Knockout PR Formula: USA Today + Netflix = Hybrid Babies

Published on June 7, 2021

When it comes to promoting a new streaming series, most studios take a pretty standard approach. 

Run some ads on YouTube, post on social media, send out an email blast—it’s the most basic, vanilla strategy ever, yet publicists keep using it because it’s safe and reliable. 

Netflix took a dramatically different approach to promote their new series, “Sweet Tooth.” They partnered with USA Today, which wrapped its June 4 weekend edition newspaper in a fake cover, warning of “a new generation of half-human, half-animal children.”

Crazy? Yes!

Attention-grabbing? Also yes! 

The campaign got massive attention. 

Some people chose to find offense in the campaign.

Look—if by some dark and twisted miracle, you gave birth to a hybrid baby with hooves and horns, I guess I could legitimately understand how this might offend you. But that has literally never happened to anyone, therefore, there’s nothing here to be offended by. 

Is it a fake story temporarily masquerading as a factual news story? 

I mean, I guess.

But if Karen read the headline and thought, “Like, oh-em-gee, Chloe, these poor ladies are legit having mutant babies,” then she has bigger problems than can be addressed in this article. My tots and pears go out to her. 

I, and the vast majority of rational people, however, found it refreshing to see communications professionals taking an out-of-the-box approach. I’m very much a boundary pusher. (Sorry, Karen and Chloe.)

Large brands are generally more reluctant to push bounties because they have more to lose if a campaign goes sideways, so it’s always interesting to see them do something like this. Especially considering that they have the budget to run a campaign large enough to get a huge group of people stirred up. 

And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re working towards, right? 

We all want those viral bombs that take on a life of their own. The kind where you watch your traffic skyrocket. Where you see your brand’s mentions on Twitter multiply with each refresh. And where you earn new features without even having to pitch. (Just like you see here!)

And they achieved all of that with a simple but creative PR campaign that probably came with a price tag so modest it would be a rounding error in Netflix’s budget.

I salute whoever was a part of this brilliantly executed PR masterpiece. Everyone from the creatives who came up with the idea all the way up to the executives who approved it. 

The fake front page consisted of two articles. One article was about the threat of these hybrids to national security. The other was about the claim that they are the greatest mystery of our lifetime. And for what it’s worth, there was a disclaimer at the top of the page. 

The real front cover sat quietly behind the ad waiting for it’s turn to shine. 

It was all relatively tame, and if we’re being completely honest, it probably wasn’t even the weirdest thing we saw in the news over the last year.

Jeremy Knauff is a contributor at Grit Daily and several other publications, a Marine Corps veteran, and the founder of Spartan Media, a digital marketing agency that serves the construction industry.

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