Baby driver, self tanner, and employee uniforms — marketing lessons in film

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With market saturation at all time highs, everyone wants to stand out. Customer experience is hailed as the one way you can not only be better, but you can be different. In order to capture people’s attention, we can turn to art which is in the business of emotion and keeping your attention. One of my favorite ways to make an impact with customers is understanding how costumes and color affect the audience.

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Movie costumes belonging to most villains are iconic; The Joker or Darth Vader for example. When you see them cross the screen, you can clearly tell that they represent a different part of the story. My personal favourites are the subtle additions to costumes that leave a unique impression that most don't even consciously notice. Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2, did his best to equal his rival Tony Stark. He struggled to compete on any level and it showed in his mannerisms and costume aesthetics. The most intelligent detail can be found on his hands. In much of the film you can see self-tanner that was not wiped off his palms, leaving an awkward tan where none should exist. This subtle detail echoes his character - Not quite perfectly put together, making the audience perceive him as inferior, to put it nicely.

The wardrobe choices when designing a character is integral. It impacts the audience in a way that either reaffirms their impression or plants the seed about what to expect from them later on. I don't suggest that your teams dress up has Maleficent or Loki, but what your teams wear when they are at work sends a message to your customers about what to expect, consciously and subconsciously.

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In Baby Driver, Edgar Wright used color to articulate perspectives, and also certain character types. Baby, who wore black and white, was surrounded by antagonists wearing bright colors — Take Jamie Foxx’s character who always wore red. His character was violent and unpredictable, so it worked in parallel to convey hostility and unpredictability. This created a subtle tension whenever he was on screen that didn’t require dialogue. We pick up on color and subconsciously associate it with the other things we are being exposed to. His character made us feel uncomfortable.

So you have employees who interact with customers. Cleanliness, fit, and general appropriateness should be an assumed wardrobe choice. Dirty or damaged clothing with profanity on it obviously says “we don't care what you think”. One, or maybe two fringe industries could pull this off in a way that connects with their target audience. Outside of that example, choosing a uniform or a dress code that appeals to who you want buying your products or services needs to be consistent with your marketing, brand image, and industry. Most leaders know this, however I propose you take it one step further.

If making customers feel comfortable is your subtext, then add a color to the mix. A coffee shop, for example. Take key pieces of comfortable furniture like pillows or cushions and make them the only ‘blue’ items in the store. Then add aprons to your uniforms of a similar hue to associate your employees with comfortable things. You make the feeling of comfort synonymous with a color and then intentionally use it to convey meaning. The physical objects that are perceived to be comfortable will be linked with your staff. Start replacing words like ‘Hi’ with more ‘comfortable’ words like ‘Welcome’ and people will start describing your little coffee shop as ‘comfortable’.

You could do this with almost anything. Edgy? Energetic? Eloquent? Color is one way you can associate certain feelings with the subtext of your customer experience. Add in style, fit, cut, and brand use and you can steer perception. The greatest filmmakers know that wardrobe has a purpose, and it applies to how people perceive your business. Everything your customers click on, talk to, and bump up against affects them. If you control how, then you control how they describe your brand - wardrobe choices are a great example of this.

“I like it there, it’s comfortable and the people are nice. Good coffee too.”
Jess Kovatch