Great marketing advice from Jack Nicholson

Justin Daab

To maintain a career in Hollywood over a period of more than five decades takes a singular dedication to maintaining and promoting your brand. Although he’d be the last person to admit to being a marketer, Jack Nicholson has, over the years, presented to the world a number of bon mots that would serve any marketer well as guideposts for improving their marketing acumen. 


“With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and 60.”

What Jack is highlighting here is that a brand presented with consistency creates value over and above the spec sheet. Jack understands that his logo, while it may go through redesign every few years, follows a consistent style guide.


“Because you know, down deep in my heart, when all is said and done, I still live under the illusion that basically people think of me as an up-and-coming young actor.”

Know your positioning, live it, and stick with it. Jack’s positioning as an, “up-and-coming young actor” gave him greater opportunity to pick and choose roles, as everyone knows up-and-coming actors are always exploring. For brands, the stronger and more narrow the positioning, the greater the chances the consumers you wish to transact with will seek you out, just like directors would seek out Mr. Nicholson for those more exploratory roles.


“There is no way you can get people to believe you on screen if they know who you really are through television.”

There are two great takeaways from this quote. First: Your distribution channel is your positioning. Just as it’s tough to be a film star when people think of you as a television personality, marketers have to weigh every distribution expansion opportunity against the potential impact that channel can have on the perception of the brand. You’re not a luxury brand if you’re sold at big box retail. Or, at least, you won’t be for long.

Second: Every violation of the brand promise eats away at value. Again, Jack understands that his brand is comprised of the performances he creates on the big screen. Every television interview or paparazzi moment exposing the “real” Jack Nicholson detracts from the curated big-screen brand persona. For marketers, it means there are no harmless violations of brand—no matter how small. Every time the style guides are broken on a Powerpoint presentation; each time a logo is stretched out of proportion on a tradeshow tchotchke; each time someone in accounting makes their own program book ad in Microsoft Word. Every little thing can chip away at the image and understanding of the brand.


“I wanted to be the best actor possible. I worked very hard at the craft of it.”

Much like Jack’s acting talents, great brands are not built overnight. Building one requires hard, coordinated work, involving the spectrum of disciplines. You need to codify and quantify the impression of the brand among internal stakeholders, potential targets, and those relative to the competitive set. You need to use that research to establish the core values you believe communicate the brand in a manner consistent with organizational capabilities and that resonate within the marketplace. You need to translate those values into a brand positioning that conveys the greatest value, differentiation, and competitive advantage of the organization. And then, you bring that brand idea to life—designing logos, developing brand standards and guidelines, creating internal and external communications and messaging platforms, refining interdepartmental processes, developing marketing communications, spearheading product ideation and innovation, analyzing market sizing and segmentation, and implementing strategic plans. Whew. Maybe we all should have tried acting.


“Almost everybody’s happy to be a fool for love.”

Perhaps spoken with an air of dramatic irony by our friend, Jack. But in marketing, so true. Great brands, executed flawlessly over time, engender among their customers a near irrational affinity. The customers have no idea the blood, sweat and tears marketers put into to making it seem natural, even effortless.

But those brands that deliver on their promise and remain customer-focused, consistently, over time, can make unreasonable demands of those customers, and those customers thank them for it. It’s no small coincidence that when adding the word “sheeple” (meaning people who are docile, compliant, or easily influenced) to the dictionary, the folks at Merriam-Webster provided the following reference to customers of the alpha-brand, Apple as an example of its use:

“‘Apple’s debuted a battery case for the juice-sucking iPhone—an ungainly lumpy case the sheeple will happily shell out $99 for.’ — Doug Criss”


“The minute that you’re not learning I believe you’re dead.”

Probably the best advice for marketers that Mr. Nicholson has ever given. We all need to keep learning. About our customers. About our competitors. About the marketplace. About new technologies. About emerging trends. If we can keep that top of mind, the rest will come much easier.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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