How Netflix Used Disinformation On Social Media As A Valuable Marketing Tool

Published on November 8, 2019

Netflix is fairly hush hush when it comes to broad looks at its streaming and traffic numbers in comparison to other entertainment providers and production houses. Many Hollywood films release ongoing metrics of their films’ success in effort to attract media attention, but Netflix is known for releasing only snippets of information here and there. What’s On Netflix, the popular website that alerts consumers about what is coming and going from the platform each month, compiled a list of every bit of Netflix’s statistics that it has released thus far. The ongoing project highlights the ways in which Netflix has attained an industry stronghold on the biggest movies and shows in recent years. Below are some of its more interesting statistics:

Bird Box, Surprisingly, Was One Of Its Most Successful Productions

Few entertainment companies have the ability to go viral quite like Netflix has in recent years. Bird Box, one of its most divisive films, was no exception to that notion. The company’s internet-based business has succeeded largely with the help of the viral model. Memes, social media buzz, and blog hits have helped launch many Netflix shows into the canon without ever having to advertise them on television. TV, as it seems, is one of Netflix’s biggest rivals. But without the ability to advertise its content on the platform that everyone was already viewing for the same reasons, Netflix had to leverage other marketing options—in particular, social media.

Today, Netflix’s following on Facebook is more than 10 times greater than any of its competing streaming platforms. The company’s investment into social media meant a major return, as it remains one of the dominating streaming platforms to this day. Even the arrival of Disney+ doesn’t seem to scare the company, as it’s numbers have only increased in the last couple of years with the seemingly constant stream of incoming original content. On Facebook, the company’s engagement per post is far greater than that of its competitors, meaning that its customers are interacting with and helping to grow the brand remotely on their own merit.

For Bird Box, its most successful Original film to-date, the internet was almost entirely the cause of its rapid success. With little marketing to create awareness for the film, Netflix managed to garner most of its viewership by leveraging social media platforms and viral content to its advantage. The movie garnered terrible ratings, both in the press and on social media, but its near-constant buzz online was precisely what made it so successful. Hundreds of memes mocking the film circulated Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook in the weeks following the film’s release in 2018. Everything from its name to its imagery was seemingly perfectly executed to go viral, and boy did it ever.

How Meme Culture Helped Netflix

“Its SEO-friendly name, overcrowded cast, gimmicky imagery, and savvy release schedule all add up to pure meme bait,” reads an analysis that was originally published in The Ringer describing how Netflix used meme culture to its advantage to help make Bird Box go viral online. The popularity and viral exposure of the Bird Box memes became a cultural phenomenon that bled so deeply into the internet it somehow landed in the hardest to reach niche of online culture—suburban moms and the local news.

When teens coined the instantly popular “Bird Box challenge” and began driving their cars around blindfolded, only to end up blasting through a red light, the online phenomenon was widely talked about on local news channels across the country—and it didn’t cost Netflix a single dime. The popularity of Bird Box launched it into the zeitgeist seemingly in minutes, forcing some pockets of the internet to begin to question whether or not Netflix created the first couple of Bird Box memes in the first place. It seems like the sort of marketing scheme that only some of the world’s top marketers could come up with: they knew the movie would be so bad that it wouldn’t take off, so they used that as a selling point instead.

If it is true that Netflix created the memes about Bird Box in the first place, the guerrilla marketing technique is eerily similar to how political disinformation is spread through social media today.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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