great responsibility. We shouldn’t be using cartoon camels and doctors to sell cigarettes when we knows it’s wrong and so on.
  2. It Is Very Hard But It Can Be Done — “Inception is impossible because true inspiration is impossible to fake” quips the 3rd Rock from the Sun kid. But Leo knows otherwise. As most marketers who’ve created a powerful and more importantly a successful campaign know, when it works it works. But like inception, it can’t be quickly cobbled together. It takes careful planning and sometimes layers of dreams (strategies) …
  3. Assemble a Killer Team — As you know I am partial to teams in movies and in life. With a challenge like inception ahead of him Leo knows he needs to take the time to assemble the best of the best. This has obvious parallels in marketing as you can’t begin to even plan your heist (campaign) without the best architect (designer), chemist (coder), forger (copywriter? account rep?), etc.
  4. Consistency Is King — As Leo tells Juno, creating too much change in the dream world alerts the subconscious that the dream could be fake. While it has less to do with alerting the projections of consumers’ subconscious, the same holds true in the marketing world as well. Change for change’s sake — zigging and zagging without a strategic rudder — creates as unstable a brand as it would a dream.
  5. Positive Association Trumps Negative — When Leo, Juno, and crew are working on their master plan for planting the idea (breaking up a father’s business) in their mark’s dream  they discuss planting it negatively as a way of “sticking it to the old man.” Leo warns against this saying that positive associations are always stronger than negative ones. Here again, the same holds true in the marketing/brand development world. While a mark of any strong brand is having a healthy nemesis/antagonist (Apple thrives on having Microsoft, etc. and vice versa), it’s not enough to simply be against something (the negative). Your brand/idea must be FOR something to truly thrive.
  6. Art + Science – Brand development, marketing, and advertising — like inception — is created somewhere at the intersection of art and science. And though Christopher Nolan never  fully developed what the team hooked up to in the briefcases, boxes, and cords that initiated the dreams the audience understands very clearly that the whole process demands a respect for both science (chemistry, psychology, etc.) and art (design, architecture, improvisation). Such is branding. Only with a keen grasp of science (research, psychology, etc.) and art (design, writing, and yes – improvisation) can you truly create.

That’s all I’ve got. Maybe you have good marketing parallels for kicks, sedative use, totems, and snow commandos (snow commandos just rock). What did you think? Are we as marketers like Leo and co. faced with a challenging task like inception or is this a parallel that should never be mentioned again lest we be further accused of practicing the dark arts? The whole premise is nothing more than a Sunday/Funday kind of post but it does get you thinking. Wait – where did I get this idea again …?

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.




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