It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly eighteen months since the Duffer Brothers introduced us to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, and its likable adolescent inhabitants. Since then, Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ has gone on to become a global phenomenon.
Considering the constant chatter of social media, it seems tough for shows to sneak up on people. Yet “Stranger Things” did exactly that. Just how did the ‘80s supernatural thriller become one of the biggest shows of recent years?
For starters, it has the clout of Netflix, a company which is adding around 12,000 subscribers in the US each day and over 56,000 subscribers per day in the rest of the world. Most notable, however, is the show’s marketing strategy.
With season two already making waves, let’s look at how ‘Stranger Things’ has turned the world of marketing upside down.
Fans of “Stranger Things” have immersed themselves in the world of Hawkins. A few weeks after the show was released on Netflix, the company published a 360° virtual reality video on YouTube.
This interactive experience allowed viewers to explore the first floor of the Byers home – where much of the supernatural action goes down – and experience the thrill for themselves.
For season two, Netflix ramped up its experiential marketing efforts. Through a recently published YouTube playlist called ‘Hawkins Monitored,’ viewers can spy on leading characters with a series of hidden cameras. This gives audiences unique access to the perspective of the Hawkins Department of Energy.
The sinister corporation again comes to the fore in a new marketing campaign, this time under its alternative name of Hawkins Power and Light. Billboards touting Hawkins Power and Light have popped up in Los Angeles and New York, displaying the tagline, “Flipping the Switch for a Brighter Tomorrow.”
The campaign features a working 1-800 number that functions much like a regular corporate phone line – soothing on-hold music, menu directions to follow, automated responses – until there’s a crackling sound similar to Joyce Byers’ eerie phone calls in the show.
okay but the number actually puts you through to hawkins power and light, as if i wasn’t excited enough already pic.twitter.com/M188WvU5gw
— dracu(lana) (@wronngcrowd) October 23, 2017
Luckily, Netflix has also thrown in humorous experiences for good measure. For New York Comic-Con in early October, the company deployed 20 Dustins on pedicabs throughout the city. Not only did the Dustins ride through the streets blasting ’80s music, they also gave Comic-Con attendees free rides.
These experiences are entirely unique to “Stranger Things” and ensure that the show remains top of mind with audiences both offline and online.
Set in the 1980s amid government conspiracies, missing children, and the creepy unexplained, “Stranger Things” pays homage to popular culture of the time. The works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg come to mind, alongside shows like Twin Peaks and The X-Files.
For viewers, the show evokes feelings of nostalgia. Such emotions can help viewers connect with the show and associate it with positive childhood memories. As one study conducted by the Journal of Consumer Research discovered, people actually spend more money when they are feeling nostalgic.
‘Stranger Things’ has tapped into these nostalgic emotions as part of its marketing efforts. During the summer, the show began a #StrangerThursdays campaign on social which gave audiences a weekly recap of episodes from season one. But that’s not all.
The show also revealed a range of poster designs that directly reference supernatural movies from the 1980s. The eight posters take clear visual cues from the numerous sci-fi films that influenced the show’s retro aesthetic.
A post shared by Stranger Things (@strangerthingstv) on
Like the original posters, the “Stranger Things” promos are highly stylized, with each poster having its own unique logotype. They also have a low-resolution visual style reminiscent of the retro film adverts of the era.
A post shared by Stranger Things (@strangerthingstv) on
The show not only called upon its strongest influences, it unashamedly utilized them to connect with fans who can relate to that memorable era of supernatural thrillers.
Within the show itself, cultural references have been a focal point. Nowhere is this more apparent than the show’s mysterious central character, Eleven. The telekinetically-gifted adolescent became addicted to Eggo waffles during the first season. The tasty treat has since featured in the ‘Stranger Things’ Super Bowl ad.
Eggo has certainly capitalized on its new cultural relevance. It’s already released a branded ‘Stranger Things’ spoiler blocker which apparently detects and blocks out any posts on Reddit or Facebook, tweets on Twitter, or stories on Google News that mention “Stranger Things” or terms related to the show.
— Eggo® (@eggo) October 16, 2017
Furthermore, the brand has released recipes tied to each of season two’s nine episodes and do-it-yourself costume pieces made with Eggo boxes, while ‘Stranger Things’ toasters and Eggo waffles are making their way to influencers. This breathes new life into a brand that many Gen Xers and Millennials talk about with fondness.
Hitting the Right Notes
The ‘80s was a time filled with cultural touchpoints, and for “Stranger Things,” music is one of the most prominent callbacks to the decade. The theme music, created by a modern synthwave band called S U R V I V E, provides the all-too-well-known ‘80s synth sound.
The soundtracks of most ‘80s supernatural thrillers were famously ominous. It’s therefore fitting that ‘Stranger Things’ has paid tribute with a modern twist on eerie instrumentals.
The soundtrack to the show itself takes viewers on a trip down memory lane. Outside of synth sounds, ‘80s classics such as Toto’s “Africa” feature in prominent scenes. Music has a way of inducing nostalgia, reminding viewers of childhood favorites and memorable milestones.
Word of Mouth is Key
Following its debut in July 2016, “Stranger Things” spread like wildfire. Word of mouth played a huge role in its growing popularity. The lack of hype, but quality of content, created a word of mouth marketing effect in which consumers, not Netflix, sold the show to other consumers.
Even horror author Stephen King, an obvious influence on the show, sang its praises. And during the long wait for season two, fans continued to promote the show on and offline.
During the summer, the team behind Chicago’s Emporium Arcade Bar launched a ‘Stranger Things’ pop-up bar. Aptly called The Upside Down, the pop-up featured all the 80’s goodness that fans have come to expect. Eleven’s favorite toasted waffles were of course present, as were blinking Christmas lights, an old-school AV rig and the Byers’ family couch.
Meanwhile, online fans are creating a plethora of digital tools to celebrate the hit show. One popular example, Make It Stranger, is a type generator that allows you to “strangify” any words you choose into the show title’s unique font. These images can then be downloaded, Tweeted, or shared on Facebook.
Thanks to the “Stranger Things” synth machine, you can live out your ‘80s synth player fantasies by customizing your version of the theme song with Robert Vinlaun’s ramsophone.
And what would a hit show be without its own subreddit. This hub of fan activity showcases everything from video essays on ‘80s pop culture to real tattoos that were inspired by the series.
Coming from humble beginnings, it was important for “Stranger Things” to build an initial cult following. These early fans were brand advocates, promoting and selling the show to other consumers on and offline – actions that were pivotal to the show’s rise.
A Strange Future?
Everybody loves an underdog story. According to the Duffer Brothers, “Stranger Things” was rejected 15 to 20 times by various networks. Executives doubted that a show featuring four kids as lead characters could take off. This makes the show’s success all the more remarkable.
This underdog has become one of Netflix’s most popular shows, but what does the future hold? Surprisingly, the future holds something consumers are already very familiar with: merchandise.
The success of the #ImWithBarb movement (we miss you Barb) indicated potential for ‘Stranger Things’ merchandise. In collaboration with Target, Netflix is realizing that potential. This new partnership sees branded merch such as clothing, coffee mugs, and DVD-in-VHS-disguise hit the shelves of Target on and offline.
Even Netflix CEO Reed Hastings couldn’t resist some product placement during the company’s Q3 earnings call, donning an ugly ‘Stranger Things’ Christmas sweater.
Netflix, having originally made its name in DVD rentals, is coming full circle by once again launching physical products. Meanwhile, “Stranger Things” will continue to blur the lines between fiction and reality, offering immersive experiences, charming nostalgia and ultimately, a show that audiences dare not miss.
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