brandblog

The gold standard
of persuasion

gold_axe_blog

Branding is like mining with the hope
of discovering a bit of magic. It can
be either a big expensive hole that
produces nothing much of value or
a tunnel leading to treasure.

The 5 factors of
rebranding success

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“Don’t throw the baby out with the
bathwater” and “Evolution not
revolution”; Are these the guiding
principles of effective and efficient
rebranding?

One giant leap
for brandkind

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The world watched as the moon
was claimed 
by Americans.

To be responsible for one of
humanity’s greatest 
exploratory
conquests 
is the most singularly
successful piece of branding
in history.

Creative Executions

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This is a guide for anyone involved
in commissioning professional
creative work.

It’s hard to make things go perfectly
right all the time but making things
go badly wrong is dead easy.

Cultivate the brand
circle of life

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A brand is living entity that requires
management, cultivation, nutrition,
maintenance, and protection. 
Gain a more complete understanding
of the nature of branding.

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All movies have some element concerning what people do to make a living. The entertainment value that lies within our fascination for how other’s make their money is undeniable. Unforgettable lines like “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “It’s nothing personal. It’s only business” from The Godfather have us hooked on the subject of making a living and we’ve been hooked probably since Film was invented.

Movies like Blow, Heat, Collateral, Point Break portray both real and fictional career criminals. Movies like Rush, Cinderella Man, Sea Biscuit, Invincible, Wind, The Fighter tell remarkable biographical stories of professional sportsmen. These are true stories of the struggle of the underdog – who can’t make a decent living any other way – and eventually comes out on top. The same story is told in fiction too, Rocky is probably the most successful franchise in the genre.

Sport is a job too. When it comes to expressing the significance of success at work, its best summed up in Tony Scott’s machismo melodrama Days Of Thunder. The lead character Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise, nails it perfectly with the line:

“I guess everybody’s the same – you’ve got to be good at your job before you can enjoy the rest of your life”

However, there is a less dramatic – but equally entertaining – dimension to the cinema’s portrayal of working. This is a list of 20 movies that truthfully portray the nature and ethical issues of various kinds of work and business. Their purpose here is not entertainment but rather information, education, inspiration and to help stimulate the thought processes that go into the development of a business and a brand.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

tucker This Francis Ford Coppola directed movie from 1988 tell the true story of Preston Tucker. In the years just after the end of WWII, the big three Detroit car manufacturers did everything in their considerable power to prevent the advanced Tucker 48 automobile coming onto the market. Jeff Bridges in the lead captures both the commitment and the naivety of the wannabe car innovator. The story of Preston Tucker is a salutary lesson to all would-be entrepreneurs and reveals the commitment that big business has always had towards protecting its interests and profits, even at the expense of progress, health and safety.

The Big Three don’t give a damn about people. They should be indicted for manslaughter. If they can make headlines with lies – we can make bigger headlines with the truth.

The film looks fantastic and is a super-sized serving of Americana. The evocation of the 50’s is on a par with American Graffiti which was the first big screen success for George Lucas in 1973. George Lucas joined the Tucker project as producer in 1986.

There is an interesting comparison to be made between Tucker and George Lucas. The income from American Graffiti paid for the development of Star Wars which was released in 1978.

When Lucas tried to sell the merchandising rights to raise more cash to market the StarWars movie he was turned down by all the major toy makers. The exploitation rights were eventually assigned to little know toy company, Kenner who were only known for marketing Play-Doh. At the time, the major toy makers only produced action figures of G.I. Joe, Barbie, Action Man etc that were a doll-sized 12″ tall.

Kenner’s approach to Star Wars was to make the whole cast of characters as 3.75-inch figures. This made them cheap enough for kids to collect. It was a market changing approach that remains an industry standard today. Star Wars went on to become the most valuable movie merchandising enterprise in history eventually generating  revenues of over £9-billion. The business lesson is to position your new venture so that it doesn’t ‘appear’ to threaten existing market interests. In other words, don’t invest in a business that does what established business choose do. Choose a business idea that established businesses don’t do, don’t want to do, can’t do – or cannot even think of doing.

