7 Beyond-the-Obvious Films and Shows Every Marketer Should Watch on Netflix

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With over 48 million customers who watch a combined 1 billion+ hours of movies and TV shows every month, one thing’s for sure:

We’re all spending a ton of time on Netflix.

Perhaps even more revealing is that 61% of 1,500 surveyed Netflix customers admitted to binge-watching (defined here as watching 2-6 episodes of a show in a sitting) at least every few weeks.

But I’m not about to rant on why we should all get off the couch and go find inspiration outside in the real world. Instead, I’m going to use this post to show you how to turn your next Netflix binge-watching session into a mini marketing education.

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If you think you’ve seen all of the Bloomberg profiles of business magnates and entrepreneurial TED talks, don’t worry — this post will be featuring strictly beyond-the-obvious films and shows.

Read on to see shows and films that are interesting in their own right, but are also packed with marketing insights.

If you’re having trouble deciding what to watch first, be sure to check out our handy flowchart at the end of this post. It will show you exactly where to start based on your interests.

1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

jiroCategory: Documentary

What It’s About: This documentary profiles sushi chef Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old master whose 10-seat, $300-a-plate restaurant is legendary among Tokyo foodies.

Length: 1hr 22m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

How does a small sushi restaurant located in the basement of Tokyo’s Ginza subway station that serves no appetizers and no dessert earn three stars from the most prestigious restaurant guide in the world?

The chef and owner creates an unforgettable experience.

According to Yamagata, a respected Japanese food critic, “For fast eaters a meal there might last only 15 minutes. In that sense it’s the most expensive restaurant in the world. But people who eat there are convinced it’s worth the price.”

Why are Jiro’s customers so convinced a 15-minute meal in his restaurant is worth $300? Obviously, taste is a big factor. But the experience is right there with it.

In an article for CNN, customer Dan Shapiro recounted his experience upon arrival:

“I am escorted to one of 10 seats at this shrine to Japanese sushi, offered a warm towel to cleanse my hands and face, a cup of tea and even a small rubber pad so that my camera doesn’t make direct contact with the altar-like counter top.”

Jiro then assembles each of the approximately 20 pieces of sushi by hand one at a time before setting each down in front of the customer. According to many sushi connoisseurs, a piece of sushi is best when consumed in the first few seconds after it is made. Jiro adheres to this.

Customers leave the restaurant talking about much more than just the sushi — they talk about the experience.

What kind of experience are you offering your customers? Is it memorable? Is it worth talking about? These are the questions Jiro Dreams of Sushi will challenge you to answer.

Memorable Quote: “Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success…and is the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro Ono

2. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

bourdainCategory: Television Series

What It’s About: This series follows chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain as he delves into the culture of often-untravelled destinations around the world, such as Myanmar, Congo, and Detroit, just to name a few.

Episode Length: 42m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

Parts Unknown will, as the title suggests, take you places you’ve never experienced. While that may seem like an odd way to become a better marketer, I’ve found that it helps stretch your creative mind — and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

In his classic book on copywriting, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, legendary copywriter David Sugarman wrote:

“The best copywriters in the world are those who are curious about life, read a great deal, have many hobbies, like to travel, have a variety of skills, get bored and then look for other skills to master. They hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting.”

While watching someone else chase down life’s curiosities, travel the world, and meet people from different cultures is certainly no replacement for doing those things yourself, it can, at the very least, open your mind to new ideas and perspectives.

Where to Start: Episode 1: “Myanmar” – Dive into a culture that has just recently become more accessible to the western world.

3. Inside: Chipotle

chipotleCategory: Television Series Episode

What It’s About: How Chipotle became your favorite place to stuff your face with a burrito — without compromising core values of serving “slow” food in a fast casual environment.

Episode Length: 21m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

There are many factors that have contributed to Chipotle’s rise to a $12 billion company — their food tastes great, their restaurants are run smoothly and efficiently, and they deliver outstanding customer service.

But one quote in this short feature stood out to me above all others: “They’ve been able to brand themselves as a company that you can actually identify with based on your values.”

