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Marketers, Think Bigger (Just Like Nemo Did)

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When I first started reading Brandscaping by Andrew Davis (in preparation for this week's episode of Marketing Smarts), my initial reaction was, "Oh, come on!"

Why was I so incredulous? Because, at first, I thought Davis was proposing something preposterous.

In Chapter One of Brandscaping, Andrew points out that the movie Finding Nemo generated an unprecedented demand for pet clownfish—a demand that actually led to a precipitous decline in the population of said species. In fact, Andrew continues, that film raised demand for a whole host of pet products (aquariums, gravel, pumps, fish food, etc.) and even other types of fish.

Davis then asks the question, "What if all the companies affected by the success of Finding Nemo—the aquarium manufacturer, the fish food company, the clownfish farmer, the gravel supplier, and the pet store—pooled their resources and created a weekly television show designed specifically to endear children to a specific set of characters like Nemo?" Characters, he adds, that would "map directly to the kind of pets and pet products these stores want to sell."

In other words, he suggests, if Disney could boost "an entire industry with the release of one film," why couldn't an industry turn around and, on a more modest scale, do the same?

My Small Mind

My skepticism towards this idea ("The American Association of Pet Store Owners is never going to make the next Nemo!"), I must now admit, has more to do with my own small-mindedness than it does with any inherent flaws in the idea itself. Sure, it may be difficult for a group of business-owners to band together and produce content that would rival that conceived and produced by one of the leading entertainment companies on Earth, but is that any reason why they shouldn't try (or at least consider the possibility)?

The answer to that questions, of course, is "no."

"The biggest shortfall of marketers today," Andrew told me, "is simply not asking the bigger question, having a bigger vision for where they're going with their quote unquote campaign."

I fear that he may have a point. While companies spend plenty of time trying to figure out where to put their ad dollars and fretting over how they will effectively measure whether they moved the needle, very few take the time to look at something like the unanticipated commercial consequences of a children's movie and then ask themselves, "How could we do something like that?"

Think Bigger

The way to do something like that is to think bigger.

Consider this: What has more staying power, a commercial or a sitcom? A sitcom, naturally.

And why is that? Because a sitcom is rich, entertaining content that bears repeated viewings.

Commercials, on the other hand, are utilitarian content whose "consumption value" is vanishingly small. While some few commercials break through and attract viewers in their own right, the overwhelming majority vanish as soon as they are aired.

Given this obvious distinction between sitcoms and commercials, then, why do companies focus on producing the latter instead of the former.

To Davis's mind, the problem stems from the failure to ask "what if" questions: What if we produced a television show? What if we made a movie? What if we had a magazine? What if we underwrote cool work that supports our brand instead of advertising on shows that aren't related to anything we do?

"Those 'what if' questions," Andrew told me, "lead to bigger marketing successes, longer-term relationships with your audience and content that's an asset instead of an expense."

So here's your homework question: What if you asked more 'what if' questions about the marketing that you are doing?

If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Andrew Davis, you may listen here or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Andrew Davis Mon Nov 19, 2012 via blog

    Thanks so much for sharing your reader's perspective after devouring Brandscaping. I really appreciate it. I do think one of the things we, as marketers, need to do is get out of the campaign mentality we've been pursuing for the last few decades. I think we'll see much greater success if we focus on owning an audience (by asking What if) and leveraging that audience with our partners.
    Thanks again for inviting me to be part of the podcast! You do a great job!
    - Andrew

  • by Matthew T. Grant Mon Nov 19, 2012 via blog

    Thanks, Andrew.

    Given the pressures of business, it makes sense that we think in terms that are relatively short (this month, this quarter, this year).

    In order to think bigger, you need both a sense of openness about the future and you (usually) need an outside perspective to remind you that the realm of possibilities (for your business, your life, your future) is always bigger than you imagine.

    Here's to thinking bigger!

  • by Guylaen O'Connor Tue Nov 20, 2012 via blog

    When I first met Andrew years ago I was to say the least skeptical as well. But when, at the same event, the example of John deer's almanac was presented, I fell in love with content marketing. I will never turn away from the value of story. Story is essential. Story is what connects the consumer to the need. I like to think about Fight Club, of which I will not talk about, but simply mention. What a good idea, to make water that makes people thirsty. Thank you for this.

  • by Bill Garber Wed Nov 21, 2012 via blog

    Program rather than ad ... it started with radio, closing in on 100 years ago ... they called them soap operas worked relentlessly for a very long time.

    Andrew is spot on ... owning the audience is better than campaigning ... any current illustrations? On the personal level, it is blogging I'd say. On the corporate side, there seems a gap.

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