If you haven’t seen an episode of “Stranger Things” by now, you may be the only human in this dimension that hasn’t. Over 40 million global households watched “Stranger Things” on its season 3 debut weekend, July 4th of this year. Over 824,000 US viewers had finished all eight episodes by the end of the first day launched, making “Stranger Things” the most-watched series Netflix has ever analyzed. While we have become engulfed in the lives of Hawkins’ residents and those creepy Demogorgons, we may not realize “Stranger Things” has turned the world of marketing upside down.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “nostalgia” as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or places with happy personal associations. Nostalgia is the feeling we get when a song takes us back to a moment in our past, a first dance, wedding, or kiss. Sometimes it takes us back to an era, like high school or when we lived on Elm Street. Nostalgia evokes emotion within us. It’s how we end up going back to our ex (even when we know better, we want to remember the good times) or the feeling we get when we sit inside a 1966 Stingray Corvette; it’s timeless. Nostalgia brings a sense of authenticity, familiarity, and comfort. It’s no wonder that nostalgia marketing works. It makes us “long for a period or place with happy personal associations.” Nostalgia marketing works, don’t believe me? This year vinyl record sales are poised to surpass CD sales for the first time since 1986, according to Rolling Stone.
The creators of “Stranger Things,” Matt and Ross Duffer (The Duffer Brothers), were born in 1984. Like many of us, they grew up watching ET, Ghostbusters, and Stand By Me. They used nostalgia marketing to take us all back to that era of our lives. Each episode is chocked full of mullets, jean jackets, walkie talkies, and Mongoose bikes (adorned with retro headlights just like ET rode across the moon). The Duffer Brothers have thought of every detail, from the “Reagan/Bush ‘84” signs to the awful retro sofas draped with grandma’s crocheted afghan. They even admit to creating Eleven from aspects of ET. Eleven also uses her powers with the television, much like Carol Anne does in the Poltergeist (I still cringe when I hear TV static). We would never have imagined we’d long to recreate the 80’s.
5 ways “Stranger Things” teaches us marketing is more than meets the eye:
- All Great Stories are About Survival: The Duffer Brothers knew they had a great story and were not willing to give away creative rights. They were rejected by over 15 networks who wanted them to change the story, make it for kids, or make the leading characters adults before being linked with Shawn Levy, who got them in the door at Netflix. Do not be willing to let go of your vision, be persistent, and find a way to “survive.”
- The Upside Down: Nostalgia marketing is the familiar at 30,000 feet. Remember not to mirror what has been done, but take the ordinary and shake things up. In “Stranger Things,” The Upside Down is the same as Hawkins, but very different. It’s familiar, but has the unexpected! Producers brought on 80’s actors like Sean Astin, “Bob” (80’s Goonies star), and Winona Ryder. They are the same, but all grown up. You may even find yourself trying to place what movie you remember “Bob” in before. Put your spin on what works. Work on evoking an emotion, but with a modern-day approach.
- Friends Don’t Lie: Be real. Consumers buy from companies they trust. In season 1, Jonathan Byers asks his brother, Will, if he even likes baseball. Will replies that his dad does, and sometimes it can be fun to go. Jonathan tells him, “you shouldn’t like things because people tell you you’re supposed to.” Don’t be what you aren’t. Know your audience and connect with them, with their interests! Make them the hero!
- Bring in the Experts, “Do you Copy?”: Throughout all three seasons, the Hawkins’ kids, Joyce, and Hopper all have guides throughout the show. Scott Clarke, Hawkins High School science teacher, guides them through electromagnetic fields and how the portals (in theory) could even be possible. In season 3, Alexei doesn’t speak English but becomes a Russian translator that helps the kids decipher the radio code. The Duffer Brothers give credit to several mentors that helped shape their success: Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, George Lucas, and M. Night. The Duffer Brothers thought about giving up because they started feeling like networks “just didn’t get it” until they met Shawn Levy, who helped seal the Netflix deal. The Duffer Brothers now have a combined net worth of roughly $32M. Don’t be afraid to spend money on experts; you can’t afford to miss this step.
- Stranger Things Marketing Successes: When watching “Stranger Things,” you may notice perfectly placed products like Coke, Eggo Waffles, and Mongoose bicycles. What you may not know is that Netflix or “Stranger Things” did not financially partner with any of these companies as sponsors. Instead, they had a better idea. They placed these products throughout the show so that the companies would share and cross-promote “Stranger Things” on social media and advertising channels. Eggo Waffles increased its sales by 14% and had a record month of social media mentions. Baskin Robbins (who is not mentioned in the series), took an opportunity to use the Scoops Ahoy brand from the show and create a pop-up shop with unique “Stranger Things” flavors that were wildly successful. Nike (who is not mentioned) created a very successful Hawkins High brand.
Be creative and resourceful with what you have. Create partnerships and affiliations with other brands that can help share your message!
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