The Godfather Approach to Internet Marketing


The Godfather is one of my favorite movies ever. I own the trilogy set in DVD, and I probably already watched it more than 10 times. The last time I tried, I could also recite the first 5 minutes of the movie by heart….


Why do I like it so much? For one thing my father’s side of the family came from Italy. I don’t have citizenship yet, but we are working on it. I have also lived in Italy for over seven years, and I love their culture.

Apart from those personal reasons, however, I also like the overall attitude of Vito and Michael Corleone. Not that I agree with their criminal activities, obviously, but they knew how to deal with people and how to handle their business.

In fact, I think that we can learn many different things from that movie, even if what you do is Internet marketing or blogging. Here are four of those things.

1. Respect Other People

The very first scene of the movie shows Bonasera, an Italian who had his daughter attacked by some boys, asking Don Corleone for revenge. Bonasera explained that he didn’t seek for Don Corleone earlier because he didn’t want to get into trouble. Here is how Don Corleone replied:

I understand. You found paradise in America, had a good trade, made a good living. The police protected you; and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend like me. But uh, now you come to me and you say — “Don Corleone give me justice.” — But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you… ask me to do murder, for money.

Bonasera basically wanted to hire Don Corleone’s services in exchange for money. But that is not how things work inside the Mafia. You don’t hire the Godfather, you earn his protection by showing him respect and loyalty along many years.

Calling him Godfather and kissing his hand, in fact, is one of the most basic signs of that respect, and Bonasera didn’t even want to do that.

Want an example of how this relates to Internet marketing? I get dozens of emails every week asking me to check out a website or online service. Most of the times, however, the person won’t even include my name in the email salutation, revealing that he probably did not even take the time to read my site, or is mass emailing a lot of people hoping to get some free exposure for his stuff.

The people that start their emails with “Hi Daniel,” on the other hand, already earn some of my attention.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t see my self as a celebrity blogger or anything. But if this problem already happens with me, you can bet that it is much worse with the Seth Godins and Michael Arringtons out there.

If you want to have people’s attention, at the very minimum you need to be genuine and to treat them with respect.

2. Give Before You Ask

Upon Bonasera’s request, Don Corleone also said this:

We’ve known each other many years, but this is the first time you came to me for counsel, for help. I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child.

Bonasera had never helped Don Corleone in the past. For the matter of fact, he hadn’t even invited Don Corleone to his house in an act of friendship. Then, on the day of the wedding of Don Corleone’s daughter, he showed up out of the sky asking for help.

Before asking people’s favors, make sure you have helped them in the past.

How does this apply to Internet marketing? Simple, before going around asking for links and mentions of your blog posts and articles, make sure that you shared the link love in the past.

Secondly, give without expecting nothing in return. Most people will be glad to return your favors, but this is something that should happen naturally, and not in a forced way.

3. Get Suspicious of People’s Generosity

At one point in the movie a Sicilian named Virgil Sollozzo wants to meet with Don Corleone to make him a partnership offer in the drug business. During the meeting, Sollozzo explains that Don Corleone will only need to invest 1 million dollar and share his political influence, and that in return he should get back 3 to 4 million dollars in the first year alone.

Upon hearing this offer, Don Corleone says:

So why do you come to me? Why do I deserve this generosity?

Obviously there was something shady going on. The offer was too good to be true, and Don Corleone knew it better, so he just refused it.

Similar situations happen quite often on the Internet. You will get approached by people that wanted to exchange links with you despite their websites having a PageRank of 0; you will get approached by people that want to launch a joint venture with you but that have nothing to bring to the table and so on. Not to the mention all the emails and websites offering you big prizes in exchange for a click or some other action.

Whenever you find yourself with an offer that seems too good to be true, ask that person: “Why do I deserve this generosity?”

4. It Is Business, Not Personal

In Godfather Part II Michael Corleone starts inquiring with his partner Hyman Roth about the murder of Frank Pentangeli, a member of the Corleone family. Hyman Roth was the man behind it, but the murder was a business decision, not a personal one. Here is how he replied to Michael:

There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada… made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI’s on the way to the West Coast. That kid’s name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn’t angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen; I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!

