Peter Watson: Netflix and the audacious Christmas marketing hit of 2018

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Those of you seeking entertainment over the Christmas break last week will no doubt have heard about the two surprise hits that dominated viewers’ screens.

“Have you seen it yet?”

That was the phrase I heard most over the Christmas and New Year break when it came to two shows that seemed to pop up as if from nowhere last week.

I’m talking of course, about Charlie Brooker’s latest Black Mirror episode ‘Bandersnatch’ and the thrilling, ‘Bird Box’, starring Sandra Bullock, both debuting to incredible viewer and critical response exclusively on the streaming platform, Netflix. This media juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down soon and these two imprints were examples of why.

Many people have praised the content of both. Each concept contains innovative, unusual tropes and had viewers glued to their screens, but it’s how they circulated and gathered momentum which captured those in the marketing game’s attention.

Take ‘Bandersnatch’ to begin with, an interactive, choice-based episode which took its inspiration from 1980s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. We won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but there are multiple endings that are all guided by the viewers’ decisions, taken by using remote controls, games consoles or on laptops. An early, less serious choice is to pick between two kinds of breakfast cereal and even which cassette tape the protagonist listens to on the bus.

Not only a great concept on its own, but the creators also marketed it in an amazing way too. Subtle posters showing the fictional game and others made by the story’s video game company, Tuckersoft appeared in Manchester and London in the days before Christmas.

Following the episode’s release, a Tuckersoft website was made live, offering a playable version of the episode’s ‘Nozedyve’ game through the use of a ZX Spectrum emulator, and presented a recruitment ad, which linked through to Netflix’s own jobs page.

For ‘Bird Box’, which debuted around the same time, the viral nature of this suspenseful thriller came in the unlikely form of memes. Dark and foreboding in nature, the light-hearted and often hilarious slew of GIFs, video clips and images that flooded social platforms not only fed the intrigue for those who haven’t seen it, but carried on the conversation for those that had. Releasing high-profile shows such as this at the quietest time of the year was a genius stroke from Netflix and it seems to have paid off.

It’s this kind of strategic and innovative thinking that will underpin how TV as we know it progresses. Those not able to think in new, exciting ways like this will fall by the wayside. There’s a feeling that 2019 will be the year where doing the same old, same old will be exposed and the innovators will win.

Netflix just threw down the gauntlet once again for 2019, how are you going to react?

The choice is yours.