For the longest time, “marketing rep” was a go-to occupation for characters in movies. It was as ubiquitous as “app developer” is today, the kind of position most audiences assume they have a good idea of what the job entails, even if the film doesn’t bother explaining much. The ‘90s were full of scenes like the opening of Penny Marshall’s Renaissance Man, in which an overworked Danny DeVito tries to host a meeting to discuss a new campaign via car phone in a traffic jam.
That all changed after the millennium, when technology shifted and Matthew Weiner took a second glance at the industry in Mad Men, making it incredibly appealing while equally repugnant. Regardless of their accuracy, movies can often have a lot to say about the industries they represent. From Renaissance Man‘s “overworked dad” shorthand to Mad Men‘s rampant sexism and casual alcoholism, marketing was always more than just a filler job.
Here are some of the best representations of the marketing industry in films, over the decades.
In Good Company (2004)
Chris and Paul Weitz allegedly wrote silly teen sex comedy American Pie, knowing it would be a hit, in order to pay for the rights to Nick Hornby’sAbout A Boy, their passion project. The two filmmakers clearly had more on their minds than just the juvenile happenings at a high school, and they continued with both the American Pie series as well as more serious-minded work.
In Good Company stars Dennis Quaid as a marketing representative for a sports magazine, whose job (and daughter) is suddenly in jeopardy of being taken by the younger, more corporate-minded Topher Grace.
It’s a surprisingly affecting, funny character study, and it paints a fairly realistic portrayal of the industry as it was in 2004. With the internet suddenly playing a major role in a field once dominated by print, TV and radio, Quaid has difficulty finding ways for his tiny magazine to stay relevant. Terms like “synergy” suddenly become the norm, and dinosaurs like Quaid aren’t prepared.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Jason Reitman’s satirical look at the life of a lobbyist for big tobacco comes from a novel by Christopher (son of William) Buckley. Its lead character, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is as vile as they come, pushing a new campaign to get Hollywood actors smoking in films again in order to make it attractive to youths again.
For someone in the industry, it’s important to recognize that marketing has been used for evil just as much, if not more, as it has for good. Tobacco, guns and Lee Atwater have used the same strategies applied to selling breakfast cereals to push some truly horrific products and ideas.
It helps that Thank You For Smoking is funny. Not necessarily laugh out loud, and maybe not all the jokes land, but the humour makes the material easier to swallow.
Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer