Or it is the marketeer? For this blog I am challenging some of my own assumptions about marketing, by analyzing a clip from Chocolat (2000) together with Hongli Joosten- Ma. She is now the principle lecturer of Marking & Sales at International Business (THUAS) after working in this field of business for many years. Hongli chose a clip from Chocolat as it ‘has humanity, diversity and acceptance of this as the major themes’ – next to the fact that chocolate ‘is one of the favorite things in my life that I would not want to skip for whatever reason.’ Let’s watch:

Hongli: We see this famous actress, Juliette Binoche, playing Vianne Rocher. She just arrived in this French village at the beginning of Lent, with her illegitimate six-year-old daughter Anouk. She opens this small shop selling chocolate and quickly starts to have influence in the small village.

In this scene Vianne rolls this little plate to use what in psychology is called ‘the projective technique.’ So she asks people to explain what they see.  What they actually see is not important, but it’s the story the customer tells about what they see. Because the story actually reveals their psychological state, what they actually desire, and their (unmet) needs. So in this clip, one of the customers is a middle-aged lady who is a housewife and married to this  boring guy who has lost interest in everything, including sex. There’s nothing spicy in their life. And then you hear the middle-aged customer describe what she sees in the plate: ‘a woman riding a white horse.’ Well, horses are romantic. That shows a little bit of desire and what she is missing. And that the women “is riding’ shows initiative taking and passion.

Marketing is about addressing the needs of the customer, but first you have to be able to find what the needs are. The needs could be physical needs, but also be psychological and social needs. In this case, they are psychological: unmet needs come out very strongly through the lady’s description. Vianne can tailor to these needs by offering chocolate triangles, with a bit of  pepper on it, which gives just that spiciness that fits her needs.

And then of course Vianne creates the next step in marketing:  the want of specific products. So she puts a ribbon on the package of chocolate to satisfy the customer’s other psychological need of receiving a gift from her husband.  Vianne also adds a gift for the husband, which later on in the movie unleashes a passion in the boring man.

Wypkje: What I thought was interesting are the nonverbal expressions clearly portrayed in this clip as well. The customer you have been describing seems to be very insecure and she questions herself: ‘A women is riding a White Horse?’ and ‘Can I have a red ribbon?’ Her bearing is in stark contrast with the other lady customer in the shop. I was wondering about how you treat insecure customers in a good way.

Hongli: This is what marketing is all about: understanding different types of customers – through segmentation to understand the different types of needs and the target group. Like with this insecure lady you need to acknowledge her need for desire. But also treat every customer as royalty. That’s Vianne’s secret weapon for success. She actually treats every customer with respect whether they are confident or not. So with this insecure customer she gives her reassurance and chocolate: slowly but steadily with every bite she actually tastes the pleasure, but also the respect.

Wypkje: So that makes Vianne different as a salesperson from the stereotypical sleazy car salesman who is just taking advantage of a customer. She’s not taking advantage of a customer, you would say?

Hongli: This is a misunderstanding about marketing – an old fashioned idea from the 1950s. In those days marketing was all about pushing for the sales no matter what the ethical costs were. Actually, the true core of marketing is about understanding and respecting the needs of customer and try to satisfy them. We have to look at the society as a whole, so ethics is a big part of marketing and it’s about respect. It’s about being passionate about our customer and delivering something valuable that really can satisfy their needs.

You can see in this clip that Vianne’s respects the mother’s ‘no’ when she offers her son hot chocolate. And with the respect she also starts earning her trust.  It’s about respect, understanding, honor, and treating every customer as royalty.

Wypkje: Linking marketing with my focus of critical thinking, I was also looking at where that comes into play. How do you truly get to and understand the customer’s perspective – which is an important disposition (attitude) in critical thinking. You have to think about what you ask and how you listen to understand their perspective. Vianne asks:  ‘What does it look like to you?’ That question already shows to me that that she wants to hear their thoughts and not push her own. What is interesting to see is how the shopkeeper has an open and curious disposition, but is also using quick thinking to interpret what they see in the plate to what type of chocolate they need. Still, how do you keep your distance and not push something on the customer? Because some sales people do.

Hongli: Oh yeah, there are companies that do that. But those are the company that typically would not sustain, they will not be there for a long time.  Companies which are there for a long time are those companies that truly care about the needs of customers – they do sustain because they understand and also follow the changes in the needs of customers as well as the change in society and technology. They adapt continuously to stay close to the changing needs of their customer and their environment. That’s what the key to marketing is about.

Wypkje: What is your favorite type of chocolate?

Hongli: Extra dark, organic.


Researcher for Change Management, investigating film, education & critical thinking. Implementing it as lecturer for International Business, all at THUAS.

One Comment on “Framing the Fragments with Others Chocolate Creates Perspective…

  1. Pingback: E-learning course “How to teach critical thinking with film – an introduction” – reshaping business education

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