Competition arises once you have a noticeable foothold in a market sector but opposition can prevent you even getting to market. If a new product or service expands the market, carves out a new niche, then it’s possible to circumvent the kind of opposition rallied against Tucker.

When they tried to buy him, he refused. When they tried to bully him, he resisted. When they tried to break him, he became an American legend. The true story of Preston Tucker.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Ingenious

ingenious If you’ve ever wondered who actually thinks up those nifty business gifts and branded novelties and considered giving it a go yourself, then this movie answers the question in entertaining and affirmative style.

I’m not suggesting that you need to be as charismatic as the two lead actors (Dallas Roberts and Jeremy Renner) to succeed in this type of business, because what looks and feels like a lightweight fictional comedy drama is actually based on a true story.

Let me ask you a question. We – together – have run our business into the ground. My wife left me. We’re working shit jobs. We’re completely broke and we’re approaching middle age. We’ve been friends for twenty years and we’ve been through a lot of shit. Do I look depressed?

“Ingenious” was also released under the title “Lightbulb” which is in fact a more honest presentation of the core theme of the story. The characters are resilient, committed,and through shear persistence come up with an original idea for a a low cost/high volume novelty product. Not exactly ‘ingenious’ but rather a ‘light bulb’ creative moment.

The novelty idea is turned into a business reality with a little financial help, loyal friendship, a lot of self belief and a hefty measure of pragmatism.

As a by-product of the movie one gets an interesting insight into China’s low-cost manufacturing capabilities and their attitudes to doing business. The business reality here is that a small ideas can generate really big financial rewards over the short term.

I can’t help thinking that these guys fall into the category of the “one-hit-wonder”. But then I guess over the long term it is better to end up being regarded as a ‘has been’ rather than a ‘never was”.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Getting funding for any business venture is a challenge. It is worth noting that KickStarter played a part in making “Ingenious” a reality.

[ Read more ]

The Company Men

the_company_men Set against the economic bombshell of the 2008 financial crisis this movie examines the effect of the fall-out on a group of employees at a US ship building company; the unprofitable division of a large conglomerate. The ensemble cast (all academy award winners) of Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck  portray characters at different levels of the corporate hierarchy and at different stages of their careers. We learn early in the film that as head of this of this fictional firm the CEO’s is paid 700 times that of the average employee. His annual take home pay is $22-million – whilst making long-serving staff redundant  – and the shares he owns are valued at $6oo-million. He justifies his decisions with the line:

“We did what the market required of us to survive”

He evinces a philosophy – that many regards a contemporary reality – that it no longer matters what a corporation produces, a corporation’s ‘only ‘  function – it’s only ‘responsibility’ – is to make money for its shareholders. Nothing else matters within a globalised economic system. It is this extremist expression of capitalist doctrine that is exposed here. Cold-hearted, callous and off-hand in its disregard for the collateral damage caused by greed and the pursuit money at any price. The film asks fundamental questions about the purpose of a corporation within society and who it should serve. In many ways is redolent of Frank Capra’s classics.

The Company Men may be idealistic but it’s not sentimental. It examines big issues on a human scale which makes it eminently watchable.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Up In The Air

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The film opens compellingly with a number of memorable cameo’s – really not much more than one-line walk on parts – that vividly show the emotional significance a job holds for ordinary people. Clooney inhabits his most unemotional role yet. He plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing consultant. In other words Ryan’s full time job is to fire people from their full time jobs.

But Ryan is self-aware, he espouses the benefits of his working life whilst knowingly conceding that (the job itself and the travel it involves) would be hated by the rest of us!

All the things you probably hate about travelling – the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi – are warm reminders that I’m home.

Ryan does a lot of business travel and as bad as the economic crisis is for most businesses in 2009 for Ryan’s firms it’s boom time. That is until someone throws new technology into the mix. I can’t begin to count the number of people I’ve fired in my lifetime. So many that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to actually hire someone. Enter Natalie Keener – she’s the graduate with strategic business streamlining ideas – and her scheme to use webcam places Ryan’s own employment under threat. The problem is that Natalie has never actually ‘down-sized’ anyone so will her scheme even work in practice?

