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Eliza Steely

Social Media Marketing Lessons From the Movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty Woman, Spaceballs & The Blues Brothers

By Eliza Steely on Apr 30th, 2014     Online Marketing, Social Media

Social Media Lessons from Movies

Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these movies:  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty Woman, Spaceballs or The Blues Brothers. Chances are even stronger that you’ve quoted one of them at least once or could describe a scene in one.

I grew up with a Blues Brothers poster on my wall, had memorized the songs from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by the time I was five, have a weird habit of watching Pretty Woman almost monthly, and know every line of Spaceballs. Needless to say, I like classic (and funny) movies.

The cool thing about classic movies like these is that they can teach us lessons and inspire us to think about things in new ways.  I had a that kind of experience after attending a recent Minneapolis/St. Paul Social Media Breakfast where I was inspired by Tony Saucier, George Fiddler and Sarah Panus’s insights into social media marketing.

To share those insights with you, while keeping true to my movie metaphor, I’ve put together this collection of movie themed social media tips inspired in part by the SMBMSP event. I’ve also included a few TopRank social media marketing tips on how you can use this inspired advice in your own marketing:

Be the Opposite of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The scene where the Ben Stein endlessly and monotonously calls out, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” is famous for representing boring, painful-to-listen-to lectures and speeches. But it applies to how you should act on social too.

  • Don’t talk without listening or interacting: If all you’re doing is repeating yourself, without leaving room for answers or interacting with those around you, you’ll end up being as boring and mocked as Ben Stein’s character. Plus, like Stein, you’ll never get the answer you’re looking for because people won’t be listening enough to respond. Panis, Saucier, and Fiddler all recommend listening closely and participating in the conversations of your social networks.
  • Be responsive: When something you’re doing (like calling out a name endlessly) isn’t working, try something new. Learn to read your audience and their messaging. When their eyes glaze over, or roll so far back in their head they could get stuck, it’s time to change your tune. At the same time, you’ll have to monitor the industry. George Fiddler from Olson had to come up with something quickly when Breaking Bad referenced Belize in a negative light, and the Belize Travel Agency happened to be one of his clients.
  • Have a personality:  Don’t be so monotonous that you become the symbol of boredom. Don’t be bland, and don’t constantly repeat yourself. Showcase what makes you special, unique, and worth listening to. Panus emphasized at the SMBMSP event that you should clearly define your brand experience, while Fiddler emphasized that showing personality helps people want to learn more about your brand.
  • Be excited about what you’re doing: Tony Saucier from Lifetime Fitness said that when the company got a social media follower to try a new fitness class he, “ran around the office like a six-year old”. Don’t be like Stein, be like Saucier.

TopRank Marketing Tip:  Develop a brand personality before you begin your social media efforts. Then, learn your audience. Research whether they’ll respond better to humor, genuine customer service, pop culture references or all three—and develop a strategy to incorporate that into your messaging. Leave some room for “what-ifs” and “news” content—things will pop up that will be relevant to your brand that you just can’t plan for. Having room for them makes it easier to accommodate them as they occur. Lastly, make sure your strategy includes how you’ll interact so you’re not just talking at a bored audience, but engaging and responding. Then, you’ll be able to be the opposite of Ben Stein.

Learn from Julia Roberts’ Experience in Pretty Woman

Some of the most famous scenes in this movie are when Julia Roberts is snubbed in the super fancy store, then goes back to rub the sales woman’s face in the fact she stereotyped the wrong person. I still feel a huge sense of triumph at the facial expression on the sales woman’s face when Roberts says, “Big mistake. Big. Huge,” and walks out. Other than making audiences feel good, the scene teaches us:

  • Not to make assumptions about the audience: You may think they want one thing, or fit into one profile, but you could be wrong just like the saleswoman was. Make sure you deeply and truly understand your audience before you try to talk to them, otherwise you could make a “big mistake.” Panus recommends using different tools to delve into your audience and understand not only their demographics, but going a few layers deeper and understanding their wants and current situations.
  • Not to discriminate: You’re probably thinking “well duh”, but it’s true. Brands online need to be committed to consistency—treat people the same whether they respond with a negative or positive comment, have a big or small social following. Customer service is key, and it’s what brings people back. You get to determine whether they come back for more, or come back to gloat that they’re better off without you. Saucier recommends treating social media interactions the same way you would treat in-person ones.

