One of Netflix’s major success stories, Stranger Things has become a global phenomenon, with season 3 watched by over 40m households in the first four days of release, and total worldwide viewing hours topping 1 billion. The show has kickstarted the careers of the child actors involved, and with season 4 just around the corner, it looks set to grow even further.
However, Stranger Things’ meteoric rise is not just due to the show’s strong writing and likeable young talents. Part and parcel of the show’s success are its smart, timely marketing and PR strategies that have helped capitalise on the show’s initial hype.
Harnessing the show’s 80s aesthetic and packaging it into a series of nostalgia-fuelled brand partnerships, collaborations, and physical installations, the marketing team working on Stranger Things have helped boost the show’s popularity far beyond on-screen hype.
With that thought in mind, the print and branding experts at Solopress have taken a look at how Stranger Things’ marketing has helped the show become ubiquitous in modern pop culture.
- Stranger Things is Netflix’s third-most-popular English-speaking show of all time.
- Season 3 was watched by over 40m households on the first day of release, and total worldwide viewing hours now top 1 billion.
- For season 3, Stranger Things formed promotional partnerships with 75 different brands.
- Netflix Head of Global Partner Marketing, Barry Smyth, commented, ‘Netflix is an internet company, so associating its shows with physical products helps customers think about its shows even when offline.’
- Though many brands made an appearance in the show, none were paid for or placed by a third party – all were added by the directors to create an immersive 1980s experience.
- A collaboration with Coca-Cola brought about over 55,000 brand mentions for both Stranger Things and Coke in the run-up to series 3’s release.
- Conservative estimates suggest the value of Coca-Cola’s product placement advertising in the series is $1.5m.
- Nike received $178m worth of earned media coverage related to their collaboration with Stranger Things.
- Burger King received an estimated $471,000 of product placement advertising in the series.
Stranger Things On-Screen
Set in the fictional Indiana town of Hawkins in the 1980s, Stranger Things follows a group of kids who investigate supernatural happenings linked to the disappearance of their friend. What separates the show from the plethora of other ‘kids-vs-aliens’ films is the immersive 1980s experience created; from the period soundtrack to the set design, props and locations, the show’s attention to detail is hugely endearing to fans.
As a result, Stranger Things’ wildly-successful marketing campaigns have tended to tap into the nostalgia factor, which is equally important to the show’s on-screen aesthetic and commercial success.
Pop culture references are a hugely important part of the Stranger Things immersion – items or products that are inherently ‘80s’ appear throughout the show, such as Eggo waffles and realistic walkie-talkies. Netflix Head of Global Partner Marketing, Barry Smyth, commented, ‘Netflix is an internet company, so associating its shows with physical products helps customers think about its shows even when offline.’
Having formed promotional partnerships with 75 different brands for season 3, brand collaborations are a key aspect of how Netflix has grown the Stranger Things brand, and special editions of much-loved products has helped sustain the buzz around the show in between seasons.
Coca-Cola’s ill-fated ‘new Coke,’ introduced with a new formula in 1985 to huge backlash, features in the series as characters debate whether the new or old flavour is superior. An 80s-themed pop-up collaboration with Coca-Cola followed, as they (sheepishly) admitted that it may have been a mistake to change the Coke recipe.
At the pop-up, visitors were given limited edition Coke Zero cans and played classic arcade games like Space Invaders, highlighting the importance of nostalgia in influencing Stranger Things’ brand partnerships. Coke became the most-mentioned brand name in conjunction with the series, with almost 56,000 social media posts referring to both Coca-Cola and Stranger Things in the run-up to the series release.
A collaboration with Nike followed as members of the public picked up on the footwear on show throughout Stranger Things. The cast, sporting vintage Reebok Classics and popular 80s Nike models like the Cortez and Tailwind, helped drive demand for a limited-edition run of Nikes sporting Hawkins High School insignia.
Here, Netflix’s smart use of product placement in the series helped drive further interest in retro Nike silhouettes, before then offering exclusive colourways and details linked to their own offering – Stranger Things. The capsule collection was released in the weeks leading up to series 3, which launched on July 4. Between May 9 and July 8, Nike received $178m of earned media coverage, indicating the widespread success of their collaboration.
The show also collaborated with Mongoose bikes to release a special-edition replica of one of the bikes ridden by ‘Mad’ Max Mayfield in the show. Complete with show-inspired details such as stunt pegs and headlamps, as well as bright yellow 5-spoke alloy wheels, the bike is set apart from normal Mongoose bikes by its 80s detailing.
Whilst this collaboration was not as high-profile as the show’s other brand partnerships, it’s worth the mention due to how quintessentially 80s this product is. The chrome frame, alloy wheels and headlamp provide little benefit other than aesthetically, but, as many of Stranger Things’ partnerships have shown, brands who celebrated their heyday in the 80s are perfect to package and sell the nostalgia created on-screen.
Burger King made an appearance in five of the season’s eight episodes – it was seen multiple times during the gang’s trips to the Starcourt Mall, but also featured as a takeaway in episode six, for an estimated product placement advertising value of $471,000. The fast-food giant was therefore a perfect brand partner for a cross-promotional deal.
The burger chain released an ‘Upside-Down Whopper,’ referencing the Upside-Down, the parallel universe in Stranger Things where supernatural happenings occur. The limited-edition burger was simply a normal whopper with the top and bottom buns switched around, though it did come in packaging reminiscent of BK’s 1980s packaging. If anything sums up how succinctly Stranger Things has managed to package and sell nostalgia, this is it.
With Stranger Things, Netflix has recreated the 1980s through a consumerist lens, inviting nostalgic viewers to relive a taste of life 40 years ago. For those who didn’t live through the 80s, Stranger Things’ brand partnerships give viewers a chance to get a little closer to the immersive atmosphere created in the show.
The Stranger Things experience is therefore a great example of how online content providers have used physical products and branding to boost their real-world cultural relevance. Solopress Head of Marketing, Glen Eckett, commented: ‘Stranger Things has created an on-screen world and marketed it perfectly through mutually-beneficial collaborations with established brands. The show has harnessed the power of nostalgia massively, and that’s allowed it to sustain a buzz between series.’