What can Back to the Future teach us about modern day marketing?

by Sarah Quinn on 20 October 2015

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Unless you've been living under a clock tower for the past 30 years, then you'll know only too well that Marty Mcfly is due to grace us with his presence on October 21, 2015.

Now, I don't know about you, but here at Wyzowl HQ we're all really excited about it! In fact, we're so excited that we actually made an animated video to celebrate....

Great Scott!

Check it out below if you want to find out what the REAL 2015 looks like for Marty Mcfly...

 

The hype that surrounds Back to the Future is truly something to admire, but what can this successful blockbuster series teach us about modern day marketing?

Sit back because I'm about to take you on a journey to find out...

Er, what's that? Roads I hear you say? Where we're going, we don't need roads.....

#1. They knew when to shift their strategy

When a movie achieves worldwide success like the first Back to the Future film did, it's only a matter of time before the sequels are made.

And sure, a sequel or even prequel can be a good thing: Godfather Part II, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Dark Knight... But it's when these franchises can't let go of the gravy train: Halloween, Police Academy, Indiana Jones....... that it turns into a desperate money making disaster.

The producers of Back to the Future knew that the movies should be left in the past and this is what has helped the series turn into a cult classic. The creators could quite easily have made a new movie, especially in time for the anniversary, but they agreed that it shouldn't be touched.

"Let's face it, we've seen a lot of sequels that are made years and years later and I don't think I can name one that's any good, that lives up to the originals. I don't think you can recapture it." - Back to the Future co producer Bob Gale.



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Shifting the strategy for better results....

The Back to the Future franchise didn't stop with the movies though. Instead, their strategy took a different turn as they saw opportunities for a theme park ride, anniversary dvd box-sets, video games, and more recently, a musical production.

And this way of thinking can really apply to marketing. You may have seen success with a particular strategy, but the more you over-do it, the more people are going to switch off from what your brand is saying.

Remember back in the day when popups used to dominate the internet and your desktop would look a little bit like this one below? This tactic is so overused and annoying for web users that ad-blockers have fast become a popular choice for many web users.

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The big marketing takeaway:

Keep on track with marketing shifts and your analytics so that you know when it's time to try something different. Don't be afraid to stand apart from what your competitors are doing to really make a difference in your industry.

#2. They knew how to sell products, without selling them


Product placement is a big thing now. Watch any music video, awards ceremony or even scroll through your Instagram feed and you won't be able to get away from celebrities and influencers endorsing products. The problem is, it's not subtle.

Call me cynical, but I know that the brand has paid to get that product advertised and there's something incredibly unappealing about it. But the difference with Back to the Future is that they managed to sprinkle products throughout the movies and get away with it.

When Marty jumped forward to 2015, they managed to place products such as Nike and Pepsi, in a fun, humorous way. And it worked so well that those brands are now capitalising in on the Back to the Future franchise with Nike creating the self lacing light up sneakers and Pepsi producing limited edition version of the 'Pepsi Perfect' bottles.

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The big marketing takeaway:

It's time to start adopting the not so obvious selling tactics like content marketing. Content marketing is focused on providing your audience with useful content such as videos, infographics, ebooks and blog posts, to help nurture prospects through the buyer journey.

It's a targeted technique that's highly regarded as the future of marketing, rather than pushing ads at anyone and everyone, in the hope that something will stick.

#3. Each film stayed consistent to the brand

In Part 1, Marty travels back to the 1950's, in part 2 he jumps forward to 2015, and in part 3 he goes way back to 1885, so understandably each film has a very different theme.

But what stays consistent throughout is:

1. The characters
2. The DeLorean
3. The clock tower

This is storytelling at its best. Rather than creating a completely different story for every movie, each story intertwines with each other so that it stays familiar with the success of the first film, yet visits a different angle each time. This is what I believe separates the bad movie franchises from the good ones.

If you think about other successful movies such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, they all follow the journey of the same series, rather than a separate story for each film.

The big marketing takeaway:

Brand consistency is key. There's nothing wrong with evolving as a brand, but it's just important to remember not to alienate your audience from the reason that they fell in love with you in the first place.

When it comes to marketing, aim to use your content to tell one long story that stays faithful to your core message, rather than a separate story each time. You may be working on an email campaign one day or a video the next, but so long as your audience can recognize that each piece of content is associated with your brand then that's the key to good storytelling.

Related reading: Check out this blog to find out how to tell your brand story.

 

#4. They didn't give up


Did you know that the Back to the Future script was rejected 40 times by every major studio? Yep that's right, Back to the Future was at one point thought not good enough to produce!

I know, great Scott.

Did you also know that the time machine was originally supposed to be a refrigerator? That Doc lived in an abandoned Orpheum theatre and that he had a pet monkey called Shemp? Doesn't sound like the Back to the Future that we know and love!

It would be perfectly natural for most screenwriters to throw in the can there and then, but they knew they were onto a good thing. And boy, we're glad they didn't give up! Instead they went away and made changes to the script, they researched their target audience, and they improved the story to make sure that it was absolutely perfect for production.

The big marketing takeaway:

We often hear about a businesses 'overnight success', but truthfully overnight success isn't a thing. These super successful entrepreneurs have worked tirelessly on their ideas for years on end, until finally it was worth marketing to the world.

And it's that kind of work ethic that you need to apply to your business. Continue to look for ways to improve your product or service, find out what it is that makes your audience sit up and listen and start producing stuff that sets you apart from the rest.

 

#5. They needed data to save the universe


So in Back to the Future II, Marty and Doc discover that life isn't that great in 2015. In fact, between a town full of gambling loonies, Marty's son close to becoming a convict and his mom marrying Biff, it's pretty darn terrible. So that's why they need to travel into the future and once again save the day.

And how do they travel into the future? With the power of the flux capacitor. And what powers the flux capacitor? Data of course. Well, 1.21 gigawatts to be exact but you get the idea!

Ok so I may be clutching at straws on this one, but when it comes to marketing, data is most definitely your secret weapon. Without data, you can't see how well your efforts are doing. Without data, you can't see where to focus your efforts. And without data you can't improve.

Test, track and look to the future!

Unfortunately unlike Marty and Doc, the one thing we don't have is a time machine. So we don't really know how it's all going to play out. That's why it's so important to test and track everything that you do so you can create a solid business model that will grow and scale its way into the future!

Heavy, right Marty?

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Sarah Quinn

Written by Sarah Quinn

I eat, sleep and breathe great content so it kinda works out for me that I get to do this as a job. But waaaaait, I'm not one dimensional..... I also LOVE peanut butter, odd socks, running, daydreaming about time and space, corgis in top hats, afternoon tea and Chandler Bing.