Ahead of the Star Wars release, what brands can learn from 2017's blockbusters

Whether a high-brow indy flick with a broken, multi-layered narrative, or more low-brow "defeat evil" action thriller, you can't beat a cracking 90 minutes or so in the cinema being transported from your seat to another world, by a story. So, as the year draws to an end and we eagerly await Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Christmas movie marathon, what can brands learn from this year's cinema highlights, asks PD3's Catherine Botibol.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Luke, Chewi, Kylo, Rey and co are back for another blast of the story that never ends. No spoilers. But brands, learn from the Star Wars stories. Keep evolving and re-inventing. You don’t need an end goal, make the journey the destination.

Blade Runner 2049

Replicant cop, K, tracks down and destroys first-generation models who are illegally hiding out. K lives in a studio apartment with his VR live-in girlfriend, Joi. The power structures of society, that make replicants second class citizens, are put into question when K discovers that replicants are able to sexually reproduce. Spoiler Alert: Turns out, Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard has been hiding out since the original Bladerunner, driven to survive by his life-long quest to meet his daughter. Whereas the first film explored the idea of what it is to be human through the idea of memory, the prequel focuses around maternal/paternal love and empathy.

Back to 2017, the more our lives are mediated by digital services, the more rarified the offline tactile experience will become. People are already longing for digital detox breaks and holidays as a knee jerk to the fact that many of us spend more time online than we do asleep. Talking out loud to another human being face to face, with no screen to mediate, could easily become the rarest type of communication by 2019, the year the original Bladerunner was set.

As the rarefication of offline human experience increases, the emotional impact will grow. Feelings and emotions are what makes us, us. Our experience of life is guided by this. Offline experiences will transcend as our human need for nearness takes over. For the film’s finale, the fundamental emotional experience of a father simply being in the same room as his daughter is elevated to one that transcend all others. Being in the same physical room as your customer will become the most powerful way to create an emotional connection with them. Brand experience will become the most powerful advertising approach to convert people into high spending, long-term advocates of your brand. Long before 2049.

The Boss Baby

The arrival of a new baby brother for seven-year-old Tim, brings the realisation that he is not going to be the centre of his parent’s attention anymore. Especially as his brother is Boss Baby from Baby Corp: a cynical workaholic whose KPI is getting adults to keep thinking babies are cute. The brothers end up joining forces to beat the sneaky Puppy Co. who threaten to steal adults’ love away from babies for their adorable puppies. Eventually, Boss Baby learns to trust Tim, quits his job for quality time with his new family, a childhood and a more balanced way of life.

Working together towards a common goal, like Tim and Boss Baby, is a great lesson to brands about how to view their customers in the experience age. Brands should be working together with their customers to make their products and services better. We’re seeing this approach delivered excellently already in industries like finance, energy, telco, tourism and entertainment. Brands using crowdfunded financial investment, along with continual transparency through community feedback and collaborative decision making to build their businesses.

New technologies like blockchain are dramatically gaining in pace as consumers realise the potential to decentralise the economic foundations that many brands and businesses are based on. As the system essentially removes the requirement to trust a third-party through a public ledger, transparency with your customers is going to become a must for all brands. Learn from Boss Baby’s example, start now in gaining that trust by working with, not for or against your customers to build better businesses that will stand the test of time.

Hidden Figures

Dorothy Vaughan was one of three African-American women who played vital mathematical roles in the launch of the first ever American astronaut to orbit the earth in 1962. Vaughan’s brilliant foresight not only saved the jobs of her female NASA colleagues, but made them indispensable employees. Whilst the male technicians were busy trying to fit the huge IBM computer through the door, Vaughan pro-actively learned FORTRAN, the programming language for the new machine, teaching it after hours to the marginalised women she supervised. As the computers quickly became central to the organisation, Vaughan and her team went on to become NASA’s early computer experts.

Unlike the majority of NASA employees who failed to truly appreciate these new technologies, Dorothy was a lover of technological innovation with foresight of how they could be used. For brands now, the lesson here is that it’s not the technology that will disrupt you and steal all your customers, it’s the way that it’s applied. So do a Dorothy! Help your customers to understand the changes in technology that are powering your sector, so they can command your products and tools more effectively. Customers who realise the value in your products will be more valuable.

Dorothy made sure that the computer didn’t replace women in her workplace, instead giving female co-workers the tools to make sure they were indispensable, effective and efficient with the computer as an instrument. AI advancements are bringing new levels of automation, and therefore cost efficiencies, to how marketing budgets are spent. There is a fear among some that this will result in some of our jobs being replaced. What would Dorothy do? Don’t fear AI, think about how jobs might be displaced and prepare yourself and your team. Automation can then become a tool that could make us all more efficient.

Logan

Set in 2029, the mutant population has dwindled and Logan is an alcoholic old man juggling work as a chauffeur and carer for the elderly Professor X. Professor X, the world’s most powerful telepath, now suffers from a severe brain illness that threatens humanity’s safety unless constantly medicated. Logan is forced into protecting a young mutant, Laura, who turns out to share his DNA. Laura is being chased by the powerful corporation who created her and other mutant children as weapons. We see the young but strong Laura and the experienced but tired Logan fight the corporation together. Spoiler: Professor X and Logan both die for the future survival of Laura and her mutant friends. It’s epic in its heroism.

Life wouldn’t be life, without death. Mortality, society’s treatment of the old and our personal experience with ageing are themes that run through the film. By the end, even though Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, who has been on our screens for 17 years, is gone the sense of anticipation about the next film is immense. As Laura moves the cross on her father’s grave around to the X symbol, you can’t help but get excited about the Wolverine-less sequel. It’s a fine lesson about killing off loved characters in a way that says to brands, it’s OK to kill off old products and services if done in the right way. Let the old and new interact with each other in a way that lets the customer say goodbye. Don’t discontinue something in silence. Let the new have a battle with the old and win the hearts of loyal customers.

One final point for brands to learn from this is that of the elderly superheroes portrayed in the film. The two central characters are old people, and young people still loved it. Logan is physically 197, and Professor X is in his 90s. The over 50s represent a huge commercial opportunity for any brand who talks directly to them in the same nuanced, creative and intelligent way that they talk to youth. In 2018 let’s see more over 50s in brand communications.

RIP Wolverine and Pro X.

RIP 2017


Catherine Botibol is the chief executive of PD3

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