TopRank Marketing Tip:  Use analytics to back up what you think about your audience. Data is more concrete than your thoughts, so while you may think you’re appealing C-level execs, you may be appealing more to an audience of sales representatives. Analytics can be your best friend. Then, tie those analytics into your messaging strategy. Commit to customer service and keep an open mind, sometimes your audience and the performance of that unique piece of content may surprise you, just like Roberts surprised the saleswoman.

Think of Mel Brooks in Spaceballs

Even George Lucas wasn’t mad when Mel Brooks turned Star Wars into this classic (and hysterical) movie. The entire thing pokes fun at Star Wars, while incorporating more puns and out-there jokes than most people would be brilliant enough to think of. Lines like “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate” (as opposed to “I am your father”), renaming Yoda to Yogurt, and jamming radar with actual raspberry jam all showcase Brooks’ clever sense of humor. So, when you’re planning your social activity, think of Brooks.

  • Have a sense of humor: The degree to which you can include sarcasm, puns, and jokes will depend heavily on the industry. However, most people have a sense of humor and enjoy funny, unique, creative content and responses as evidenced by Fiddler’s case study. You can either be the boring, bland character like Stein, or the wittily endearing characters in Spaceballs.
  • Be creative: Doing things the same way all the time, or the same way as all other brands in your industry, can make you blend in more than stand out. Try new ideas, take on new perspectives, and strive to be interesting. Saucier helps Lifetime achieve this through their on-page content, while Fiddler does so by responding in unique ways to social messages. Panus took it a step further and began providing incentives for information. After all, Spaceballs did that and grossed over $38 million during its run in the U.S..
  • Use your employees—don’t strike fear in them: In Spaceballs there are two sets of “coworkers” you can analyze: Dark Helmet and his team, or Lone Star and Barf (yes those are really the names). Dark Helmet struck fear into his employees, so much so they focused on being perfect instead of on being right. Lone Star and Barf worked together, they talked through solutions, and listened to each other’s ideas (like jamming the radar). Don’t strike fear in your employees, use them. Saucier advocates that employees are the experts on your brand—they interact with your audience and customer daily, so they will have different perspectives than you.

TopRank Marketing Tip:  Hold brainstorming sessions with people from different backgrounds and different teams. Everyone can bring a unique perspective, a unique idea, and know a fact that you don’t. Then, turn the ideas and concepts from your brainstorms into a reality through messaging, content, and events.

Mimic Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers

Another randomly funny movie full of adventure and sarcasm: the original Blues Brothers movie. Dan Aykroyd (Elwood) and John Belushi (Jake) band together to save the Catholic home where they were raised through music, because let’s face it—that’s just the way to do it. The movie required: wrecking 103 cars, a special Air UNworthyness certificate, and demolishing a mall. We definitely don’t recommend being that extreme in your efforts to achieve your goal, but there are a few things we can learn from the dynamic duo:

  • Always have an answer: When John Belushi’s character is confronted by the furious fiancé he left waiting at the altar, he had an answer, albeit a farfetched one, “I ran out of gas. I…I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! The plague! It wasn’t my fault!” We give him credit for his creativity, and for having an answer to every situation he faced throughout his “mission from God”. All 3 speakers at the SMBMSP event stressed responding to everything on social.
  • Be transparent: As the characters began to recruit past bandmates and friends to help with their mission, they were always open about what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve. Accept of course the scene where they play at Bob’s Country Bunker and Jake swore it was planned. Saucier revealed that at Lifetime they shared openly with their staff what was working and what wasn’t.
  • Have, and commit, to a goal: The entire movie is about Jake and Elwood’s mission to raise the $5,000 to save their beloved Catholic home. Regardless of what it took to achieve that goal, they stuck with it and eventually reached it. Saucier, Fiddler and Panus all included the elements of a goal in their case study, and seemed to agree that it’s important to know where you’re going.

TopRank Marketing Tip: Always listen to what your audience is saying and talking about. People share all kinds of emotions on social media from fear to passion to frustration to joy. Be prepared to be there for them and address whatever they throw at you—like Lee Odden says, “Be the best answer”.  We’re hoping you won’t have to get as extreme as locusts and the plague though. Then, set goals. They should be achievable, but challenging. After all, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be an entire movie about it. Then share your experience with your own followers. It helps contribute to your personality, demonstrates your own passion, and makes people remember you fondly.

What these classic movie characters and scenes teach us essentially comes down to three things: know where you’re going, know how to get there, and be a unique/memorable/real person. Then you can avoid being as bland as Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, avoid having your foot in your mouth like the saleswoman in Pretty Woman, be as memorable as Spaceballs, and be as successful as The Blues Brothers.

What other movie characters have you learned social media lessons from? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Shutterstock


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