Those values, of course, are utilizing naturally raised (and, when possible, locally sourced) ingredients in every Chipotle restaurant. In fact, Chipotle buys more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant company in the entire world. They use organically grown cilantro and buy many of their vegetables from local farms.

But this episode of Inside highlights the most important aspect of their obsession with integrity — how Chipotle has been able to use that obsession as a key marketing tool to make customers identify with their brand.

Key Quote: “We really broke all the fast food rules. We ordered fresh, whole ingredients. We prepared everything in the restaurant according to classic cooking techniques, and then we served all the food in this interactive format, so the customers get to pick and choose exactly what they want.” – Chipotle CEO Steve Ells

4. Freaks and Geeks

freaksCategory: Television Series

What It’s About: Two different groups of teenagers in the early ‘80s navigating the social challenges and hilarities of high school.

Episode Length: 44m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

There are two big marketing lessons this much-beloved cult television show can teach you.

Lesson #1: You Can Go out of Business Selling an Amazing Product

You need more than just an amazing product to stay in business. You also need the right platform and the right timing.

Freaks and Geeks, doomed to toil amidst a shuffling air time on NBC’s Saturday night lineup, had neither. According to series co-creator Judd Apatow, NBC wouldn’t even let them promote the show’s website because NBC didn’t want to lose viewers to the Internet (this was 1999).

Ultimately, the show was cancelled after only 18 episodes. Since then, the evidence that it was a television masterpiece has only mounted:

Exhibit A: Almost half of the show’s actors — James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel — went on to become household names.

Exhibit B: The show’s rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars on Netflix, where over one million viewers have rated it.

Exhibit C: Series Executive Producer Judd Apatow has gone on to produce comedy blockbusters like Anchorman, Knocked Up, and Bridesmaids, to name a few.

Lesson #2: How to Connect with Your Audience

Talk to any Freaks and Geeks fan about why they like the show and you’ll most likely hear about how relatable it is. The show was masterful at tapping into the frustrations of youth just about every middle class American kid experienced growing up.

The writers understood the motivations that make people tick — the need to belong, the desire to do something meaningful, what other people think about us — and they tapped into those with almost every episode.

As a marketer, it’s important to understand these motivations in order to show customers how your product fits within the context of their lives.

Where to Start: Episode 1, the pilot episode that started it all.

5. The Writers’ Room

writersCategory: Television Series

What It’s About: The journey of a successful television show, told from the perspective of the writers and creators.

Episode Length: 22m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

At the beginning of each episode of The Writers’ Room, Academy Award winning writer and host Jim Rash characterizes the writers’ room as a place of “outrageous success, horrible mistakes, last minute changes.”

The first time I heard that I couldn’t help but think… Man, sounds like an average week in the life of a marketer.

But that’s not where the similarities end.

I’d never thought about the fact that nearly every television show has multiple writers, and thus, multiple creative minds having to reconcile their differing opinions to determine what’s best for the show.

If you’ve ever been involved in a large scale marketing campaign, you know a lot of people can be involved — copywriters, designers, operations managers, project managers…the list could go on.

Inevitably, there are disagreements.

But if the writers of Breaking Bad can come to a consensus on how complicit Walter White should be in another character’s death (as detailed in episode one), maybe you and the project manager can figure out a way to agree on which subject line to use.

More than anything else, though, The Writers’ Room is a show that attempts to understand the process of creating a great product. And that’s something every marketer can benefit from understanding better.

Where to Start: Episode 1: “Breaking Bad” – Several writers (including show creator Vince Gilligan) and lead actor Bryan Cranston describe the struggle of balancing so many creative minds to create the best product possible.

6. 20 Feet from Stardom

Category: Documentary20 feet

What It’s About: The world of modern music’s most talented backup singers and the stars they sing for.

Episode Length: 1 hr 30m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about marketers over the years, it’s this — we’re a creative bunch.

Most marketers I know have a ton of different interests and a connection to some type of creative discipline like music, painting, writing, etc. Sometimes, it can be a struggle to know when to unleash that creativity and when to keep it in check.

