As a kid who grew up in the ’80s — sporting my Jams and Swatch watch as I navigated the neighborhood on my BMX Mongoose — I fell for Stranger Things within the first few minutes of episode one. The phenomenon that is now Stranger Things couldn’t be better timed for us marketers. With season two now watched by over 16 million fans, the franchise has successfully merged modern-day marketing with a simplicity that made the ’80s a decade as endearing as Eggo waffles.
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So, let’s tune in to this curated list of 11 (obviously!) ways Stranger Things has made us marketers re-think how to engage audiences:
1. Say goodbye to the generational gap.
The show has bridged the generational gap in ways most brands can’t crack. Stranger Things has those of us who grew up in the ’80s seated right beside millennials and centennials as we binge watch and then regroup to discuss. Stranger Things taps into cultural nostalgia to multiple generations, creating a new form of connective tissue that isn’t just for “80’s nerds.”
2. Be proactively reactive.
When E.T. came out in 1982, Reese’s Pieces got an unexpected, extraterrestrial plug. But, since social media didn’t exist back then, the brand had no choice but to sit back and ride the wave. On the flip side, when Stranger Things gave Eggo a major free plug during this year’s Super Bowl, rather than just take the mention, Eggo was smart enough to jump into the conversation and, even more proactively, created a new conversation by launching clever tactics of its own, such as a spoiler-alert pop-up blocker and an interactive microsite.
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3. Think “open API.”
Similar to how the tech space created an open API for developers, Stranger Things has opened the gate for brands to jump on the bandwagon. While there’s a clear difference between licensed partnerships and simple content references, many brands were able to harness the buzz leading up to season two to create new relevancy — from fast casual restaurant chains like Panda Express touting a supernatural kind of love for orange chicken to canine influencer Doug the Pug launching Stranger Pugs 2. The moral here is to always think open.
4. Working together wins.
Traditionally, the legal department is the Demogorgon to marketers; we think press and they think protect. Netflix, which airs Stranger Things, proved legal and marketing can work together to build earned buzz when its legal team issued a super creative cease and desist letter asking a Chicago bar to shut down an unauthorized pop-up using references from the show. It’s a great lesson in how brands can work across departments to carry forth a master narrative.
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5. Customize your curation.
With data driving how we customize everything from content to experiences, simple curation is no longer enough. With the launch of Stranger Things season two, Spotify gave consumers that chance by pairing their taste in music with their favorite Stranger Things character to deliver curated playlists. As marketers, we must continue to look for innovative ways to personalize experiences and create activations that are highly shareable.
6. Virtual reality is reality.
Trending technology allows a brand to bring consumers from the outside in (or, in this case, the upside down) and it is a sure-fire way to generate earned conversations. Stranger Things launched a 360-degree virtual reality video that boasts over 2 million views. It allows viewers to put themselves into one of the show’s most famous sets. Lesson learned here is that not all VR/AR experiences need to be expensive (fans can access this content using something as simple as Google Cardboard).
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7. Gamification is gold.
Stranger Things has also integrated gamification and gaming tactics to plus-up its cool factor and embed the unexpected into fan interactions. Tactics such as the hidden Easter egg that turns a Netflix user’s page upside down complement a digital activation the brand did with livestreaming site Twitch and a downloadable video game. We live in a culture that is all about collecting points, topping the leaderboard and earning badges. Brands that look to gamify their narrative will win, especially with coveted millennials.
8. Take experiential to the next level.
Stranger Things turned on-demand transport into a full-blown experience during Comic-Con this fall when it took over the streets of New York City. Attendees could hail free rides in paranormal pedicabs driven by lookalikes of fan favorite Dustin Henderson, who handed out Stranger Things swag. To garner press around the activation, a fleet of drive-bys took place outside of the Today show and Good Morning America, something we always advise our clients to do to maximize ROI on stunt spends.
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9. Out-do your out-of-home.
Out-of-home executions are a great way to garner media buzz. Stranger Things created a mysteriously placed billboard for Hawkins Power & Light around New York and Los Angeles, and made it interactive with a working 1-800 number. Callers initially heard menu prompts and on-hold music — which gave way to the Stranger Things theme and clues about season two. Surprise and delight out-of-home executions are a fantastic alternative channel to consider when you don’t have above-the-line dollars to spend.
10. Welcome parallel story lines.
While hidden camera stunts aren’t entirely new, the Stranger Things team took advantage of consumers’ thirst for more intel by creating a YouTube playlist called Hawkins Monitored. This playlist allows viewers to spy on Hawkins residents using hidden cameras that reveal deeper insight into their favorite characters. Brands that look beyond linear storytelling and parallel story lines can forge even deeper connections and build long-term loyalty with their audiences.
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11. Make the end your next beginning.
While you want to leave brand fans clamoring for more, don’t lose sight of the fact that we live in a binge-watching world. Feed your targets’ want for bonuses and added value by thinking through your content strategy before you begin creating. Beyond Stranger Things offers fans the opportunity to further explore the show via compelling commentary from the show’s director, actors and creators, the Duffer brothers. After all, if you’re not looped into the story behind the story these days, do you really know much at all?
Sure, the ’80s were a much simpler time. Brands didn’t need to consider a relentlessly evolving digital landscape, social influencers or the fact that every consumer with a smartphone can be a creator in his or her own right. In the ’80s, on-demand culture meant Domino’s pizza was delivered within an hour or it was free. And our experience economy was hitting the roller rink or arcade. But, as complicated as marketing is to navigate today, Stranger Things has proven that sometimes looking back (or upside down) can make a big difference when it comes to nailing a narrative that consumers care about.
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