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Marketing In The Movies

Advice On Teaching Marketing Through Movies

I would love to teach a course on marketing where the students just watch a movie before each session. We would then discuss them each class. Sad to say that I haven’t managed to pull that off yet. I think those in charge of scheduling classes might think it was a bit self-indulgent. (That would be for pretty good reason. To be fair it would be very self indulgent). As such I thought I’d just publish my thoughts. You can see if you can pull it off. If not you can just watch the movies. Here are my ideas for teaching marketing through movies.

Polling/Political Marketing

Marketing and politics are never far apart in the movies. Why not go back to a classic Peter Cook movie about an advertising man who enters politics. It will not surprise anyone that the picture of the advertising guy is not always 100% positive. He is manipulative and schemes his way to success using his superior knowledge of consumer psychology. That said, he is very clever. It is very positive about advertising people in that sense.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer.

Our Brand Is Crisis was perhaps a little less interesting than its premise. It is about US political consultants going to Bolivia. As such, you can discuss whether US marketing techniques can/should be used to sell political messages around the world.

Sales And Teaching Marketing Through Movies

The movie about sales pretty much decides itself. It has to be Glengarry Glen Ross. Even those who don’t know the movie might know its most famous line, ‘coffee is for closers’. This is the dark side of sales. Lots of pressure and hard targets. I’m not sure it is a totally accurate view of sales and might put some students off.

If Coffee Is For Closers, How Much Do You Need To Get A Posh Cappuccino With a Pretty Picture?

Ethics And What To Sell

This is another movie about someone who is a great salesperson. Yet again it isn’t too positive a description. That said, it is hard to object given he is in arms sales. Lord of War sees Nicholas Cage at his best. His stilted acting style of being strangely disengaged works really well for someone who isn’t thinking as much about what they are doing. Clearly it is easy to discuss what we should be selling after watching this movie.

Maybe The Constant Gardener, starring Ralph Fiennes of Voldemort fame, could be used too given the link to the drug tests. Of course, don’t expect everyone to look good in this. (BTW, if you can sneak a hit man movie into your syllabus there is always In Bruges. People are being paid to deliver a service, killing people. You probably need a bunch of warnings before setting that).

Finance And Teaching Marketing Through Movies

Rather than the obvious Wall Street, I find Oliver Stone a bit too unsubtle for my taste, how about setting Rogue Trader? This does a great job of showing how you get into problems with spinning plates. Useful for discussing ethics too, the whole boiling a frog problem. Bad decisions tend to box you into other bad decisions.

For an interesting take on the world of finance why not set The Big Short. This is a great way of discussing market efficiency.


Twelve Angry men is a classic about persuading people to what you want them to do. It is excellent for getting the message across that one should try and think through what the other people want. This will allow you to be more persuasive. (Plus it helps to be Henry Fonda and cooler and cleverer than everyone else. Sadly it is hard to teach that). Twelve Angry Men is a courtroom drama that also touches on discrimination. This would be good in talking about bias in the way we see, and react to, the world.


How to Get Ahead In Advertising is a comedy. It is not at all subtle. In fact it makes Oliver Stone look subdued and even handed. Still, unlike Stone’s movies, it isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. Richard E. Grant gets a evil pimple that grows into a second head that starts to dominate his actions. He uses the evil thoughts of his pimple to control the public. This is a great way of getting into a discussion about creating demand. Can a good advertising executive convince people to like anything? (I would say no but this is a movie).

Data Analytics

It is hard to look beyond Moneyball if you want to talk data analytics. This film is great for a discussion about how bias creates market imperfections. These allow for arbitrage opportunities. You can buy quality cheap if you have a better understanding of human biases. The ability to understand human decision making, and bias, can be gained with hard numbers.

Governmental Relations/Regulation

Thank You For Smoking is about selling cigarettes. Given this you can discuss how harmful products are sold and what, if anything, we should collectively do about it. Students will probably want to have more regulation.

If you are feeling a bit more libertarian and fancy showing another side to regulation you can highlight the downside to government action. What happens when you ban a product for which there is strong demand? There are any number of prohibition related movies. The Untouchables is an obvious choice. Perhaps the strangest choice would be Bugsy Malone. Alan Parker’s child actor/musical take on a gangster movie.


The Founder is the early days of McDonald’s. Ray Kroc is nothing if not a hard worker. He takes an idea, that is not his, but he runs with it. Seeing the value of an idea is a skill in itself. This is an excellent way of showing how to take an idea and make it happen. It will not surprise you that Kroc, as portrayed by Michael Keaton, has a challenging side too. Is he a hero or anti-hero?

Stealth Marketing And Product Placement

One of the less well know motives on my list is The Joneses. In that sense it is quite a stealthy movie. The premise of this movie is about selling products through their use by an ideal American family. The obvious discussion points are: Is stealth marketing okay? Is it really successful?

Though it isn’t comparable to Morgan Spurlock’s breakthrough movie, Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold could work. This movie is a good, though not that deep, way to approach the topic of product placement in the movies.

Market Research

The next movie is a bit older now but how can you go wrong with a Jimmy Stewart movie. Frank Findley, an expert in such things, notes that the: “backstory is a discussion about sample representativeness and observer effects in marketing research”. One can imagine the pitch meeting. ‘I know lets make a movie about market research’. Ironically, it seems that the producers did not do good market research before making it. Sadly, the movie was a bit of a flop.

I hope you enjoyed this advice on teaching marketing through movies. Do please send me ideas to add more.

For more on movies see here for our paper on movie piracy. Here is an excellent book on entertainment science. Here is how people were reported to react to moving pictures of a train in the early days of cinema.

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