A brilliant marketer and mentor of mine with a penchant for bumper-sticker speak once told me, “be interested, not interesting.” It was — and still is — solid advice.
Luckily at that time, I was a journalist, so being curious about the world around me, trying to learn how things worked and what made people tick was pretty much a baseline job requirement. I’ve since parlayed my career as a newspaper reporter into marketing, but still have the same curiosity.
That quality also makes me a huge fan of documentaries. When my fingers can no longer type and my eyes glaze over from reading, a documentary will satisfy my desire to learn while making the effort pretty minimal. Lazy learning — perfection!
Sometimes my docs of choice are about marketing and/or technology, and because of this, I’ve amassed a pretty solid library of films hitting this intersection. So I’m sharing with you my top picks of documentaries for digital marketers.
Check out some of the films included in this list of documentaries for digital marketers and let me know what you think. Some are more digital, some are more marketing, but all have some lessons or insights we could all use. Enjoy!
Top Documentaries for Digital Marketers
Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013)
This film digs right into consumer paranoia about what data is being collected about them online and for what purpose, and doesn’t provide much relief to those concerns. With commentary from academics, politicians, reporters, activists and experts from eMarketer, Google, Microsoft, American Civil Liberties Union and more, this film leaves no stone unturned as it explores every angle of information privacy and our online lives.
Discover the history of how rights to privacy have eroded online, hear arguments for and against this erosion, and finally learn a little something about how corporations and the government use information you’ve agreed to give them.
View the trailer | Watch on Hulu, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play
Art & Copy (2009)
If “Terms and Conditions May Apply” is a cautionary tale, “Art & Copy” is a love letter to the marketing and advertising industry. A delight to watch, it dives into some of the most innovative and successful ads of all time from an insider’s perspective. Yet it also hits on the conflicts of being a creative in a corporate world, while giving marketers the credit they deserve for catapulting companies to financial success with killer advertising.
Deconstructing the art and science of marketing while providing an engaging historical overview of how we got to modern advertising, this film will both remind you why you love your work and not let you forget the perils of it.
View the trailer | Available on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Video
Transcendent Man (2011)
Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, futurist, author and a polarizing figure to some. His book The Singularity is Near became a New York Times bestseller, and yet his views on the convergence of human and artificial intelligence expressed in the book and his frequent public speeches both fascinate and enrage.
This documentary chronicles his life, his predictions, his controversy and his eccentricities. (Kurzweil was also TUNE’s featured keynote at Postback16, and while we weren’t allowed to record it, you can read a bit about what he had to say or watch other videos from the conference on our YouTube channel.) Whether you think he’s a genius or a hack, you’re sure to start pondering just where all this information and technology might be headed.
View the trailer | Watch on YouTube, iTunes, Vudu and Google Play
CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap (2015)
The explosion of marketing technology in recent years has had a massive impact on the way marketing operates. In 2011, there were just 150 companies in the martech industry. This year, it exploded to more than 3,500 across six categories: advertising and promotion, content and experience, social and relationships, commerce and sales, data, and management. That has demanded more tech-savvy marketers than ever before. So, like me, you may be paying a lot more attention to the software development industry these days.
Unfortunately, software development, much like the broader tech sector, has become a male-dominated field. If you don’t think the gender disparity in tech is a problem, you should be sure to catch this documentary. It not only dissects the issue, but offers compelling social, cultural and historical context of how women have been marginalized in the industry. It challenges the viewer to consider the consequences of a digital revolution driven by a narrow subset of perspectives, ideas and talent.
I was lucky enough to last year attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing and catch a screening of this documentary while it was in in initial release. It will be available to general audiences in November 2016.
View the trailer | This film is being released on Nov. 15, 2016 and is available for pre-order on Amazon
The way this story unfolds is almost too eerie to believe and will make you question whether anything about you is private in the digital age, but is precisely what makes it so gripping. This Academy Award-winning documentary follows Edward Snowden as he prepares to leak classified documents about illegal wiretapping practices and communications monitoring programs of the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.
While you may think this documentary has no direct or obvious connection to marketing, it touches on an increasingly hot-button issue for digital marketers in the information age — privacy and security online, and how that information could be used.
View the trailer | Watch on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play
Atari: Game Over (2014)
Whether you have fond childhood memories of playing Pong and hanging out in arcades like I do or have no idea what I’m talking about, you’ll still appreciate how Atari contributed to the progression of computers and gaming culture in this fun film. Not only do you get introduced to the earliest gaming engineers and designers (and their epic work parties, which may be traced to today’s fast and loose startup culture), you get to be a part of the geeky journey to uncover cartridges of E.T., what is often called the worst video game ever made, long ago and legendarily buried in a New Mexico landfill.
