Netflix's content marketing has changed TV advertising forever

Remember the good old days, where you sat through ten minutes of ads to see Chandler propose to Monica and you called your friends afterwards to debrief?

Do we even need to mention when Ross and Rachel were “on a break”?

Say no more.

The way we consume TV has changed forever. Gone are the days where we sit through an angry door salesman yelling at us through our screens.

And we have services like Netflix to thank for it.

So, why has Netflix become the demigod of the screen-watching world?

Two words, friends: Content Marketing.

Netflix had the content marketing newshounds salivating (okay, maybe it was just me) with this genius marketing stunt masquerading as a public art installation to announce the recent release of the streaming service’s new series, The Umbrella Academy.  

If you’re wondering why an SEO company is blogging about a giant beach umbrella, no, we haven’t been sniffing sunscreen. This is Netflix’s attempt to emerge from the online avalanche of unremarkable content.

Umbrella

Photo credit: PEDESTRIAN.TV

The launch campaign includes none of the usual promotional megaphone that networks use to promote new shows. Instead, Netflix fueled the media fire with this large-scale installation by noted Aussie artist James Dive.

The stunt was reported on by both online and print media, and showed up on the social media feeds of countless enthralled passers-by - and Netflix didn’t have to pay for a single cent of that publicity. The one investment of a giant umbrella lead to local influencers sharing posts featuring the umbrella for weeks, drumming up some serious publicity for the new teenage drama.

Umbrella 2

Photo credit: Sam Earp

But it doesn’t stop there. Netflix is also driving the cultural conversation around diversity in Hollywood. In June 2018, the streaming service launched this unannounced video marketing campaign...  

Titled A Great Day in Hollywood, the video is narrated by Caleb McLaughlin from hit Netflix series Stranger Things, and stars an all-star cast of African American actors handpicked from Netflix shows.

It’s a reaction, at least in part, to the ‘Oscars so white’ scandal, and is a poignant piece of content that beautifully positions Netflix as an antidote to the institutionalised discrimination and racism that allegedly rules the stuffy corridors of Old Hollywood.   

Take that, rich white bigots.

Read between the lines and it’s clear Netflix is setting itself up as a Millennial-friendly brand, that has not only disrupted ‘old media’ business models, but is also a new-world advocate for a more progressive society. And that’s a far cry from tired old newspaper and billboard ads announcing the latest cookie-cutter studio rom-com.   

The Netflix Content Marketing Program's Best Episode

So, all this integrated marketing to promote the brand is super, but we haven’t got to the best part of the show. Here’s the Netflix content marketing wizardry that is frog marching TV network executives clad in orange coloured straight jackets right into a data-less padded cell.

Netflix Bonding

Netflix has their subscriber’s email addresses. And they know what their subscribers watch (after all, Netflix is sitting in their living room, kind of like Big Brother, but in a helpful, binge-watch-enabling kind of way). Oh, and they use your intimate relationship with Netflix to further their agenda. Ethan Beute shows us the simple magic in action, make sure you check it out.

So Netflix knows exactly what their audience wants. And they give it to them.

They know their audience binge watches. It’s the internet. Their subscribers don’t wait a week to watch each episode, so they release all episodes of the series straight up. Cue point of difference. Cue audience delight. Cue loyal subscribers.

Netflix Murder Mountain

They also know where their audience hangs out. They understand how millennials use the internet so they use online marketing. They promote on social networks. They use native advertising. They set up giant umbrellas on Australian beaches and passionately campaign for social justice, equality and diversity. Content recommendation platform Outbrain has the lowdown.

Utilising this data to help subscribers improve their experience is a genius masterstroke. Netflix are pioneering the development of the ‘personalised multichannel experience’, and Econsultancy shows how they are leading the way.

IpadsFlickr Image Courtesy Arne Kuilman

Netflix and its contemporaries Hulu, Amazon and HBO Go have ripped the traditional television business model to pieces by seeking to understand each individual customer and making sure they deliver this consistently to build a subscriber base that keeps coming back for more. That's content marketing - not the incessant Clive Palmer ads on TV.

So why has Netflix trumped the other streaming services?

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Reed discusses the company and its unique corporate culture: "Ultimately, flexibility is more important than efficiency over the long term."

The Crown

Great content comes first. Short term success is nice. Long term success is better.

Mass media no longer controls their audience. People can find entertainment and information wherever they want - if a great show takes 12 weeks to win an audience, that's fine, as long as they stick around. It never used to be this way.

How Has Netflix Changed TV Advertising?

Netflix is to TV what iTunes is to music. For so long, record companies held the power. CD sales were in their control.

All of a sudden iPod and MP3 downloads happened. People could find their music online. Until someone provided that service with efficiency and convenience, music fans used this new technology illegally. iTunes stepped in and these same users were happy to pay.