Should I try something different with this headline…or play it safe?

Should this video about our product be simple and straightforward…or tell an emotional story?

Should this Facebook ad be clever and funny…or clear and to-the-point?

Enter the life of a backup singer — a delicate balance between controlled synchronicity and freewheeling energy.

It’s fascinating to watch these incredibly talented singers walk the line between remaining in the background and being stars. And just like good marketing, good background singing ties everything together and completes a human connection.

Memorable Quote: “Backup singers just bring so much more life to the situation. When a voice opens up, there comes the life.That’s when it’s a person-to-person connection.” – Lynn Mabry, Backup singer for Talking Heads and many more

7. Helvetica

helveticaCategory: Documentary

What It’s About: How Helvetica has become the most popular font in the world.

Episode Length: 1 hr 21m

How It Will Make You a Better Marketer:

You’ll learn a lot about the history of Helvetica and what makes it special (and why some designers think it’s NOT so special), but you’ll learn even more about three things that are very important to marketers:

1. How designers think — If you’re in marketing, it’s beneficial both to better understand how designers think (this greatly helps with communication), and also how to occasionally think like a designer. After all, it was David Ogilvy who wrote “the ability to think visually” when he listed the hallmarks of a potentially successful copywriter in his classic Ogilvy on Advertising.

2. The role of typography and how to utilize it effectively — The interesting thing about typography is that it’s present in nearly every marketing medium: email, direct mail, online ads, television ads, the list goes on. You don’t have to be an expert, but it pays to have a basic understanding of how it should be used. Helvetica will show you.

3. The journey to ubiquity — Helvetica isn’t just popular; it’s everywhere. You have most likely not experienced many days on earth in which it hasn’t touched your life in some way. So what goes into creating something that becomes such an integral part of daily life? Helvetica proposes some answers.

Key Quote: “The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people putting the wires into our heads.” – Massimo Vignelli

What Did We Leave Out?

Ah, the question that’s captured an entire generation’s minds — What should I watch on Netflix?

If you need a little help picking which of these films or shows to start with, click below to grab a copy of our handy flowchart. It will help you get started based on your interests:

flowchart

Click here to get your copy of the flowchart now.

What about you? What movies and shows on Netflix have inspired your inner marketer? Leave a comment below and let us know.

  • Andrew

    Indie Game: The Movie is my favorite documentary that I would recommend to marketers (it is available on Netflix)… Some of the key themes for marketers from the film are:

    1. The production process these indie game developers go through to build a game. Many of them do everything from code the physics engine to creating the front-end artwork…. Watch this documentary and then go put a new campaign / launch together and what seemed like a TON of work previously will seem like a walk in the park.

    2. Little Guys Crushing It.. these 1 to 3 man teams are competing against major production studios with hundreds of millions of dollars to create and market a new game. Yet, they are successful because they build a high-quality product that focuses on user-experience through story-telling (big for marketers), injecting their personality, and developing for a targeted segment, instead of the masses.

    3. (Perhaps the biggest takeaway): the importance of showing your audience your personality and your process. People want to connect with people, not faceless corporations. The most brilliant thing about this documentary is how it is a marketing tool in-and-of-itself. Seeing the people behind the games, their thought process and their struggles made me want to go out and buy all of the games (disclaimer: I already owned a few of them, but went back and gave them another run through after watching the documentary). You can use this idea in your own marketing… Remember that, if you are a small shop or a “one-man-show”, this can be a huge advantage when it comes to connecting with your audience. See VideoFruit’s Bryan Harris for a great example of this … his posts /videos show his process and his personality.

    4. The Launch. Watching the build-up to the launch day of the games will probably hit very close to home for those who have launched a product / course in the past, or have dreams of doing so someday. It’s very interesting to see the developers go through all the months of prep work, then the last minute scramble to ensure that their games get visibility and sales on launch day.

    Overall, the documentary has high production value and leaves you with an appreciation for the process of creating a product that you pour your heart and soul into… highly recommended.