Up In The Air is very smooth, relaxed and easy to watch. Nevertheless, concealed in its effortless style is an engaging blend of drama, comedy, realism, poignancy, romance and insight.

[ Watch Trailer ]

The Social Network

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This movie could just as aptly be called “Revenge Of The Nerd!”

The main theme is an exploration and explanation of where the notion of FaceBook came from and what kind of mind conceived it. The screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War and Moneyball) is a masterwork. Skilfully constructed dialogue reveals the self-confidence and the insecurities that combined into a personality type that drove Facebook’s exponential growth. Over a period of just 10-years from little more than a college campus utility to multi-billion dollar stock floatation. Facebook is currently valued at $25-billion.

The irony (if the movie is to be completely believed) is that money was not Mark Zuckerberg primary motivation. In the movie he is resistant to ‘monetizing’ the website or rather resistant to doing it too soon and in the wrong way.

It is enlightening to see venture capital funding a business with the purpose of growing a substantial audience before looking for returns. The strap-line of the movie sums up the dramatic dimension of the story: You don’t get 500-million friends without making a few enemies. The story is told from three different perspectives. The best line in the whole movie is delivered by one of the lawyers to Zuckerberg:

“Your best friend is suing you for six hundred million dollars.”

The story of how the concept was developed and turned into a venture-capital funded business is cleverly told in a series of flashbacks. There is surprising emotional depth to the movie. Especially considering the reality that the lead character is neither hero nor anti-hero, he’s not a crook, an idealist, a villain or even a visionary. He is simply a nerd. At one point he describes the website in these terms:

“We don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know what it can be. We don’t know what it will be”.

The movie pitches us the proposition that Facebook was genuinely invented by Zuckerberg – and Zuckerberg alone – because its development stemmed from his own individual perspective and his unique set of personality traits. The film also puts forward the notion that what became the phenomenon of FaceBook was as much a discovery as it was an invention.

The lead characters are well played by the young but seasoned cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara. And Justin Timberlake gives a very believable portrayal of  Sean Parker the inventor of Napster. I am certain that history will show that Napster, Google, Ebay, Amazon, Twitter and FaceBook represent landmarks in the development of the internet and its impact on all our lives in both an economic and social context.

The truly amazing fact is that none of these commercial titans was developed by a large and established corporation. This movie goes a very long way to explain why. The last word must be this line delivered to Mark Zuckerberg by his short-suffering girlfriend Erica Albright:

You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Michael Clayton

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This is a fictional conspiracy drama concerning the legal machinations that surround a company responsible for causing deaths when ground water is polluted by their product…

you don’t even have to leave your house to be killed by our product, we’ll pipe it into your kitchen sink.

It is the same story as Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action but here it’s told from a completely different set of perspectives and with a different purpose. George Clooney takes the lead. He’s a qualified lawyer with a long and successful history at his firm. Not for winning cases but as a fixer. By his demeanour and his troubled finances you get the impression Michael Clayton he has been used and abused by his firm. In the middle of the night, dispatched by his firm to handle a crisis, this is how he describes himself:

I’m not a miracle worker, I’m a janitor. The math on this is simple; the smaller the mess, the easier it is for me to clean up.

But whilst Clayton may not have any money or career prospects he still has his soul. That is not true of the other three lead characters, all successful lawyers, played by Sydney Pollack, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson. For them it is a Faustian tale. This is best summed up in the opening monologue – which is spoken by the Tom Wilkinson character – delivered as a voicemail message:

I looked back at the building and I had the most stunning moment of clarity. I realised Michael, that I had emerged, not through the doors of Kenner Bach & Ledeen, not through the portals of our vast and powerful law firm, but from the asshole of an organism whose sole function is to excrete the… the… the poison, the ammo, the defoliant necessary for other, larger, more powerful organisms to destroy the miracle of humanity. And that I had been coated in this patina of shit for the best part of my life. The stench of it and the sting of it would in all likelihood take the rest of my life to undue.

