From Nairobi to Rio, Berlin to Moscow, Denver to Helsinki, Tokyo to Oslo – around the world, one word has changed from being a common noun to a proper noun – and that word is the ‘Professor’! The first association for anyone with the word Professor today is that of the intelligent yet enigmatic, ruthless yet romantic, fearless yet vulnerable lead character of Netflix’s most in-demand show in the world Money Heist. What makes the story of a band of bandits so endearing? What is it about these con artists that makes everyone fall in love with them? In the day and age of content marketing, we chose to look at the world’s most favourite content to see if the rules of engagement have really changed. What is it that truly connects with audiences? Are there new lessons that marketers can learn and imbibe from such a globally popular show? Or does the success of Money Heist reiterate and reinforce the evergreen effectiveness of the same basic principles?
The makers, crew and cast of Money Heist have come to the conclusion that it is the following 9 factors that are responsible for its resounding success. And following these same principles can help do wonders for your brand.
1. Power of Passion
Despite the story being based in Madrid and having a global ensemble of characters, the makers had decided that the show would be ‘Latino’ in spirit. Passion makes the world go round and when something is made from the heart and made with passion, it shows. Look at some of the most loved brands in the world like Apple, Nike and you know that the people behind these brands are passionate about what they do. In fact you cannot work for Nike without having sports in your blood. And it is obvious that these companies not only make their ads, but also their products with a whole lot of love. Which shows and which even consumers get.
2. Allure of the Unpredictable
The Money Heist mantra has been to never let the viewer relax and keep him on the edge continuously. It is unexpected from the start and in Tokyo they have a character who is their Sputnik, their fuel for a good script, someone who is capable of blowing away any kind of situation and changing the course of events. There is unexpectedness even in the fact that someone like the Professor, who is a nerd, a sociopath and a bit of a loser can create something so huge despite being so regular!
Brands too need to keep themselves fresh with new twists and turns when it comes to their products, their offerings, their services and their communication. This is where the importance of innovation also kicks in. However, this is not to suggest that going forward brands don’t need to be consistent. Of course you can also be consistently and delightfully unpredictable like Ching’s Secret has been, being a brand that worships insanity.
Finally, unpredictability does not only mean twists and turns in the plot. Money Heist was unpredictable because it was also positioned freshly. Action films typically are hollow and dramas usually tend to get boring – so Money Heist mixed these two concepts to dish out something that the audience found fresh. Do you want to be that umpteenth instant noodles brand or the first flavoured noodles brand of its kind? That is a metaphorical question that brands across categories need to answer even today.
3. Enigma of Empathy
Ever wondered why there is one type of soft toy that sells much more than all other kinds of soft toys combined? It is because someone was clever enough to add the feeling or emotion of love to the soft toy called teddy bear. Feelings transform things – even simple, mundane, day-to-day objects – into something far bigger, larger and more powerful than what they are. That is why a piece of cloth is just an ordinary piece of cloth – till you add the feeling of patriotism to it by painting it in tri-colour – and then that cloth becomes the national flag, something you are prepared to even give your life for! That is the mysterious and transformative effect of emotions or feelings.
The mesmerizing success of Money Heist has been described as a kind of a ‘love attack’, as audiences across the globe have fallen hook, line and sinker for each of the characters in the show. You actually get addicted to the characters – the kindness and the evil in each of them – so much so that we even start loving the bad guys. You end up empathizing with the qualities and foibles of every character. Ask yourself what is it about the Professor that endears you so much to him? Yes you tremendously admire his intelligence. Yes you connect with the spectacular and daring heist he pulls off. But deep down it is the fact that even this kind of a man is actually scared, that he is vulnerable, that melts you from inside and makes you reach out to protect him. You would happily follow the Professor’s command in real life, even if it meant going against the law. To that effect, we are all part of the Professor’s gang, ever eager and willing to do whatever is in our power to delay or deny the law enforcement from catching up with him and his merry band of robbers. It is this same feeling of vulnerability that connected the audience with the little and lost Simba in The Lion King.
Brands often focus on functional advantages and forget about their Emotional Quotient. Whatever be the product category, brands need to own an emotion or a feeling to transform their own fortunes. Because it is emotion which helps create empathy with audiences. Coke owns happiness, Marlboro stands for machismo, Harley is emblematic of independence, and all these brands are more profitable for doing so.
4. Pilgrim’s Purpose
Just as a simple journey gets elevated to a pilgrimage depending on the final destination of the journey, brands too need to find their higher purpose beyond the obvious pedestrian one of making profit. Money Heist wouldn’t have been as big a hit if it was just about the heist. If the Professor and his gang looted others or just another bank where other people’s hard-earned money was kept safe, it would have hardly been as magical. But they looted the very source of all disparity – the mint where money is made – money which did not belong to anyone in particular and in that sense belonged to everyone. A simple heist was given a larger purpose and raised to the level of a Resistance, where it represented the underlying fight against the system – something that people relate to and love, anywhere and everywhere.
