What can Pulp Fiction teach us about conversational search?

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“Everybody be cool, this is a robbery.”  

A quote as well-known by a generation of cult film fanatics as Matt Cutts’ name is to the online marketing world of today.

The themes portrayed in the 1994 film Pulp Fiction offer not just insight into Tarantino’s genius mind, but are also a look at how human behaviour and perception can change, influence or destroy the ultimate objective.

 

Pulp Fiction: a lesson in conversational search

Online everyone has an objective, a mission of sorts. It can be to share knowledge, make purchases, keep in touch, discover something new or tell others about themselves or their services.  

This is the new way of digital marketing: understanding the objective properly and matching it with the solution. Basically, putting down the gun and instead of using black-hat tactics, focusing on giving people what they are actually looking for. 

So what could we learn from the complicated narrative of this epic film, released well before the mad surge of internet marketing? 

It’s all about the “Royale with Cheese”

In the iconic driving scene featuring Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) we are shown a glimpse into why conversational search will become so important.

Like most of Tarantino’s films, conversation plays a huge part of the overall story. Often the conversations between Tarantino’s characters appear at first glance to be long filler periods, adding no real value in pushing the plot forward. 

However, that is perhaps the biggest mistake to make. 

These conversations offer insight into how the characters think, what their interests are, what annoys them, and how they prefer to receive and give information.

In this scene, Jules is asking Vincent about his experiences in Europe as he has just got back from travelling around Amsterdam and France. 

Vincent: And you know what they call a … a  a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?
Vincent: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what the f**k a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: Then what do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese.
Jules: A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: Well, a Big Mac's a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac.
Jules: Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper?
Vincent: I dunno, I didn't go into Burger King.

Even with such a trivial conversation as this we can see the hint of where search engines could step in. 

Aside from the subtle language differences, Vincent also tells Jules about the hashish bars he visited in Amsterdam. This happens ten years before Facebook made its debut a common form of peer recommendation to pique someone’s interest into trying something new. 

With so many people using social media to tell you trivial things like what they ate for dinner and what their cat is doing right this second, it has become harder to know when you should pay attention to content marketing. 

Similarly, if I really had 455 real “friends” I assure you my weekends would be less boring.  

So where does this leave “peer marketing”? How do you market information online so that people actually care about what you have to say? 

It all comes back to understanding the correlation between your marketing objectives and your target audience.  

  • What interests them?

  • What do they need?

  • How do they prefer to receive information?

  • Who do they trust? 

  • What will they share?

What is going on in their heads?
What is going on in their heads?

Without proper analysis of the above before putting your content out there, your message has about the same impact as another baby photo on Facebook. Sometimes it is better to not say anything than to fill the space with content which is meaningless.

Mia: Don't you hate that?
Vincent: What?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bullsh*t in order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don't know. That's a good question.

Films from this decade, particularly Tarantino’s films, really make us pay attention to characters’ intent and meaning behind their conversations with others. 

Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, thinks that computers will become smarter than humans when it comes to natural language understanding 15 years from now. He calls this “technological singularity”.  

Perhaps if we look at the films being released in the coming months or years, we can take away ideas for how the online world will change even further!

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