Michael Clayton is a cool slice of contemporary cinema. It was released in 2007 just before the financial crisis hit and has a different tone to movies made after the bail out. There is a parallel to be made, on the one hand, if you are willing to abandon your moral and social responsibilities you can reap huge financial rewards. Or like Michael Clayton, you can keep your soul intact but run the risk of getting used-up, burned-out and discarded.

[ Watch Trailer ]

The East

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The East was released in 2013. It examines what can happens when democratic and legal system fail to hold big business to account.

The East is the name of the activist organisation that bring to book those responsible for oil spills, medicines with undisclosed destructive side effects and water pollution. They do this by targeting those that have escaped punishment. The East dish out pay-back by literally making the perpetrators victims of their own crimes.

It is a compelling premise for a movie.

We don’t care how rich you are. We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crimes. It’s easy when it’s not your home. It’s easy when it’s not your life, the place where you sleep, your kids, your wife. But when it’s your fault it shouldn’t be so easy to sleep at night. Especially when we know where you live. Lie to us we’ll lie to you. Spy on us, we’ll spy on you. Poison us, we’ll poison you. We will counter attack three corporations in the next six months for their world-wide terrorism. We are The East. And this is just the beginning.

With the exception of two cameos by Julia Ormond and Patricia Clarkson representing the 50-plus generation, the cast is a first division ensemble of thirtysomethings.  All are well placed in their parts.

The film was produced by Ridley Scott and financed by the late, great Tony Scott. As of mid 2014 the film had not recouped it’s very modest $6.5-million costs. But there is nothing that looks low budget about this movie, it’s polished and well presented. This is not a revenge drama but rather a tense under-cover thriller. It’s a modern take on Marathon Man which was made in 1976 around the core theme of justice. The East is equally focussed on justice spanning issues of environmental pollution, corporate negligence, corruption greed and power.

On the other side it explores the potential response to these issues and what shows happens when a sense of social responsibility boils over and mutates into the psychology and mechanisms of activism.

I read somewhere the The East being described as a story about anarchy. That’s not true. Anarchists want to overthrow the prevailing social system. This movie is a ‘what-if-fiction’ about activists. Activists want to make the prevailing social system work fairly and honestly. Anarchy is usually the stuff of fantasy movies. Anarchists can easily be dismissed as mentally ill or insane fanatics.

This movie is fiction, which is to say it is a plausible, logical, possible or even probable extension of reality. It is important to make this distinction and place activism into a real life context. The recent incidents of civil unrest and public protests seen in London and New York were made by activists demanding that government act on behalf of the electorate.

The East gives an eye-opening glimpse at what it might take to hold corporations to account when both law and government fail.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Moneyball

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Moneyball offers up a counterpoint to Up In The Air.

Here, the story is what happens when decision making allows logical and analytical techniques to take precedence over subjective judgment, the voice of experience, guesswork masquerading as instinct and entrenched attitudes.

Moneyball is a motivating tale for anyone running a small business struggling to survive alongside big competitors.

You guys are sitting around talking, talking, talking like it’s business as usual. It’s not. The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game. And now we’re being gutted, organ donors for the rich. We got to think differently.

The lead character, Billy Bean played by Brad Pitt, recognises what is happening and realises he has no hope of success using the same old methods. It’s Billy’s job to rebuild his team for the new season. Quite simply, he doesn’t have the cash to do it.

Then at a humiliating player trade-off session with a competitive club Billy meets a young Yale university economics graduate who has a new approach:

We’re card-counters at the Blackjack table, turning the odds on the Casino.

Against fierce resistance the new system of building his team is implemented. Committed to this new method Billy risks everything to create the chance of winning the season. But more than that, his bigger objective is to make an enduring mark and change the way the business of baseball operates. Isn’t delivering a game changer to the market what drives every entrepreneur? At the end of the season Billy is offered a job with a top team:

I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there. But for the first guy through the wall it always gets bloody, always! It’s the threat. And not just the way of doing business but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people holding the reins… with their hands on the switch… they will bet you’re crazy.

