13 Marketing Lessons From Film Noir

I've had a bit of writer's block of late, but I've been consulting some of the people who inspire me. I have also used this dry spell to catch up on the excellent 100 Bullets series, a neo-noir morality play in trade paperback form.

This got me thinking about ways that film noir can educate our marketing chops.

I have included a list of quotes below to help introduce my 13 points. Some are serious, others are tongue-in-cheek. Mostly, I wanted to have some fun and expand our normal sources of inspiration. But above all, I hope these lessons are pertinent when applied to your marketing career. (Thanks to Derek, Sarah, and IMDB for the quotes.)

Mae: Last time I looked, you had a wife. Earl: Maybe next time you look, I won't. Mae: That's what they all say. -Clash By Night

Lesson 1: Be prepared for change. Anticipate it in your career and in your customer's concerns and priorities. Always stay ahead of the curve.

John: You're a bitter little lady. Evelyn: It's a bitter little world. -Hollow Triumph

Lesson 2: Be immersed in your world. Learn all you can and keep learning over time. Only by being there can you spot trends and opportunities.

Philip: I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom. -Murder, My Sweet

Lesson 3: The online channel was a major disruption in the status quo - that's why it's taken over a decade to get to this point. Even though change is difficult, remember all of the opportunity that is there. Sometimes it's limitless.

Walter: I'll never think of our moments together without nausea. -Impact

Lesson 4: A strong brand experience is memorable, especially when it's linked to your audience's emotions or senses.

Richard: There are only three ways to deal with a blackmailer. You can pay him and pay him and pay him until you're penniless. Or you can call the police yourself and let your secret be known to the world. Or you can kill him. -The Woman In The Window

Lesson 5: The online channel eliminated the first and third option, so some people didn't get the message. Companies who try to obfuscate, confuse, cajole, stonewall, or who fire whistle-blowers forget that the new power is in honesty. If you tell the truth, you control the meme. And secrets always come out.

Johnny: You'd sell your own mother for a piece of fudge. But you're smart with it. Smart enough to know when to sell and when to sit tight. You've got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart. -The Killing

Lesson 6: People can tell when you are just in it for the money. Inauthenticity stinks in every way. If you don't believe in your product, or if you're marketing a bunch of garbage, get out now. It's the easier route.

Duke: I don't usually make it a habit to butt into women's affairs, but what's this guy Fisk to you? Joan: Don't change your habits on my account. -The Big Steal

Lesson 7: In the information age, collect only the demographic information that is usable. Knowing your customer's blood type is creepy unless you're the Red Cross.

Rick: I came to Casablanca for the waters. Renault: But we're in the middle of the desert. Rick: I was misinformed. -Casablanca

Lesson 8: Know where your customers are. Don't go searching for water in the desert.

Kathie: Is there a way to win at this? Jeff: No, but there's a way to lose more slowly. -Out Of The Past

Lesson 9: Don't think in terms of winning and losing. Sometimes failing quickly is better than a prolonged loss or even an outright win. A quick failure can bring about information that may be more valuable in the long-run.

Walter: I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money. And I didn't get the woman. -Double Indemnity

Lesson 10: Focus your efforts. Don't confuse your audience with different calls to action. Don't let campaigns get watered down by committees. Keep it simple and be direct. That's the way to get exactly what you want the most.

Philip: You know what he'll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, and then kick me in the stomach for mumbling. -The Big Sleep

Lesson 11: Give your staff or agency the information and tools they need to do their job. Otherwise, their failure is your fault.

Gilda: If I'd been a ranch, they would have called me The Bar None. -Gilda

Lesson 12: Go for the gusto. At the end of your life, you don't want to ponder whether you could have had the letters CEO or CMO hugging your name. Make it happen.

Finally, I'll give lucky #13 to Brian Azzarello from 100 Bullets:

Megan: Why are you helping me? Milo: Maybe baby...I can't help myself. -100 Bullets, The Counterfifth Detective

Lesson 13: Built into all of the web 2.0 tools is an inherent good - that you help yourself by helping others. Don't horde your expertise. Show off what you know by helping others and more business will come banging down your door.


I hope these lessons from noir were helpful and that you had a little fun reading them. Some of the quotes above fit perfectly with marketing and others were a stretch, I know. Feel free to share other quotes applicable to online marketing in the comments section below.


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