Breaking the Fifth Wall: What Dunder Mifflin Teaches Us About Marketing and the Human Psyche

If you haven’t seen an episode of NBC’s long-running comedic hit, The Office, you’ve probably at least heard of it. While telling the tale of a paper company locked in a constant battle against, one: the shrinking demand for paper, and two, the bottom barrel prices of its bigger competitors, The Office is actually quite funny. Originally conceived by British comedian Ricky Gervais, it became a hit in the UK before the US adaptation made Michael Scott (Steve Carrel) and Dunder Mifflin household names. While the show is funny, what made it unique was it’s constant “breaking of the fourth wall,” a technique thought too taboo for primetime TV, or at least prime-time fiction. Reality shows had done a version of this, but that’s how they’re formatted. Fiction is different, it is supposed to be observed, and not interacted with.

On The Office, characters send quick glances directly to the camera and subsequently to the viewer. They also speak directly to the camera, “confessional” style. Something that all people share is a need to be “on the inside.” They want to be included, sit at the cool kids’ table, get VIP access; they want the inside track. Having characters speak directly to viewers gave them that sense, and now tons of shows do the exact same thing. Another great TV comedy is Community, which in a recent episode discussed how Hearts of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Francis Ford Copolla’s epic Apocalypse Now, was actually a better movie than Apocalypse Now. What Community was trying to say is that while people like the end product, be it a movie or a pencil, they like to know who made the pencil and what they went through to make it.

So where does a fictional company like Dunder Mifflin go once its show has broken the fourth wall? Well, it breaks the fifth wall and becomes a real paper company. Ironically, the fictional company’s biggest competitor, Staples, has now, in real life, bought the rights to the Dunder Mifflin name to help sell paper on their Quill.com website. In a race to the bottom of paper prices, they intend on selling paper of the same quality as their competitors for higher prices, simply because it has the name of a fictional paper company on it. However, Dunder Mifflin is no longer a fictional company. No it does not have Michael Scott and his antics, but it does have real employees with a real product. Folks can take care of their paper needs with boxes labeled with all the best catch phrases from the show.

What does this reverse product placement tell us about ourselves? That’s another topic for another blog post, but in short, it tells us that people will spend more on a product that means something to them. This type of sentiment is hard to put a number value on, but is nothing to be scoffed at. If you let your customers in, and provide them with something that they feel they have ownership over, great things can happen. Something else to take away is to not let fear stop you. Doing what is taboo and doing what could “never work” is exactly what needs to be done to innovate and stand out. Breaking the 4th wall was a risky move but it paid off in spades, and most importantly, The Office was first to do it.

Reverse product placement is nothing new; many brands have tried this before with mixed success. What the real life paper company should have learned from the fictional one is not to wait. The Office has been on a decline for the past few seasons and no longer has its centerpiece, Steve Carrel. This move probably would have been timelier years ago when the show was at its peak of popularity. Whether you’re creating paper or a corporate video, don’t be afraid to do it with style and to stand outside of the norm. Skillman Video Group provides innovation for all of its clients. We will happily help you tackle taboos, break down walls, or at the very least, make a great video.

000-017   000-080   000-089   000-104   000-105   000-106   070-461   100-101   100-105  , 100-105  , 101   101-400   102-400   1V0-601   1Y0-201   1Z0-051   1Z0-060   1Z0-061   1Z0-144   1z0-434   1Z0-803   1Z0-804   1z0-808   200-101   200-120   200-125  , 200-125  , 200-310   200-355   210-060   210-065   210-260   220-801   220-802   220-901   220-902   2V0-620   2V0-621   2V0-621D   300-070   300-075   300-101   300-115   300-135   3002   300-206   300-208   300-209   300-320   350-001   350-018   350-029   350-030   350-050   350-060   350-080   352-001   400-051   400-101   400-201   500-260   640-692   640-911   640-916   642-732   642-999   700-501   70-177   70-178   70-243   70-246   70-270   70-346   70-347   70-410   70-411   70-412   70-413   70-417   70-461   70-462   70-463   70-480   70-483   70-486   70-487   70-488   70-532   70-533   70-534   70-980   74-678   810-403   9A0-385   9L0-012   9L0-066   ADM-201   AWS-SYSOPS   C_TFIN52_66   c2010-652   c2010-657   CAP   CAS-002   CCA-500   CISM   CISSP   CRISC   EX200   EX300   HP0-S42   ICBB   ICGB   ITILFND   JK0-022   JN0-102   JN0-360   LX0-103   LX0-104   M70-101   MB2-704   MB2-707   MB5-705   MB6-703   N10-006   NS0-157   NSE4   OG0-091   OG0-093   PEGACPBA71V1   PMP   PR000041   SSCP   SY0-401   VCP550   70-177   350-060   70-413   ICGB   500-260   220-901   100-105  , 1V0-601   101-400   CAS-002   300-115   70-178   101   70-980   300-070   1Z0-061   1Z0-803   350-060   400-201   JK0-022   810-403   SSCP   OG0-093   9L0-012   PMP   70-417   LX0-104   1Z0-144   ICBB   c2010-657   70-347   1z0-434   70-462   NS0-157   300-135   200-125  , 70-411   70-346   000-105   400-201   642-999   SY0-401   ADM-201   220-801   NSE4   ICBB   70-246   70-413   350-080   70-461   70-417