Moneyball is a true story but it is not just about the sport of baseball. In a wider context it is about every small business that needs to compete in a marketplace that is dominated by bigger players and more powerful brands. It dramatises the practical reality that the most important part of finding a solution is to identify the real problem.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Runner Runner

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There are some ways of making money that are right on the edge of evil and gambling must be one of them. Runner Runner delves into the superficially  glamourous world of online gambling.

The global online gaming market has quadrupled in value over the last decade, growing from just under £6-billion in 2004 to a projected £24-billion by end of 2014. Check my calculation 60 x 60 x 24 = 86,400 seconds a day x 365 days = 31,536,000  seconds per year. Dividing £24,000,000,000 by 31.536,000 produces the jaw-dropping figure £761,000 per second. That’s the amount being gambled around the globe every second, of every day! And it’s growing.

Justin Timberlake plays the savvy but underfunded Richie Furst. He’s a graduate student at Princetown, studying for his masters in finance. Richie has a little earner on the side to make the money to pay for his own tuition. He describes himself as an affiliate for online gaming and makes money on commission for steering traffic to the website. Richie asserts that he’s in marketing.

The Dean of the university is less than impressed and puts him on notice to stop his gambling related activities or be expelled. To make his tuition fees Richie turns to poker. And when he loses all his cash he is forced to find a way to get right into the gambling industry at the very top. He decides that the best way to do this is to take claims that he has been swindled to gambling tycoon Ivan Block, played by Ben Affleck, the owner of the poker website that took all his money. This gamble pays off. Unlike the dean, Ivan is impressed by Richie and grateful for his discretion offers him a job, Richie accepts:

This is your job. You want a safer job go work for the Post Office. You want a clear conscience, go start a charity. That little voice in the back of your head right now, it’s not conscience, it’s fear.

If the house always wins then it is an extremely profitable business model. Runner Runner shines a light how the industry works, how it markets itself, how it keeps growing and the downside for those that get hooked.

Online gaming is currently worth £2.2-billion in the UK alone.

It is worth knowing something about the way the industry has maximised its appeal, taps into the vulnerabilities of it’s customers, and turns unrealistic hopes into a brand. The more you know the easier it will be to totally avoid it.

Watch Trailer ]

Two For The Money

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This movie is about the little-known world of sports gambling consulting. We have touts in the UK but in the USA it’s really big business. Al Pacino plays Walter Abrams the head of one of the biggest operations. He spots that Brando Lang an ex-footballer, played by Matthew McConaughey, has the knowledge and a knack for picking winners. Walter lays out his expectations in return for teaching Brandon the business:

 

Know what you know and know what you don’t know. And know that I gotta know everything you know – as soon as you know it – or sooner.

The two start working together to make a lot of money. Success and greed rapidly take over.

Stats are not enough, you need a voice! These are gamblers ready to risk what they can’t afford for what they can’t have, you’re selling the world’s rarest commodity: certainty, in an uncertain world.

Even though this story is set in the world of gambling. It is a vivid reminder that the purpose of all consultants, in every sphere of activity, is to provide an increased level of certainty based on knowledge, calculations, judgement, experience etc.

A branding consultant has to do all of these things too. But in addition, advising on branding requires occupying the creative arena, often swinging between fact and fancy, to deliver work that the client both believes in and profits from.

[ Watch Trailer ]

The Doctor

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When a business leader or marketing consultant loses respect and for his customers (like Gerald Ratner) it can lose a lot of money and do a lot of damage. Branding and adverting that is compelling comes from identifying with the customer or prospect. It is the display of understanding and empathy. These are serious consideration but they are not a matter of life and death.

But when you are a consultant surgeon at a top hospital it is a matter of life and death. It’s a huge responsibility and a very demanding job. Does it make it easier to do to be indifferent to the patients?

I am the doctor and you are the patient and I am telling you when I am available.

The doctor was made in 1991. It marked a change of attitudes in the medical profession. The lead role of Dr Jack MacKee is filled by William Hurt. He’s relaxed, successful, accomplished, self-confident and wealthy but works such long hours he has lost touch with his wife and son.

