Vinet Hosting Solutions Uncategorized How Black Mirror’s advertising merges art and marketing

How Black Mirror’s advertising merges art and marketing

How Black Mirror’s advertising merges art and marketing

The fourth season of Netflix’s wildly popular Black Mirror was released last month to acclaim from fans and critics alike. Now running since 2011, the anthology series has gathered steam from its one-shot success on Channel 4 in the U.K to become a low-key pop culture phenomenon. The irony is inescapable: a show that lampoons modern technology and social media at every chance is regularly consumed and debated on smartphones, laptops, shared across social media, advertised on YouTube, and targeted to a segmented group of potential fans.

Fifteen Million Merits, second episode of the show’s first season, portrays a dystopian future of human beings trapped in a mechanical world where they are perpetually forced to exercise and perform mundane activities in the hope of earning Merits, the only form of currency which enables them to skip ads on an omnipresent screen.

To say that Black Mirror is cynical about advertising is an understatement, and this is also a reason for the show’s widespread success. Not only is the storytelling great, but its tragic and often ghoulish portrayal of modern life can serve as catharsis for world-weary viewers.

Show creator Charlie Brooker has weighed in on the show’s title, explaining that it is an analogy for consumer tech in general:

The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.

Fortunately, the marketing minds at Netflix have not failed to notice that they are tasked with advertising a show that doesn’t particularly like advertising. Rather than follow the usual script for plugging a show — complete with TV adverts and social media buzz — the company has turned to subversive techniques which complement the show’s critical subtext, while simultaneously garnering widespread attention.

13 Days of Black Mirror

On February 24th of 2017, Netflix launched a ‘13 days of Black Mirror’ marketing stint. While some elements of the campaign were standard fare, even these were impressive: for instance, treating them like movie trailers, the company created an advert for each of the season’s six episodes and released them in a staggered succession over consecutive days to build excitement for the show’s premiere.

All 13 days were not spent on individual episodes, however. Posters were created and shared on social media. Early access to critics was granted to generate anticipation and positive press. Advertisements that didn’t fit the episodic format were also released.

The Creep Factor

While this strategy worked smoothly and marked an uptick in the show’s popularity across social media and SERPs, it had to be expensive for Netflix. Strangely, the biggest boost to the show over 13 days came from the least expensive and most surprising tactic tried: a series of messages shared across Turkish message board Ekşi Sözlük.

In December, users panicked after a chain of private messages emanating from account iamwaldo told recipients:

we know what you’re up to. watch and see what we will do.

iamwaldo was quickly recognized as a nod to Black Mirror episode The Waldo Moment, and although early suspicions aimed at trolls, Engadget and Gizmodo were able to verify that Netflix was indeed behind the stunt.

Esoteric messages traced back to Netflix’s marketing team

Reaction was mixed across the board, and threats of lawsuit against the company quickly followed. However, the move garnered widespread attention across news sites in Turkey and the anglosphere, accomplishing the directive of the “creepy”, “intrusive” ads to build buzz for the show.

It wasn’t the first or the last time that Black Mirror’s creators have risked controversy through unconventional marketing techniques.

Unconventional Marketing

In 2016, prior to the release of the show’s third season, Netflix tried a thoroughly original stunt by targeting Internet users with AdBlock installed in their browsers. Although it was neither easy nor cheap, Slate, Mashable and The Next Web all agreed to change their website’s source code to display a banner directly targeting AdBlock users:

At the same time, the company released a fake advertisement for VR-esque technology ‘Netflix Vista’ that would ostensibly enable customers to watch content anywhere in the world at any time through a chip implanted in their brain. The Independent hailed the advert as “basically a new mini-episode,” and encouraged readers to “get out and watch it”.

To complete the run of its 13 Days of Black Mirror, Netflix finally released a mind-bending advert last month that merged artificial news clips with political discourse from the preceding year, scenes from the show, and easter eggs based around the show’s story (‘malware cleaner shrive’ from Shut Up and Dance) in one surreal and ominous hurrah:

Black Mirror is a highly unique show with an unusual premise, and Netflix itself is a highly unique company that often displays ingenuity in its marketing techniques. Obviously nobody should copy what the company has done verbatim, but there are some general lessons to be gleaned from the way it has handled one of its most valuable properties.

Telling a Story

Good marketing should complement the spirit of a product, and involve prospects in an unfolding story. There are many ways to do this for those outside creative media: having a company mission, focusing on the benefits of a product over its features, publishing user testimonials, and launching a user generated content campaign.

For Netflix, the story does not end with the screenplay or final cut of a Black Mirror episode, but extends beyond the boundaries of a screen in unexpected ways. Whether viewers are startled with an advertisement where there shouldn’t be any, unnerved by messages of a distinctly creepy nature or captivated by an alternate reality constructed solely for an ad, they are immersed in the show’s message and social commentary before it even begins.

Gathering Steam

Having a good product or service is half the battle — getting it out there is the other half. Many a venture has sunk on the rocks of a product launch without any initial users, and this happens when a company only thinks about advertising after the fact. Prior to the launch of something new, there are many ways to get people on board: press releases, social media outreach, informational webinars and more.

Netflix hit the right note by releasing tidbits of information, trailers, posters, and easter eggs over an extended period of time. Examining Google Trends, we see that interest in Black Mirror more than doubled after the launch of the 13 day campaign:

Having Self-Awareness

We’ve discussed the importance of self-awareness in advertising before. A company that is overly serious and lacks a good handle on how it is perceived by the public — or especially by its audience — often risks falling flat at best, or annoying prospects at worst. A good advertising campaign understands what it’s trying to sell, and how that attempt will be received by its target.

An enormous Internet company with a large userbase, Netflix regularly faces the prospect of criticism and scorn for the inevitable shortcomings of its service and its interaction with users. Not only does it anticipate and deflect such criticism in its marketing techniques, but Netflix has even used its tremendous database of viewer habits to crack jokes on Twitter:

Taking a Risk

The most successful advertising strategies are rarely cut and dry. Sometimes the best way to earn publicity is to do something completely unexpected, or even controversial. Of course, companies have to take precaution not to offend or upset their target audience; nevertheless, good social media strategies often involve an element of political discourse that risks offense, and the best marketers are willing to try something new.

An objective analysis of 13 Days of Black Mirror will simultaneously recognize that it was highly successful, while also noting that some steps were ill-advised. Commentators have argued, for instance, that Netflix bordered on user harassment with its “creepy” social media messages. Nevertheless, risky moves have often won public approval for Black Mirror, such as when the show’s Twitter account joked that Donald Trump’s election was not an episode of the program.

While Black Mirror is about technology and the way it impacts our day to day life, neither the show nor its advertising was made by an algorithm. The level of human creativity and detail poured into this strategy is a commendable example of the intersection between art and marketing.

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