A Marketing Crash Course from Beloved Characters

I love pop culture. I am one to always drop a movie quote or song lyric in day-to-day conversations. Just the other day I was speaking with a friend of mine about our respective favorite baseball teams, and he could not grasp the fact that my team was better than his. So, I had no choice: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Not only do I use pop culture in conversations, but I also very often use it in writing. During my time as a writer for Forbes – where I covered marketing and advertising – I would weave pop culture into many an article.

Ok, now that you know that about me, let’s get on to a crash course about marketing featuring some beloved characters from the world of pop culture.

“Advertising is based on one thing – happiness.” – Don Draper, Mad Men

My marketing mood board could never be complete without a quote from the head of the fictional advertising firm Sterling Cooper, especially one this perfect. We know that the more people feel, the more they buy. Emotion simplifies decision-making, and happiness – the one positive emotion – is the most important one for brands to consider when developing their ads and innovations.

The biggest difference in the emotional profile of 1-Star and 5-Star ads is the number and percentage of people feeling happiness. Advertisers can incorporate other emotions into their creative, like sadness and fear. In fact, it’s best practice to take viewers on an emotional journey, but these feelings need to be resolved by an ad’s conclusion. Ending with happiness at a peak will make your marketing memorable and increase the probability that buyers will choose your products at the point of purchase.

“People aren’t thinking about you the way that you’re thinking about you.” – Alexis Rose, Schitt’s Creek

My inspiration is getting “A Little Bit Alexis” and while this advice from the Rose family’s daughter wasn’t delivered in the context of marketing, it certainly makes an important point when applied in this way. Marketers can fall into the trap of believing that their customers are always thinking and talking about them. In reality, most people don’t think about brands often and many aren’t currently in the market to buy your products and services. That’s why investing in long-term brand building is key.

Marketers can also mistakenly believe that they know exactly their audience thinks. As Mark Ritson outlines in his Mini MBA in Marketing, it’s crucial for marketers to learn how to view the world from the viewpoint of the customer, not the company.

“Coca-Cola is by far the world’s number one soft drink and they spend more money than anybody on advertising. I guess that’s how they stay number one.” – Tracy Flick, Election

Coca-Cola is indeed a brand-building machine. After all, the film Election, starring Reese Witherspoon as a determined candidate for student government president, was released in 1999 and her character’s quote still holds true today. With the exception of 2020 (i.e. the most uncertain year of the Covid-19 pandemic), Coca-Cola spends an average of $4 billion per year to advertise globally and maintain its share of voice. Thus, it’s not a coincidence that the company is consistently ranked as the top soft drink brand worldwide.

Coca-Cola’s long-running “Holidays are Coming” ad has been featured during the festive season annually since 1995, and is one of many examples showcasing the power of wear-in. It includes many of the right-brain features that Orlando Wood discusses in his work, including characters, melodic music and scenes unfolding.

“The seed that we planted in this man’s mind may change everything.” – Dom Cobb, Inception

Brand building is all about planting a seed in people’s minds. Seeds don’t grow overnight, just as people often don’t immediately make a purchase after seeing an advertisement. Most people likely aren’t in the market right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be at some point in the future.

This is especially true during a recession. Organizations need to continue to invest in advertising and innovation during a downturn so that when the economy improves, and people return to buying they can quickly recall brands. Those that are easily remembered will be chosen more readily. Plant the seeds now so that you can see your brand grow in the future.

Eliot Loudermilk: “You can’t show that commercial. If you run that…you’re gonna frighten people…that looked like the Manson Family Christmas Special!”

Mr. Cross: “…Well, it’s a little late for this kind of feedback…We don’t want to scare the Dickens out of people.”

If Bill Murray’s Scrooged character, Mr. Cross, had invested in ad testing, he would have been able to see how audiences felt about the creative ahead of its planned pre-Christmas launch. System1’s Test Your Ad platform allows for quick and easy testing among the general public and custom audiences.

Our FaceTrace® emotional response technology offers a second-by-second map of how viewers feel while watching an ad. From happiness to fear to anger to neutrality, we can pinpoint all of the universal emotions identified by Daniel Ekman’s research to showcase where an ad may be going in the wrong direction. And to steer your creative in the right direction, we also offer expert guidance to help you make the most of your investment.