His closest family appears to be his fellow surgeons. Together, they share a sense of their own importance which translates into a total lack of understanding of the emotional needs of their seriously ill patients. So far, so predicable, that is until Jack is diagnosed with throat cancer. He then gets a dose of his own style of medicine.

Shocked and scared, Jack is suddenly aware of what has been missing from his approach to patient care. Jack request one of his surgeon colleagues quips:

I’ve always wanted to slit your throat, and now I get a chance to.

Jack’s surgery is successful. He survives, makes a full recovery and returns to work as a consultant surgeon a changed man and a better doctor.

If I ever hear you describe a patient as “terminal” again, that’s how you’ll describe your career!

The Doctor is an understated movie. Well made and perfectly balanced between drama and reality. It’s a warm and human movie.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Puncture

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Puncture tells a story with a very similar dynamic to Tucker but in this movie the implications are more sinister and the outcome potentially fatal. The catalyst of the story is a product innovator who is struggling to have hospitals buy his new safety product. It’s a unique type of syringe – with a needle that retracts after use – so that nurses are protected from being accidentally punctured.

One nurse who contracts HIV as the result of an accidental needle puncture defines the significance of the new safety syringe with this memorable line:

Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places.

It sounds like an exciting sell? A nice job for a professional marketing and branding consultancy, right? Wrong. Nurses are contracting serious infections from being stuck by infected needles. It’s happening 800,000 times a year! Nurses are begging for the new needles. So why won’t the hospitals buy the new needles? That’s what a young injury lawyers Mike Weiss and Paul Danzinger are hired to find out.

Their investigation lead them to prepare a lawsuit against the hospitals Group Purchasing Organisations. Then, on 2nd October 1999 Mike Weiss dies at the age of 32 , from what was officially called a drug overdose. The case doesn’t go to trial.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Postscript: Several years later, on 4th July 2004, a different legal team led by Mark Lanier secured a $150-million out of court settlement from a major needle manufacturer. Following the civil case,  two Dallas US attorneys working on a criminal investigation into the GPO’s both died under mysterious circumstances. The 20th July 2004, Thelma Quince Colbert was found drowned in her pool at the age of 55. The 13th September 2004 (35 days later), Shannon K. Ross died suddenly because of an inflammation of the meninges, spinal cord, and roots of the spinal nerves, scientifically called meningomyeloradiculitis. Afterwards three other assistant US attorneys working on that case were fired or forced to resign. The investigation was then called off.

[ Source Wikipedia ]

The Insider

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The ultimate whistleblower movie about a product has killed innumerable people. Directed by Michael Mann with Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer in the three lead roles and Michael Gambon and Gina Gershon deliver unforgettable cameos.

The story involves the CBS news broadcasting corporation, their top news magazine programme called 60-Minutes, the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company and The New York Times. Set in 1994 the movie is extremely unusual in that it includes portrayals of people who were all still alive in 1999 when the film was released.

These included Jeffrey Wigand, Lowell Bergman, Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt, Ron Motley and Richard Scruggs. The head of B&W, Thomas Sandefur died in 1996 at the age of 56. This extract from The New York Times outlines the basis of The Insider:

Television made Mr. Sandefur a national figure in April 1994, when he sat at a Congressional conference table with the chairmen of six other major tobacco companies in hearings before a House subcommittee.

“I believe nicotine is not addictive,” he testified. He consistently maintained that position, saying, “I am entitled to express that view, even though it may differ from the opinions of others.” He acknowledged that his company did control nicotine levels in cigarettes, but said it was only to maintain the cigarettes’ taste.

After Mr. Sandefur’s testimony, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, contended that Mr. Sandefur may have “knowingly deceived” Congress about the dangers of tobacco. No tobacco executives who testified have been charged with perjury, but the Justice Department is investigating the allegation.

In addition, Mr. Sandefur’s testimony was disputed by a former vice president for research at Brown & Williamson. Jeffrey Wigand, a biochemist who worked for Mr. Sandefur, contended on the CBS program “60 Minutes” that Mr. Sandefur had lied when he told Congress that he believed nicotine was not addictive.