The TV market’s needs had changed, but the industry had not. So, Netflix stepped in to scoop up the audience crying out to improve their experience with new technology. Indeed, recent research demonstrates that illegal television show downloads have been slashed since Netflix’s entry to the market. A Omnicom Media Group study in 2017 contended that 47% of millennials don’t watch any video on television. None. The consumers of tomorrow spend more time than ever before engaged with media, it just happens they prefer to consume their video online.

Oh, and these guys are used to the I-get-what-I-want internet. They won't cop interruptive ads.

ComputerFlickr Image Courtesy Kevin Mullet

So, broadcast television is changing. Advertising is not the money tree it once was for network executives. Netflix makes profit from subscriptions, not ads. The Custom Content Council survey reported that 63% of respondents see branded content as superior to TV advertising. Adweek reports that an average of 37% of marketers spend is now allocated to branded content. The money needs to come from somewhere, and TV ad budgets are feeling the pinch.

Red Bull Media House has been producing extreme sports content across multiple formats and selling it to publishers for some time. Instead of paying for an advertising slot, the publisher is paying the brand for content. Marketing is now being used as a profit centre, not an advertising dollar vacuum.

In 2019, there’s a long list of big brands that are following suit. That’s right, instead of advertising to a mass audience for thousands of dollars a second, these brands are shooting their own entertainment content.

Heard of The Lego Movie? Or it’s hit sequel?  

Have you seen Heathrow Airport’s brilliant ad-turned heartwarming, tear-jerking story?

You get the idea.

This from Vice’s Dave Shilling explains how television used to work better than my ramblings ever could:

“Historically, the television industry has profited almost exclusively from an advertisement-based model. Thirty-second commercials are peppered through your favourite broadcast in order to pay for all that cocaine at the wrap party. The more viewers, the more expensive it is for a company to buy a commercial, which means more of that sweet, sweet nose candy for the producers. Because of that, what was on television had to be capable of appealing to a wide cross-section of the population in order to attract the most viewers so that networks could jack up ad rates (and buy more blow).”

Mad MenFlickr Image Courtesy Believe Kevin

And now? The Mad Men days are over. It’s not about blasting out interruptive messages to mass market audiences anymore. We don’t need to dartboard. We have access to our own platforms, and we have the keys to our own media empire. We can find the tiniest niches and talk to them and them alone for a mere fraction of the price of a 30-second tv slot (hello Youtube & Facebook video marketing).

So, television programs have become a microcosm of brand marketing. We don’t have to be all things to all people. We’ve got to be the best thing for one specific group of people. We’ve got to create content that is helpful, insightful, educational or entertaining to this audience. This builds trust and a strong relationship. Then it's easy to convince your new friends to purchase your product.

By virtue of their business model, Netflix thinks viewer first. Broadcast television networks think advertiser first. Neilsen ratings dominate the industry. The never-ending quest for more eyeballs (and hence more advertising dollars) shapes the product, not the customer's wants and needs. Either television advertising needs to become more relevant to each program's specific audience, or the Netflix's of the online world will continue to poach the broadcasters' revenue of tomorrow.

I’ll leave it to Dave to explain how TV has advertising has changed. He’s doing a pretty good (whilst profanity-laden) job of it.

“Ratings don't matter. Because with a subscription model, the cocaine is already paid for. It’s more important that a TV show is good, wins awards, cultivates "buzz”, and creates a passionate fanbase that comes back for more and more.”

Content marketing is the same. Pageviews, likes and rankings don’t matter as much any more. If you create phenomenal content for your target audience and get it into their hands, they’ll keep coming back for more. Buying your stuff from a competitor feels like cheating to loyal subscribers. You can have a sustainable profitable business with 200, 50, or even 5 customers in some industries - you don’t need 100,000 Facebook fans to find your niche.

I’ll let Dave finish off. He’s pretty worked up.

“TV is more of an art form than ever, and real art defies objectivity. So, in that spirit, I implore you: Keep your fucking numbers and graphs away from my stories.”

Content marketing is kinda like that. The most important metrics still matter, but we can’t get lost in the data. Telling better stories comes first now. Your f$!#ing numbers and graphs come second.

Do you want to reach audiences with your witty, engaging and entertaining content?

Call Gorilla 360. We can help you find, target and capture your audience using video and content marketing.

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Author

James Dillon

James tells stories for a living. Sometimes they are true. Always they are crafted to help brands delight, educate and funny-bone-tickle their audiences into coming back for more. He’s super passionate (read: obsessive) about ecommerce content marketing. James is dedicated to teaching ecommerce brands how to create their own repeat-customer-generating media empire. Keep an eye out for his online ramblings - you can expect a generous helping of lightbulb moments and cheeky guffaws.
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