Stranger Things: why brands love to piggyback on the show

Netflix has promotional agreements with 75 different brands for season three of the show. Why do they like it so much?

Netflix and the Duffer Brothers are up against it. In Stranger Things, they have managed to create a juggernaut that satisfies critics and fans in equal measure. But, at the same time, the show comes with its own form of inbuilt obsolescence. This isn’t a series designed to run for ever because, short of forcing them into a nightmarish round of age-denying cosmetic surgery, the cast will reach adulthood before long. The current prediction is that Stranger Things will check out after four or five seasons.

The third season becomes available this week. This means that Netflix only has a short time to wring every last penny it can from the show. And, oh boy, is it trying. According to the New York Times, Netflix has promotional agreements with 75 different brands for the new season. It’s a huge, sprawling campaign that will essentially render Stranger Things impossible to avoid. H&M will stock replicas of the garments worn by characters on-screen. Baskin-Robbins will introduce flavours based on the ones sold at the fictional Scoops Ahoy ice-cream parlour. Burger King will sell upside down Whoppers. Polaroid has brought out an upside down camera. Weirdest of all, Coca-Cola is reviving its universally reviled New Coke recipe on the basis that some Stranger Things characters consume it.

In one sense, Stranger Things’ period setting makes for a smart way for increasingly obsolete brands to leverage their nostalgia value – Polaroid is bad enough; we should count our lucky stars that nobody thought of rush-releasing a Teddy Ruxpin demogorgon – but at the same time, sheesh. There is such a thing as overkill, and Stranger Things is very close to that line.

There’s always a limit to how much brands can piggyback on TV shows. Think back to Sex and the City. The reason they don’t make any more Sex and the City isn’t because Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall hate each other. Nor is it because some dolt came up with the line “Lawrence of my labia”. No, it’s because Sex and the City 2 was the world’s most expensive QVC segment, on-screen (there was jarring product placement for Cuisinart, Skyy vodka, HP, Mercedes and dozens of other brands) and off (Cosabella’s four-pack of knickers, each representing a different character), and the stench of opportunism overpowered whatever creative intent the film may have had.

Similarly, whenever I have been to see a James Bond film at the cinema over the past decade or so, I have heard audible sniggering during the scene where 007 fumbles in his pocket for the latest cutting edge save-the-day communications device, only to end up waving a Sony mobile phone at the camera as conspicuously as he can. However, this craven product placement has quantifiable results. In 2012, when Heineken paid $45m to have Bond swig from one of its bottles on Skyfall, it enjoyed vastly increased brand awareness as a result.

But Bond and SATC were huge, conversation-dominating franchises, and brands experience a noticeable bump for joining in. Stranger Things is just a season of television. Not only that, but a season of television that will be dropped online and gobbled up within a couple of days. The Netflix model of distribution mean that shows such as Stranger Things only catch heat for a microsecond before everyone moves on to the next big new thing. That can’t be worth the effort of getting 75 different brands to jump on board, surely.

But maybe it is, and maybe for exactly this reason. There was a time when, had it been broadcast traditionally, a season of Stranger Things would have eaten up two whole months of our attention. Those days are over. But by getting Coca-Cola to reintroduce an old drink and by getting Burger King to put a hamburger the wrong way up in a box, Netflix is helping to keep Stranger Things in the public consciousness for longer than it otherwise would be. Bung the logo in enough places and it may even pique newcomers into subscribing, just to see what all the fuss is about. And that’s the only metric that interests Netflix.

So, yes, this long and stupid brand partnership campaign is ridiculous and overblown, and comes dangerously close to critically voiding Stranger Things for good. But, given the state of the landscape, it may be the first time that the show has needed the brand more than the brand needed the show.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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