Mr. Wigand also contended that Mr. Sandefur had killed a project to create a “safe cigarette” for fear it would suggest that Brown & Williamson’s other products were unsafe.

Mr. Sandefur’s lawyers and the company have insisted that Mr. Sandefur testified truthfully. Yesterday Brown & Williamson began taking depositions from Mr. Wigand at its headquarters in Louisville to be used in the company’s lawsuit against him. They could also be at issue in an invasion-of-privacy counterclaim filed by Mr. Wigand against the company. 

[ Source ]

The film did not do well at the box office and only recouped two thirds of its $90-million production cost. Nevertheless, critical acclaim and ratings define it an under-appreciated masterwork of writing, directing and performances. With that outcome there is a whole other discussion about the relationship between creativity, quality and commercialism.

[ Watch Trailer ]

Thank You For Smoking

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A perfect counterpoint to The Insider, Thank You For Smoking is a sharp, insightful and scathing satirical comedy drama.

The lead character, played by Aaron Eckhart is Nick Naylor. Nick’s a tobacco industry lobbyist with a special gift; he knows how to talk. He talks for a living and has mastered a technique to ensure he never, ever loses an argument. Even his son praises him with the title “The Sultan of Spin.” This movie really nails what spin is and how it works to manipulate public opinion. Nick says of himself:

I don’t have an M.D. or Law degree. I have a bachelors in kicking ass and taking names. I front an organisation that kills 1,200 people a day. You know that guy that can get any girl? I’m him…. on crack.

The most amazing aspect of this movie is that the words really work. One finds oneself simultaneously being enticed by Nick’s battery of argument techniques whilst knowing the logic is bogus; his hook is just as strong as cigarettes. As he says:

If you argue correctly you are never wrong

If you ever need to write a business report on a touchy subject this movie can probably help.

Watch Trailer ]

Margin Call

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This independent movie loosely tells the inside story of how a fictitious Wall Street investment bank – perhaps based on what happened at Goldman Sacks – managed to survive the 2007 financial crisis.

Jeremy Irons plays the firm’s chairman of the board in an expertly calculated cameo.

Maybe you could tell me what you think is going on here? And please speak as you might to a young child or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that got me here I can assure you of that.

Answering to him, and executing the dirty work, is a multi-star ensemble cast that includes: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore.

Considering that almost every scene takes place within the confines of various offices of a characterless skyscraper it is as as gripping as an espionage thriller. The script is dark, enveloping and studded with black humour.

If those assets decrease by just twenty five percent and remain on our books that loss would be greater than the capitalisation of this entire company.

This status report is delivered by a young risk analysts at an emergency 3.30am meeting of the board. The strategy they decide on is implemented the very next morning.

But John, if you do this you will kill the market for years. It’s over. And you’ll be selling something that you know has no value.

Corporations have no conscience. They simply do what is required to make money and survive. That’s no surprise. What is chilling is that all the employees are remunerated substantially to go along with the survival strategy. It also illustrates how banks use bonuses to achieve their objectives.

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The Fifth Estate

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The Fifth Estate is a new term that describes the sphere of activity outside the mainstream media – typically bloggers who act like journalists – but are not subject to the same constraints. Main stream medias has come to accept and integrate the content produced by individuals. The risks can be high and the rewards small for those individuals who want to take images and video footage of events. The role of global online information channels such as Twitter and YouTube have changed the nature of news reportage at its core.

The story Julian Assange and the developer of WikiLeaks is told almost from the beginning of the inception of the now famous whistleblower site. The film was co-produced by Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures who acquired the rights to the book WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website.

Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.

Since June 2012 Assange has been in London claiming asylum at the Ecuadorean Embassy. And currently arrest warrants have been issued by a Swedish court for Assange to answer sexual assault allegations. But even if the Swedish courts cannot dislodge him from the safety of the embassy he still has to face the pending American prosecution. Bradley Cooper, the US serviceman who provided WikiLeaks with a huge amount of military and diplomatic correspondence is imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth and serving a minimum eight year sentence.

