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Inception and Reality

I spent $11 yesterday to get a quick primer on how advertising and marketing, at their best, can work. Along the way, I got to peer into the inner workings of the human brain. And witness some incredible stunts. On an IMAX screen. Not bad for 11 bucks.

Inception is an amazing movie on – please pardon the pun if you’ve seen the movie – many levels. It is a lesson in story architecture, a virtuoso display of auteur direction and perhaps most importantly, a terrific action flick. For me, it was also a reminder of what we in the brand business try to do every day. It’s not about great spots. Or great viral ideas. Or engaging mobile promotions. Or rather, it is about all those, but first and foremost, it is about ideas.

The word idea is defined differently depending on whom you’re talking to. But I haven’t heard a better description of how it works  than the one from Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb:


What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.”


The movie goes on to talk about how to embed an idea in someone’s brain: strip it down to its simplest form and find an emotion that can fuel it. You will find this pulsating at the core of the world’s greatest brands. And equally, you can trace all the actions we undertake to a simple set of ideas that interact in ever-increasing patterns of complexity. Much like DNA.


This is the basis of the new science of memetics, a study of the ‘idea viruses’ that are created and spread by the culture.

From that perspective, INCEPTION, with all its flaws, might well be the most important ‘movie of ideas’ in the 21st century, so far.

For me though, it is a reminder of what we should be doing, if we’re doing our jobs right, every day. On with the show.



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