    • Andrew! Thanks for this comment. I am definitely going to check this one out. Sounds like it would have been a perfect fit for this post.

      I especially like what you wrote about in #3 — I love seeing companies pull back the curtain and letting customers get face-to-face with the employees. And you’re right, Bryan Harris does a killer job with letting his personality come through. Awesome blogger, marketer, and guy.

      Thanks again for the recommendation. Looking forward to checking Indie Game out.

    • Gonna check this out. Thanks for the suggestion Andrew

  • Nina Jonassaint

    My top, all-time most marketing-related educational Netflix experience has been *Mad Men*. I’ve been through it twice, and each episode has golden nuggets of marketing lessons that are still applicable, though the show is set in the 60s-70s. The fact that the show is so incredibly authentic and well-done makes it feel like going back into the minds of “the original” copywriters, learning from the advertisers who shaped the business of marketing, and understanding what really makes this business tick from the minds of those who created it, to begin with.

    Perhaps it seems like an obvious choice — I can’t tell you how many invaluable marketing lessons I’ve learned from this show! It does feature a lot of story between the marketing, but ironically, even those pieces are relatable: highlighting how marketers oftentimes are people who view and live life so differently as to always take work home with us, experience our every-day through the filter of an advertising mindset, etc.

    I would recommend this show to anybody in marketing, from design to copy writing, etc. It covers the whole spectrum, leaves nothing out. I honestly believe that, hands-down, this show is up there with the best must-see educational shows a marketer should watch. One I plan to binge-watch at least once a year for the rest of my life as a marketer.

    One word of caution: It’s addicting and it’s influential! Many people report getting started/restarted on cigarettes while watching this show, and it also tends to have an effect on the way you think about your advertising tactics and how your daily life plays into that!

    • Hey Nina! Mad Men was actually one of the first shows folks on the LeadPages marketing team suggested when I shared the idea for this post with them. I didn’t think I’d have enough time to watch enough of the show to effectively write about it though, so I’m really grateful you took the time to do so in your comment!

      I totally get what you mean about the way marketers view life. Once you let it in your brain, it’s hard to get it out.

      I’ve actually been meaning to check the show out ever since I heard it was partially inspired by Ogilvy on Advertising. Your comment just might be the final nudge that gets me to dive in. Thanks! 🙂

      • Nina Fae

        I thought it was interesting that it wasn’t on the list, but figured it should be mentioned — by the way there are a couple of shows that are in the list that I hadn’t heard of but am definitely adding to my list, so thanks!

        I think this was a really excellent idea for a post, by the way! I think a lot of people underestimate the value of this line of thinking — I actually hear a lot of leaders in my industry rag on Netflix and call it a waste of time, but it can really be such an educational asset even beyond the entertainment aspect.

        Enjoy *Mad Men*! I’d love to hear your thoughts once you get deeper into it. 🙂

        • Thanks! I completely agree. While there are many ways to waste your time with TV and Netflix, there are just as many ways to learn new things.

  • Debbie Horovitch

    Entourage is definitely missed on this list, not only because it’s a great show but also because it’s great for teaching deal negotiations (there was one episode where the director of a movie he couldn’t do due to scheduling conflict, showed up at his house late at night with a bottle of scotch, to negotiate a reasonable way they could work together). Love that.

    • Hey Debbie! I so wish HBO shows were on Netflix…if so I may have had to stretch this to a Top 10. 🙂

      And thanks for the suggestion! Entourage is one of those shows I just haven’t got around to watching yet. My wife and I are almost done working our way through The Sopranos, so perhaps Entourage will be next!

  • Its funny. I was actually pulling up Netflix and then popped open another tab to check out your blog first. Timing is perfect.

    Great list –I found the Inside: Chipotle really great. I was really surprised to not see Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher in this lineup though. Every time I watch that movie it gets my entrepreneurial butt in gear to do something. On top of that with Kutcher being quite active in the tech industry. Definitely worth checking out!

    • Thanks for the suggestion, LeadBuffer. I completely forgot about that movie! Didn’t even realize it had come out. I’ll be checking it out for sure.