Inherent Vice Marketing Narrative Feature Image

Why Inherent Vice is a Narrative in Marketing

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 Cast Characters

“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

Inherent Vice Drugged Up Doc

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.

Cult film

Inherent Vice Content Marketing

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. 

The Interview Marketing Stunt

Could “The Interview” Hack be a Marketing Stunt?

So with Kim Jong Un calling the shots in Hollywood and deciding that Sony will not release “The Interview” we have officially entwined pop culture with world politics. As exciting as it may be it’s just another  cotton-candy vomiting ride of Dear Leader, nukes, and crazy that North Korea is dragging us through. Sony has lost millions in revenue with the premature release of several movies as well as execs being incriminated with racist and sexist emails.

However, if there is one silver lining for Sony is that

  • Everybody now knows about the “The Interview”.
  • Everyone wants to watch it now that North Korea is banning it.

Pretty awesome benefit if there ever was one, but what’s the possibility that the whole thing was Sony orchestrated the whole thing as a marketing stunt?

Pretty nil, with the FBI and Obama saying North Korea was behind it, making it a bit too geopolitical for a pair of stoners and their fancy suit handlers, (unless Sony promised to use Obama’s ideas for 23 Jump Street) however how would it play out if the world is being controlled by a bunch of clever chaps instead of some fat idiot with too much power in his hands?

Sony’s Motivation

The Interview Rotten Tomato Score

As interesting as the premise of assassinating Kim Jong Un is, it’s received middling-reviews by reviewers, by most analysts would have flopped internationally and likely would have just died quietly and added to the Rogen film collection.

The only thing the movie had going for it is it’s premise, and marketing it using a meta-narrative as a movie of assassinating Kim Jong Un almost assassinated by Kim Jong Un, is brilliant to be crazy.

It has grabbed the attention of the world and crafting this sense of realism the absurdity of a nation state trying to play Hollywood critic will always grab the news. Heck, if they do release it I wouldn’t put it past Obama to hold a private screening just as a screw you North Korea.

And being hacked is the only plausible way for the movie to be targeted, so how would it work?

The North Korean Hack job    

North Korean Hackers

Given the Kim’s family love for movies and that it was about killing Kim Jong Un “The Interview” was going to be threatened by North Korea. So blaming them would not have been difficult and if Sony did orchestrate a hack job as a marketing stunt, here’s what they could have done.

  • Had “chunks” of movies released i.e. first half-hour enough for the plot to get interesting, or movie without the audio, or a poor-quality version, any form that made the movie watchable but would leave the viewer wanting to watch the “official” versions
  • Emails that revealed personal, embarrassing but sfw details of the cast, crew and execs that humanized them, dropped some behind the scenes of the movie, and hints of future movie ideas being created.

While unconventional it would have created a further sense of realism for an interactive marketing campaign and more creative than getting a Denny’s breakfast.

What now?

The Interview Seth Rogen & James Franco

Sony’s announcement that they would not be releasing “The Interview” is not permanent for several reasons.

Sony is going to keep tabs on events such as Obama promising a “response” to North Korea’s hack, and with rumours of The Interview being released on Crackle, this story is far from over. Despite Sony just wanting to walk away from all this with damage control in mind, the combination of geopolitics and pop culture creating “The Interview” awkward, but powerful meta-narrative has made it a marketer’s wet dream: Becoming the most talked about movie of 2014. I for one will be watching this story with great interest and hoping that the next time a movie becomes this talked about again, it’s because of a clever interactive marketing campaign rather than politics gone petty.

League of Legends Narratives Feature Image

How Narratives can Explain League of Legends’ Popularity

It’s well-established that video games have become incredibly popular from Flappy Birds to the GTA series, one such genre is the online multiplayer like League of Legend. 

From its humble origin as a Warcraft 3 mod played in computer science classes to a prize pouch of a $1 million in the League of Legends World Championship League of Legends has ascended far where according to Forbes, League of Legends has become the most played PC game in North America and Europe with 1.3 billion hours of gameplay by gamers.

My theory?  Because League of Legends creates a hero narrative for its player, providing a motivation and obstacles, distilling one of our most addicting narratives in its most playable form.

Character Motivation

League of Legends Champions

The gameplay is quite simple, you are a “summoner” and control “champions” aka any elf, warrior, undead, fantasy roster along with a team of “champions” and have to fight through the opposing champion team and their spawning minions to destroy the opposing team’s “Nexus” aka what churns out the minions. In terms of motivation it’s not exactly Oldboy but it in terms of video game narratives it isn’t much simpler than defeat Bowser and save Princess Peach and Mario is one of the most successful franchises of all time.

One of the essential elements of any well-developed character is motivation. Captain Ahab’s motivation is killing Moby Dick, Jay Gatsby’s motivation is to get Daisy it’s what defines their actions and character through their story. Likewise, other MMO’s like World of Warcraft needs missions and even expansion packs to keep their subscribers playing.

While League of Legends is always updating with new content, it’s core gameplay always provides the motivation for their players to play again and again. However, it can’t be the only reason for players to play which is why they have…

Character Development

League of Legends Levelling Up

It’s been scientifically proven that when we achieve something our brain awards us with dopamine; video games and dopamine are strongly connected. When get five in a row in Candy Crush or bumping up to A-list celebrity in Kim Kardashian is an achievement that our brain believes we should be rewarded with. In League of Legends killing enough champions, minions, and towers leads to experience points which mean stronger champions, more customization and another dose of dopamine to keep you playing.

While most characters in popular media aren’t exactly all about killing minions to get physically stronger, we are invested in their story as they seek to overcome the obstacles and develop as people. For example as awesome as Indiana Jones may be as a character if the Nazis hadn’t gotten involved, a bullwhip wouldn’t have done much good at an archaeological dig site.

By being able to level up meaning more powerful champions and customization to suit, their game style players are invested to keep trying to win the next battle. However, it’s just not League of Legends that can make use of narratives. 

Narratives in Marketing

Dark Knight Viral Campaign Harvey Dent Website

Understandably there are other reasons why League of Legends is so popular: a massive variety of champions to play, appealing visuals, and well-paced gameplay, however it’s core game of motivation and development that can be applied elsewhere.

This is especially true in interactive marketing.

For example, the success of “The Dark Knight” could be tied in with it’s fantastic interactive marketing campaign leading up to the movie. During this interactive campaign

  • Websites like, which blurred real the fictional Batman Universe, posted updates and informed fans of trailers, news and how to participate in events i.e. real-life games.
  • Real-life games such as committing a series of crimes and tasks while wearing Joker makeup at Comic-Con with a winner at the end.
  • Unconventional prizes such as Joker masks or a copy of “The Gotham Times” newspaper.

By involving the fans in the upcoming narrative of the movie, it led to an opening weekend of more than $150-million and the highest-grossing movie of 2008.

While a dedicated batman fans and ones excited in participating in a Batman movie campaign will overlap; a strong core of supporters willing to promote and share to their social contacts is something that is always a good thing for any marketer.

It’s getting potential customers invested in the story to be given motivation to try and ways to merit a sense of achievement for trying. As people will always think themselves as the hero in their own narrative by making your own narrative theirs, they will be your heroes.