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. 

Missing Flight

Why the Malaysia Airline Crashes has Redemption Narratives

It has been an utterly awful year for Malaysian Airlines, with three airplanes tragedies all due to stupendously bad luck. And while hundreds of deaths is no laughing matter, what’s peculiar is how many narratives have been in the news of those who weren’t on the planes but almost were. From the dutch cyclist who missed two Malaysia flights to the former beauty queen who just missed the AirAsia flight, they have received a lot more attention than the number of deaths per plane.

Dutch Cyclist Malaysia Flights

However, it’s not just missing an airplane flight. We have always been fascinated by people who have escaped death because of fate or luck. And it’s because near-death experiences are narratives in our own character development. 

Protagonists Survive

A pastor once complained that we tend to single out those who survived while many died. And notice that “Dutch Cyclist” and “Former Beauty Queen” is more characterization than a list of nationals that died.

Former Beauty Queen AirAsia Flight

What’s amazing is that if none of those airplanes crashed from the cyclist to the beauty queen would have just been one of the many unlucky folks that missed their flight for which I don’t think there is a statistic for. However as I’ve pointed out before, we sympathize with their narratives because they are a face, not a statistic, and serve a positive narrative that in the face of such tragedies they “survived”.

A “Moment of Destiny” or Moment of Self-Development

It’s almost a cliche for characters to change in some way when nearly dying. For example when Jules, Samuel Jackson’s character, from “Pulp Fiction” is not even grazed when a criminal unloads a entire clip at point blank range, he undergoes one of the strongest character developments of recent film history. It’s why when Hitler nearly got killed in 44 he believed he had a “moment of destiny” to not give up a hopeless war (not that I’m comparing you to Hitler, everyone’s Hitler if your on the internet anyway).

Hitler Plot 1944

It’s because we want to believe that our lives our bigger, that we want to feel a sense of enormity behind our lives, that we upraise those who missed a flight or who were late for work little inconsequential missteps that allows them to survive. Their narratives validating our own that we can also survive and that our survival means something.


From the passengers who missed the AirAsia flight there is a sense of fate. While I don’t know how their lives will change after, in pop culture there is character redemption. Again pointing at “Pulp Fiction” Jules decides to lead a more spiritual life even sparing the man who was going tor rob him (his partner, Vince, chooses not to and is not as lucky). Hitler, instead of thinking maybe he needed to rethink his life instead wiped out any last internal resistance in his shrinking empire and even commissioned a special medal for the survivors (said decision also also did not work out for him).

Pulp Fiction Jules Quote

While almost dying doesn’t necessarily mean we will change, but significant life events can be attached to our own development in our narratives. In marketing, whiles not smart to put customers life in danger, it’s inserting a product or a service that provides a need or opportunity to change their life, and them being a customer is how they find redemption. See Al Pacino’s great “You Rent It” monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross as a great example. That’s why we love these narratives, you don’t have to nearly meet death (though it’s a great motivation) rather they allow us reflect our own life, and how improving it is worth it.

Fat Superheroes

Why the superhero genre may have just been set up for narrative failure

Recently the internet was introduced to this infographic of upcoming superhero movies and cinematic universe creations that is Hollywood’s ambition for the next 6+ years. Yes it looks like an awesome idea right now. However this is akin to what everyone had in mind calling the Titanic “Unsinkable”. Not that there is anything wrong with creating a superhero universe franchise (See Marvel Cinematic Universe as the greatest idea Hollywood has done so far). However in terms of creating a Universe narrative, declaring their plans so far ahead may bite them in the head because

This is an idea not reality

The first step for creating a story is having a rough outline, even a vaguest idea of it’s concept before the first words are typed out.

Hollywood is essentially giving out their outline for superhero universes. While announcing a film totally makes sense for a film set to be released in a couple years i.e. Toy Story 4 coming out in 2017, (aka why we can have too much of a good thing), by the time of the announcement, directors and actors who signed up for the project, plans for when production is to start and other substantial things for the movie’s go-ahead. This probably hasn’t happened yet for at least half of these movies. This is not a problem on it’s own except that

Reduces their Flexibility

Storytellers understand that a guideline for the story is just that… a guideline, not a rulebook. As the story develops, characters are dumped, new ones develop and often most of the initial ideas are dumped for the few good ones. This happens a lot with TV series, especially with characters, Note: that whenever the creators  announce a new TV series at major cons they NEVER announce how many seasons there will be to the fans.

There’s a reason why writers when talking about outlines, they don’t release all the details. True we all knew there would be seven Harry Potter books, or that George R.R. Martin has declared a end to his Game of Thrones series. Yes it could be argued that that has as much detail as the infographic above, however these franchises have endings. It’s clear that Marvel, DC, FOX intend to play up the superhero genre until it’s tits drop off. While it can be argued that Superhero universes aren’t exactly an overarching plot, and that each hero has their own story that can be developed, however there are connections between the characters and by declaring what order the stories are being told, Hollywood is limiting what they can do, and this loss of flexibility is only detrimental because

Movies are a ridiculously expensive form of storytelling

Stories are flexible, if you want to create a character kill off your darlings, anything can happen. Post your story on a blog whatever you want. Not when you actually want to make a profit for it, books have to be printed and paid for, designers have to be paid to code the video game worlds, all this costs money and is an investment. It only gets more complicated with franchises (see the logistics of the Game of Thrones books and TV series for how hard it can be). Movie franchise are another heaping of difficulty.

What happens if one of the primary actors i.e. Robert Downey Jr. gets killed by a escaped zoo animal, whose going to replace Iron man? (rhetorical question, only Robert Downey can be Iron man)

What happens if people get excited for steampunk genre and stops seeing superhero films because everyone thought the Black Panther looked suspiciously like a man in a gimp suit?

Will it be possible?

Yes it is possible that all these movies can be made and they could be profitable. Superhero movies have been pretty good so far (so long as you forgot Superman Returns, The Green Lantern, Wolverine Origins, oh shut up)

But stating your plan for so far ahead is setting up a very high expectation, an expectation that no fan had really expected and asked for, but now they are all expecting because Marvel got cocky and the rest of Hollywood couldn’t resist playing keeping up with the joneses.

Right now Superhero movies are profitable, and good business decisions have led them this far. Let’s hope this luck continues.