Both film and marketing need narratives to be effective, but with Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film “Inherent Vice” it’s a narrative in marketing. Specifically niche marketing
For background, “Inherent Vice” is a mystery film set in 1970 California, where private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is given a case by his ex-girlfriend which splurges into a utter jumble of more cases, a parade of eccentric characters piling onto the story, and getting high on everything he can get his hands on. Suffice to say it’s not family-friendly film to have an easy watch on the first date.
Now marketing was not Paul Thomas Anderson’s thought in making this movie (just confusing the hell out of everyone) however it has enough elements to be taken of a marketing narrative.
A Large Cast of Customers
“Inherent Vice” has a kudzu plot, as Doc is introduced to a wide array of different characters (including having two side kicks and four love interests) and trying to tie down their roles and their relationships requires a flowchart (Doc himself has to draw one to try and keep track). However, an interpretation of the movie is that you aren’t supposed to comprehend who all the characters are, and instead like Doc get lost in the moment of trying to make sense of everything.
In marketing while you may try to attain broad appeal, such as blockbusters or traditional marketing, to use such spray and pray method over a diversity of customers with different interests means that a lot of the effort will be wasted.
Drugged Up Persona
Besides an overabundance of characters “Inherent Vice” also has a overabundance of genres, being a mashup of neo-noir/stoner film or the “stoner noir” and it’s all seen through the drug-spazzed eyes of Doc, whose own viewpoint should be seriously questioned. However, it’s the only viewpoint we have to try to understand Doc (Although I wouldn’t mind seeing the movie through Martin Short’s character for being a one-scene wonder).
And through Doc’s eyes we try to understand what he wants: solving mysteries and helping his clients or his LAPD nemesis, Bigfoot wants: to be a famous actor. Every character has their own agenda and all try to achieve it. While most consumers are not drug-addled hippies (unless you own a marijuana grow-op) how each individual consumer sees the world and what they want from it is important when knowing who to target your marketing to.
Paul Thomas Anderson is an auteur director whose distinctive style doesn’t make for blockbuster appeal, but can be appreciated by a solid core of fans. Not enough fans to smash the box office but enough that he continuously gets funding to make more movies. Suffice to say it’s a cult film.
With troubling signs of Hollywood’s upcoming implosion and with no guarantee that profitable genres like the superhero genre are guaranteed success. It’s because Major blockbuster films can only survive if the majority of movie-goers watch it. Similarly, traditional marketing is costly and needs to see a high level of profit. Cult or auteur films will never see widespread appeal but target a specific demographic of movie watchers are seeing a stronger bet (for example see the rising popularity of VOD). Same way, choosing to use other marketing methods like inbound or interactive marketing to target a selected and more interested audience is a more assured way to success. You may not understand “Inherent Vice” when you first watch it, just understand that you aren’t supposed to, and take your own enjoyment from it.