Admittedly, to talk about “murder as a business decision” is a crazy thing, but we can extrapolate the concept to legitimate contexts, too.

Another day a friend of mine contacted me saying that an online entrepreneur was copying the articles on one of his websites word by word. He told me that he wanted to retaliate, that he was planning to create clones of the websites of that person as well, hoping to damage his search rankings.

The mistake is obvious: he was reasoning at personal rather than at business level.

I told him that if he tried to retaliate, the situation would only get worse, and both of them would end up with a lot of problems and losses.

Instead, I told him to contact the other person in a friendly way, asking him if he could fix the problem. He did that, and the other person said “No problems, and sorry about that.” In a matter of days the problem was solved and both of them kept a good relationship.

So remember: it is business, not personal!

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41 Responses to “The Godfather Approach to Internet Marketing”

  • Pankaj Kumar

    Hello Daniel,
    You simply struck the nail on its head by a perfect analogy. The comparison with “Godfather” (a personal favorite) is thought provoking & also turns out to be relevant as you show.

    As a student of Internet Marketing, i do understand that we marketers do go overboard in making simple assumptions about people in general, which not only violate the basic communication rules but also ruin the business aspect of the relationship.

    Usually in case of E-mail marketing, it like taking a chance on probability of one in a million as response rate, and marketers are happy with the low costs involved. What normally marketers overlook is the number of potential responses they tend to loose because of a simple “Hi/ Hello”.

    Online Marketing needs to evolve by retrospection of the “Age Old Communication Principles” and using such analogies would certainly help, i wonder how many one can figure out from the Movies alone “Pursuit of Happyness” being another such example.

    I think, IM is more about facilitating and giving, rather than extracting benefit from the customers.

    Looking forward for more such interesting posts from you.

    Pankaj Kumar
    Pondicherry University

  • Jeff Sabo

    Respecting others does go a long way and during my time in college, every person I interned for had at least two or three stories about someone who didn’t take time to be respectful in an e-mail or formal message to that person. I agree with Daniel that not properly addressing the person you are contacting does leave the impression that the other person never looked at the web-site or did any formal research ahead of time.

    Something I would suggest is to always be respectful and polite if an authority figure, hiring manager or someone who could benefit your career contacts you. I have seen instances in which someone who was going out of their way to help someone got blown off by the person he or she was contacting. There are times in which someone calls at a bad moment but being polite about it is always more respectful. Thanking them for contacting you and offering to call back is more respectful then just blowing them off.

  • Yvette

    Hi Daniel! Thanks for the great article that caught my attention immediately because I too absolutely loved the Godfather trilogy. Ironically, I found there to be many life lessons in the movie ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ for one. You have taken it one step further by showing us how we apply some of the same principles to become better internet marketers. For example, I hate it when someone asks to connect with me on a social network and the very next thing I hear from them is why I need to sign up for something or they put me in their autoresponder and I get mail addressed to {firstname} instead of my actual name. That kind of thing definitely gets my attention, at least once. Thanks again for sharing, Daniel!

  • Commonwealth Games


    Amazing post..!!

    helps introspect on the methods we sometime use to promote the website..


  • Al

    You broke my heart!!

    I just love these movies…

  • Tyrone

    Great post Daniel.
    This is one of my favorite movie….it has influenced me a lot.

  • Rahul Bansal

    Amazing as usual Daniel 🙂

    Even I am big fan of Godfather trilogy and highly influenced by that him (Godfather) personally!

  • FreemonSandlewould

    Or the Mafia could be filled with a bunch of larcenous / murderous thugs. Duh!

    You are living in a fantasy land !

  • Your Happiness Power


    What a great article. Like you, the The Godfather trilogy is my absolute favorite. Can’t count the number of times I’ve watched these movies.

    Your use of the analogy between the movie and doing business in general is perfect.

    Everything I learned I learned from The Godfather! LOL

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