Disney finds it’s higher purpose in it’s endeavor to bring a smile to every child’s face, 3M resolves ambitiously to solve every unsolved problem innovatively, while Mountain Dew exhorts all of us to confront and eventually conquer our own fears. And that’s the kind of pilgrimage that movies, animation films, post its and carbonated beverages have dared to take for their own good. Purpose gives your brand a missionary zeal that nothing else can and Money Heist reinforces that without a shadow of doubt! So if you are a brand custodian, you better hurry up and ensure that your brand has an evocative higher purpose.
5. Seduction of Symbology
If this heist was carried out in street clothes, without the Dali masks or the Bella Ciao song, it would not have felt the same surely! The Money Heist makers had enough foresight to give the show its own anthem, shield and colour, and all this combined to raise the heist to the level of a Resistance and a people’s movement. The colour red is associated with agitation, nervousness, passion and even a state of alert and the show created a red iconography of its own. The Bella Ciao song, borrowed from the Italian partisan resistance, had an anthem-like vibe to it, and being about freedom, gave the show an almost mythological dimension at times. So McDonald’s should stop fooling around with its golden arches while Google should continue to fool around with its logo everyday because that’s the symbology each of these brands have created for themselves. And even in this age of emojis, stickers, gifs and insta filters, brands will do good to revisit the symbolism associated with their sights, sounds and looks – just as Johnnie Walker had done in the past to unearth and unleash the power of their striding man logo.
6. Potency in Participation
What the show’s symbology ensured was that anyone could use the red jumpsuit, the Dali mask and the Bella Ciao song for whatever they were fighting for. These became pop culture symbols that people could easily recreate for themselves. And recreate they did. From tattoos of characters on their bodies, banners, Rio carnival photos to people in red jumpsuits and masks parading the streets during civil rights protests to even inspiring the most bizarre form of flattery where people started to pull off Money Heist-style robberies! The ultimate ode however came in the form of a magic moment when an NGO saved a boat full of immigrants and immediately after they were brought to safety, they all started singing Bella Ciao!
Of course it also helped that in today’s day and age of paid influencer marketing, there were unpaid celebrities like Stephen King, Benzema and Mbappe who put on the mask and a footballing god like Neymar who liked the show so much that he decided to be a part of it, eventually performing a cameo role as a monk! But the moot point is that very often brands think that they alone are its custodians, while the truth is that brands belong to everyone, and everyone should be welcome to participate with the brand. It also helps if brands can tap into popular culture and it’s even better when brands allow people to make them a part of that pop culture, just like Kurkure did with ‘tera hai par mera hai’ and TataSky with that ‘jingalala’ thing.
7. Virtue of Veracity
The makers of the show were obsessed with veracity. Many of the problems the characters in the show faced are actually the problems one would face if one were to rob the Bank of Spain. In real life! The gold vault in the actual bank really gets flooded if there is an attempted robbery. And that’s why a naval/marine engineer was called in who helped the team design a way out of it. Real professionals were used as extras in scenes where the gold was being melted in the furnace. Arturo even got a real stitch while shooting. You can call it obsessiveness or even label it fastidious, but the truth is that nothing is as real as real itself. This is the Age of Authenticity and brands that stay true, do well for themselves, because today’s consumers can smell fake from a mile away. As part of this same adherence to authenticity, Nike which believes that it truly is a performance brand, does not enter a sport or a field of business, until it believes that its products can genuinely improve the performance of the wearer or the athlete in that sport or discipline. Brands should start being genuine and stop faking.
8. Being Off the Moment
One of the most interesting things about this show was that they were scripting along with the filming. That was their way of keeping their ears to the ground and responding to the voice of their audience. The show’s makers also believed in living on the edge while filming – because they believed that’s when interesting things happen. It’s the same with brands – the best of brands are the ones who are quickest to respond to things happening around them. They don’t just believe in being off the moment but work tirelessly behind the scenes to be ready for any eventuality, opportunity or moment. Thankfully today’s digital age gives us the tools and the means to be quick off the blocks, but it’s not just a speed thing, but rather a mind-set thing. Ask the guys in Burger King and you’ll know!
9. No Sacred Cows
The last and final reason the makers identified for the show’s success was their sacred belief in the belief that nothing is sacred! In Money Heist, nothing or no one is sacred, as every character walks on thin ice. “We have no mercy” is what the makers proudly proclaim (sounds like Game of Thrones, right?). There is no room for complacency or loss of focus therefore – the only adherence is to the story, the top-notch performance of each of the characters and the stupendous success of the show. No egos to mollycoddle, no Marketing Managers to please, no rule book to hide behind. The future will belong to brands that are both agile and flexible, who learn on the go, who even make mistakes on the way but are quick to course correct, and who like Red Bull are bullish about not following the marketer’s handbook.
So go ahead and steal these 9 ideas to make your brand a resounding success. I promise you, your heist will be worth its weight in gold! But I have to apologize to you for one thing. None of these principles felt like brand new, right? No shiny new tool, no confusing jargon, no revolutionary new concept. Maybe it is because of my lack of knowledge, depth or insight. Maybe it is because I am not an out and out digital native. Or maybe, perhaps maybe, it is because branding is really that simple and about sticking to those few age-old basics, things that we like to forget in our everyday chase of the new shiny marketing toy! I looked at the most cutting-edge contemporary content that today’s audiences are devouring in the hope that I too will come up with that shiny new thing. Only to realize that what shines even today is that gold of old!