An action figure of Bruce Willis in Die Hard is set on the edge of a buildling

Pop Culture Incorporated: Die-Hard Marketing Lessons from Bruce Willis

Am I a Bruce Willis fan?

Yippee-kay-yay…well, you know the rest.

A quick spin through reveals that I’ve seen more than 40 of Willis’s movies at least once, and some – like Die Hard and Pulp Fic­tion – more times than the Nakato­mi Tow­er has floors.

The recent news that the for­mer Mr. Demi Moore is step­ping away from act­ing after being diag­nosed with apha­sia got me think­ing about his career, and the way he com­bined seem­ing­ly dis­parate ele­ments into some­thing memorable.

Yes, he played a lot of the same types of roles again and again. But when he didn’t, he deliv­ered some­thing unex­pect­ed and new.

Could his eclec­tic approach to his pro­fes­sion teach mar­keters a thing or two?

Does Hans Gru­ber wax his goatee?

Yes. The answer is yes.

Get out of your com­fort zone. Who woul­da thunk that a light­weight, eye­brow-arch­ing TV star (known in the ‘80s pri­mar­i­ly for his wit­ty ban­ter on Moon­light­ing) could have car­ried mul­ti-mil­lion-dol­lar action flicks? Almost nobody. They even kept his smirk­ing face off the orig­i­nal poster for Die Hard so peo­ple wouldn’t think it was a com­e­dy. But he showed the naysay­ers. Com­bined, his movies have raked in more than $5 bil­lion. Les­son for mar­keters: Try some­thing new, even if they tell you it won’t work.

Sur­prise and delight. He chose his mate­r­i­al well, maybe nev­er more mem­o­rably than in The Sixth Sense, as the human per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of M. Night Shyamalan’s pen­chant for dra­mat­ic twists. If you still haven’t heard about it near­ly 25 years after the movie came out, let me spoil it for you: Willis’s char­ac­ter was dead the whole time. His enig­mat­ic per­for­mance is one of the things that kept the audi­ence delight­ful­ly off bal­ance. Les­son for mar­keters: Keep ‘em guess­ing, and don’t be afraid to zig instead of zag.

Always rein­vent your­self. Through­out his act­ing career, Willis wore all sorts of oth­er hats, too, from singer (we don’t talk about his first album, “The Return of Bruno”) to restau­ra­teur (he was one of the orig­i­nal high-pro­file back­ers of Plan­et Hol­ly­wood, with its Cap’n Crunch-coat­ed chick­en fin­gers) to talk show host (he famous­ly filled in for David Let­ter­man on a rare sick day in 2003). Les­son for mar­keters: Pur­sue your pas­sions along­side your day job; they’ll make you a bet­ter communicator.

Sure, not every­thing Willis did was gold; in 2021 alone he was in eight flicks – all of ques­tion­able qual­i­ty. But you’ve got to give him cred­it for putting his steely bald head down and sim­ply doing the work.

Come to think of it, that may be the most valu­able les­son Willis has to offer mar­keters: When life gives you metaphor­i­cal floors cov­ered with bro­ken glass, roll up your sleeves (or your sleeve­less T‑shirt), grit your teeth, take the first painful steps for­ward, and focus on sav­ing the day.

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