Setting aside the legal and secrecy issue – The Fifth Estate provides dual insights – on the one side we see how the traditional media, newspapers and networks and professional journalism have had to modify their business model to bolster perceptions of their brands. On the other hand we get a glimpse into the emerging realm of citizen journalism, blogging, micro-blogging and the wider potential political impact of social media and other internet channels.

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Drift

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For a very fortunate few it is possible to turn a personal passion into a successful business.

This story is a fictional composite of three true tales of business success from down-under; Rip Curl, Billabong and Quicksilver. All started three started out as local outfits and have grown into international fashion labels and brands.

Set in the early 1970s everything is either low-tech or no-tech. There’s no desktop computers; no CAD CAM, no digital SLRs, no GoPro, no mobiles or tablets. In many ways the absence of these things makes a welcome break from the digital world and naturally the best element of the movie is the surfing sequences.

drift_logoIn terms of branding and marketing within the story, the climax of the movie is brought about by an unexpected bit of publicity. And the Drift logo definitely does look authentically amateurish.

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Dead Poets Society

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Set in 1959, Welton Academy is a well respected, expensive and upmarket American prep school. It’s boys only and all white too.  The film was released in 1989 and was not liked by the critics. However, it was nominated for four Academy Awards and won one for the screenplay. Public opinion has always been positive and Dead Poets Society holds a rating of above 80%.

The sister film to this is Scent Of A Woman which was made in 1992. Both movies examine the hypocrisy and dishonesty that exist within the private education system in the name of maintaining discipline and standards.

Dead Poets Society is in tis list because the story is told from the perspective of a maverick English teacher determined to help his students learn to think for themselves.

I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

In this respect, the role of the teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, has many parallels to the job of a creative director. The film shows that if getting things right means going against the system it can have serious consequences for career and job satisfaction. Teaching is a tough job – do it right and it really can influence and change lives. (I had a fantastic Engish teacher, his name was Alan Burgess, over forty years later and I still remember his lessons on poetry and drama.)

The film contains many elements that provoke thoughts about how to inspire original and constructive thinking within an organisation, how to implement the new and how to cultivate talent and original thinking.

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The Words

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One of the hardest and loneliest jobs in the world must be writing. It’s incredibly hard work. And unbelievably hard to be both original and commercially viable, whether writing a play, a movie or a novel.

The Words tells cleverly intertwined stories, of three professional authors, at three distinctly different stages of their lives and careers.

The lead character is a young writer struggling to get his first book published:

Rory: I’ve got my book with an agent who says it’s got real potential…
Dad: Look, did they give you any money?
Rory: No, but look Dad, it doesn’t work like that. It’s not like your business, ok, where you do work, you get paid for it, ok, I’ve got to pay my dues.
Dad: No, I’ve got to pay your dues!

The film raises the question of ethics within professional creativity. It does it in such a way as to take what should be a simple ‘black and white’ situation and makes it an expansive grey area.

The old writer speaks volumes with this line:

We all make difficult choices in life. The hard thing is to live with them.

Fate creates a powerful connection between the old writer and the young wannabe young. But the destiny of two is under the control of the middle aged writer who says:

You have to choose between life and fiction. The two are very close, but they never actually touch. They’re two very, very different things.

Marketing, publishing, writing, creativity, ethics, luck, success, honour all of these are The Words.

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The Ghost Writer

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Directed by Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer is a gripping thriller about a professional author, hired to polish up the memoirs of a British Prime Minister.

Pierce Brosnan, Tom Wilkinson, Ewan McGregor, Jim Belushi, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall play a cast of particularly well-defined characters. The catalyst of the story is a Blair-esque, post Iraq invasion set of circumstances.

 

Hey Rick. Now they want the book in two weeks instead of four. Thanks for getting me this job. Can’t talk. Some peace protestors are trying to kill me!

The similarities to marketing, image control,  public relations and branding are unmistakable. The ghost writer’s job is to maintain the Prime Minister’s reputation – or if possible enhance it – and ensure that his biography solidifies his status and assures him of his desired place in history.

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