I’ve never been a big fan of science fiction movies. The simple reason why is, I can’t relate to most of them. Most science fiction movies have plots and special effects that are completely untethered to reality. I need to be able to look at what’s happening and think “Ok, I can see how that’s possible”. When I was a kid, I wasn’t a fan of Superman or Hulk, I loved Batman. Because I didn’t think it was possible to be a superpowered alien from another planet or a radioactive giant, but I could totally see being an obsessed millionaire who was a hand to hand combat expert, and who could buy any crime-fighting toy he needed. I could RELATE to being Batman, I couldn’t relate to being Superman or Hulk.
Interstellar is the second Christopher Nolan movie I’ve discussed in the Marketing and Movies series. One of the many things that Nolan excels at is taking complex and potentially confusing concepts and making them relatable and easier for the viewer to understand. A couple week ago, I talked about how Nolan helped the viewer understand what life was like for Leonard Shelby in dealing with short term memory loss by altering the structure of the movie Memento.
With interstellar, Nolan, for the most part, does a great job of taking potentially abstract ideas and making them easier for the viewer to understand by tying them to something that makes sense for us. There’s a couple of instances where Nolan does this. The general plot of the movie is that blight, a plant disease, is killing the world’s crops. The blight will wipe out one form of crop, so farmers will rotate and start growing a new crop, but eventually the blight adjusts and destroys that crop as well. The end result is that miles and miles of farmland is reduced to dirt. This results in frequent and massive dust storms that plague the farmers and their families. These types of dust storms were actually common in the early 20th century in the heartland. Early on in the movie, we are shown interviews with people who had survived these storms. It turns out, these were actual interviews from people who survived the dust storms during the 1930s. Nolan used clips from Ken Burns’ 2012 series The Dust Bowl which were actual interviews from people who had lived through these storms. So Nolan is already giving us a way to relate to what these farmers are going through, even though we’ve never experienced similar dust storms.
Later in the film, a wordhole is discovered that NASA has previously sent two crafts into searching for potentially habitable planets if it becomes necessary to leave Earth. NASA sends a second craft into the wormhole to visit two planets which show promise. This is another spot in the film where Nolan could have lost me, if the two planets that the crew visited seemed completely unrelatable. Instead, Nolan made both planets similar enough to Earth that the viewer can relate to them. Both environments contain enough Earth-like elements that the viewer can look at Nolan’s vision of what these planets are like and think “Ok, that makes sense to me”.
There’s a key lesson in this for marketers. When you are attempting to promote your products or services to customers, you need to help them understand how what you sell will improve their lives. A very easy way to do this is to talk about your product or service in terms of what those customers are doing now, and how your product or service will help improve their efforts. For instance, let’s say your company sells a ‘copper infused’ cooking pan. Your pan costs 10% more than the average cooking pan on the market. If you sell your pan as simply being ‘the future of cooking’, customers will respond with ‘what does that even mean?’ And asking them to pay an additional 10% more for features they don’t see the value in, kills the product.
But if you promote how the cooking pan will improve the life of your customer, that helps them see the value. If you promote that the cooking pan reduces cooking time by 23%, thanks to being copper-infused, and is 15% easier to clean than the average cooking pan, that’s real benefits that customers can see the value in. That helps justify the 10% higher price tag. Promote these features to time-strapped parents trying to get their kids off to school in the morning AND with a hot breakfast, and you’ve got a winning combination.
The key is to understand your customers, and help them understand how your product benefits them and improves their lives. This is especially important when you are dealing with potential customers who aren’t familiar with your brand. You need to speak clearly to customers and help them understand the value of your product or service. And speak in terms and concepts that the customer can relate to.