Message vs. audience – What Seth Rogen & Tina Fey can teach us at the movies

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I love going to the movies. Give me a bag of popcorn and a Diet Coke, plus a comedy, and I’m all good. I saw two films when they came out at the theatre — The Guilt Trip with Seth Rogen & Barbara Steisand, and Admission with Tina Fey & Paul Rudd. I don’t think either were huge hits at the box office, but they were worth the ticket and the popcorn to me.

I didn’t expect to get a great lesson in marketing from both movies.

My son is home for a visit from Montana and he’s staying with me. This is a good thing. He always chooses to stay with me when he’s home and I love that. But I try very hard not to be a stereotypical mother — the kind that Barbara Streisand played in The Guilt Trip.

In The Guilt Trip, Seth Rogen plays an organic chemist who has invented a line of cleaning products that are “green” and all-natural — so natural they won’t harm anything but dirt and germs. He’s flown out to have meetings with potential clients, to pitch his product to them to market. He stays at his mom’s house before setting out on an itinerary of meetings that will take him on an 8-day, 3,000mile road trip.

And of course, being with his adoring, scattered but well-intentioned mom prompts him to ask her of she’d like to come with him. After all, he’s spent little time with her in his career… [Insert guilt here.]

(If one of my sons asked me — I’d turn into Streisand’s character so fast it would make your head spin. Of course I’d go!)

Sitting in the waiting rooms of each of his potential companies, “Joyce” (mom)  keeps telling Andy (Rogen) to be himself – a message most mothers give their kids, no matter how grown up. But Andy doesn’t pay attention to his mother because – she’s his mother. Like most grown adult children, he’s in that stage where he feels he’s more educated, more knowledgeable in “real” marketing, and certain about his expertise as an organic chemist/inventor.

Yet his mother is observant and has some organic sense of what works.

And now for the lesson.

Andy pitches to all the big clients – Walmart, organic companies… until he finally reaches his big chance with the Home Shopping Network. But each time he pitches, he uses the exact same pitch, props and message to each audience.

Each time, he’s given the same “we’ll call you thanks for coming” reaction. What’s worse, Mom keeps horning-in on his meetings — and she starts to make some progress and sense with the clients.

Finally, he snaps during his audition for HSN – and demonstrates the biologic safety of his cleaning product by drinking it on camera and going off script. He shocks the host (Nora Dunn of SNL) and wows the producers. Sold!

… You know you think too much about work when you sit in a movie and think — wow, what a great marketing lesson.

Lesson: Always listen to your mother It’s about the benefit, not the feature.

In Admission, Tina Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer with a whole slew of personal problems, one of which comes in the form of Paul Rudd (so cute) — a headmaster/teacher at an alternative high school.

As Portia the admissions officer, Fey is asked by Rudd to recruit at the Quest School, where he hopes to introduce her to a student he thinks is a prodigy (and possibly related to Portia).

Portia gives the exact same presentation she’s given to every group of high school students/Princeton hopefuls. She’s condescending and robotic – an I’m-so-bored-with-this tone. But her audience at the Quest School is not the same wide-eyed, desperate-to-be-accepted overachievers she’s used to – outspoken and free-thinking, they drill her with pointed, difficult questions and are clearly not impressed.

This isn’t a major piece of the plot, but as I sat there munching my popcorn, I saw another great lesson in that scene.

Lesson: Never assume your audience is the same in every media. You have to vary your tone, language, and voice to fit the individual. Even when you’re marketing to millions, you’re still speaking one-on-one.

The message stays consistent, but the presentation needs to vary. The brand should be consistent, but that doesn’t mean it has to be cookie-cutter across a platform.

You wouldn’t speak to mommy bloggers the same way you might to a Fortune 500 corporation.

You wouldn’t use the same tone speaking to the news media you might use in a  sales video.

You wouldn’t pump out identical factory-made tweets, Facebook posts, You Tube videos, Google+ posts — each audience is different. If you don’t take that into consideration, you’re dead, eventually.

I don’t go to the movies for lessons in marketing. I go mostly for the popcorn. It doesn’t taste as good when it’s micro-waved at home. I like seeing movies at the movies. I don’t care how big a TV screen is — it could be the size of a refrigerator and it wouldn’t be the same.

See? I’m a certain kind of audience. And so are you. We don’t want someone coming in and rattling off the same spiel everyone else gets. Remember that for your own audience.


Have you ever seen a movie that taught you a lesson about business, even though it wasn’t the point of the movie? Tell us about it here. I’ll bring the Milk Duds.

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3 Responses to “Message vs. audience – What Seth Rogen & Tina Fey can teach us at the movies”

  1. health benefits of nopaleaJuly 3, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Every weekend i used to go to see this web site, for the reason that i want enjoyment, since this this web page conations actually pleasant funny material too.

  2. KateJuly 10, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Marci – I loved this post and it rings true for me in my profession in fundraising. If you don’t adapt your message for the different audiences you truly are dead in the water as they say.

    • Marci DiehlJuly 10, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      Thanks, Kate!

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