The story of “Atari: Game Over” will show you the origins of video game obsession. You’ll also see how the first video game giant became one of the fastest-growing companies in American history, then quickly vanished. It will transport you back to a time that was simple and exciting, and leave you full of nostalgia.
View the trailer | Watch on YouTube, Amazon Video and iTunes
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
On the surface, this documentary about the elusive and notoriously secretive street artist Banksy is largely a commentary on the commodification of art. It appears to have nothing to do with marketing at all. But a closer look reveals that this film, which became a 2010 nominee for best documentary at the Academy Awards, actually centers on the eccentric filmmaker. In the course of filming Banksy, Frenchman Thierry Guetta fabricated a personal brand of an artist, manufactured demand and manipulated the masses. Using tricks learned from Banksy, Guetta mastered the hype machine to sell offensively expensive, questionable art from an artist nobody had ever heard of.
In an age where authenticity is always in question — where social media influencers are paid to peddle products previously reserved for celebrities, where viral videos are revealed to be elaborate hoaxes, and where marketing tactics like native ads and branded content can be so subtle, you don’t even know you’re being sold to — this film will leave you questioning (as it has for many) what’s real anymore. Look at this documentary through the lens of marketing fundamentals of product, place, promotion and price, you can definitely appreciate what could very well be an elaborate marketing stunt.
View the trailer | Watch on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015)
Without Apple, there may have never been the mobile phone as we know it, and therefore mobile marketing (the industry TUNE operates in) may have never become a thing. The man behind it all was late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
The smartphone changed the way we work, live and play. That alone makes it worth two hours and eight minutes of your time. However, the products that made Apple one of the biggest companies in the world actually isn’t so much the focus of this film, but the backdrop.
The thing that makes this biopic interesting is that it isn’t just a celebration of his achievements, but rather an examination of his personal and private life, and a man that was full of contradictions. It is a portrait of complexities, adversity and failures that will have you glued to every frame. (For what it’s worth, the feature film “Steve Jobs” released this year is also a great one to watch — I caught it the other night on HBO.)
View the trailer | Watch on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu and Google Play
Video Games: The Movie (2014)
This is an excellent primer on the industry that became the backbone of mobile apps: games. While today there is an app for just about everything we do, in the early years, games were the gateway drug to app usage, leading gamers and non-gamers alike to addictive behaviors playing Words with Friends, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, Plants vs Zombies or Clash of Clans.
Whatever your gamer status, this film is an entertaining historical overview of the technology’s evolution as gaming became a social and cultural phenomenon. It celebrates the advancements of gaming while looking ahead at what’s possible in the future of an industry expected to reach $106.5 billion in 2017, 30% of which will be generated through mobile games, according to Newzoo.
This documentary lacks any real critical examination of video game culture, instead focusing on how games are made, marketed and consumed. If you can get past that, you’ll find this film both entertaining and educating, with perspective and commentary from developers, publishers and fans. (For something more appealing to the less celebrated indie game lover, check out “Indie Game: The Movie.”)
View the trailer | Watch on iTunes and Netflix
We Are Legion: The Story of Hactivists (2012)
The political movement known as Anonymous is the focus of this gripping documentary. It is the story of how so-called “hactivists” seek to upend the power structures of modern society with digital stunts spanning in severity from digital sit-ins (denial of service) to more serious computer crime like cyber attacks on foreign governments, largely under the veil of perceived justice and free speech.
Whether you agree with the philosophy of hactivism or find it deplorable — and there are plenty of perspectives on both sides — you can’t ignore their presence. If you don’t regularly pay attention to Anonymous and similar acts of hactivism, you’ll be fascinated by the tales of pivotal events in the progression of the movement as told by insiders, such as the role of hactivists in the Arab Spring and Occupy movements.
View the trailer | Watch on YouTube, Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu
I’m not a film critic by a long shot, I just like documentaries and spending entirely too much of my free time thinking about marketing. It was challenging to pick the right mix, and there were great contenders, including The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing, Miss Representation, Our Mobile Lives, Rise of the Hackers, Bill Cunningham New York and others. While this list is broadly aimed at documentaries for digital marketers, ultimately, I wanted to have a good mix of topics for mobile marketers specifically, which spans a lot of ground.
Have other documentaries for digital marketers that you think should have been included? Think my Top 10 picks are bad? Have suggestions for what I should be watching? Wanna geek out about documentaries or marketing or be friends on LinkedIn? Leave a comment below and let me know. You can also check out videos from TUNE on our YouTube channel.
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Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.