The Art of Inception in Our Reality

The following contains spoilers regarding Inception, and also assumes you’ve seen the film. Consider yourself warned.

There’s a lot of analysis possible with Inception. There’s the questions about the nature of reality (see the Matrix). There’s the examination of how Mal influences Cobb’s actions, much in the same way our own subconscious influences us. And there’s what may be the central point of the film – the nature of the idea and the ways we share ideas with others.

Inception does take a decidedly sci-fi approach (although Margaret Atwood would probably classify it as speculative fiction). This works to engage our ability to suspend disbelief, meaning we better accept a world where dream sharing is possible, where a small team of experts travels the world stealing ideas straight out of people’s minds, and where we are the master of our thoughts….except when we aren’t.

I think the marketing parallels for extraction and inception are pretty clear. It’s not terribly difficult to get someone to tell you what they think (although determining if they’re telling the truth may be hard). Extraction, then, is comparable to the kind of advertising that commands you to do something – buy this, watch this, do this. Inception is organic. It’s growth. It’s planting a small seed of an idea and letting it slowly expand until it drives an action.

Unlike the kind of inception practiced in the film, we can’t expect the goal to be influencing someone without their knowledge. Instead, it’s about creating immersive experiences that don’t lecture, but instead engage. It’s about understanding your target and tailoring your message to them. And it’s about simplicity of form, if not of execution.

We can argue that this is what social media and viral marketing are all about. But just because some modern marketing techniques are better at this than others doesn’t mean that they’re used properly. It’s way too easy to use Twitter and Facebook to bludgeon potential customers over the head with your message. And this can distract both you and your audience from what really matters – assimilating your idea into their world.

One of the most iconic examples of this idea building comes not from today, but instead from over 80 years ago On marketing the piano, Edward Bernays wrote,

“The music room will be accepted because it has been made the thing. And the man or woman who has a music room, or has arranged a corner of the parlor as a musical corner, will naturally think of buying a piano. It will come to him as his own idea.”

Yes, this can be creepy. And hopefully dependent upon us acting in an ethical manner. But doesn’t it also sound an awful lot like inception?