From 2003-2006, the show Arrested Development aired on Fox. In that time, it garnered tremendous critical acclaim, a bevy of awards—and almost no ratings. It’s been suggested that one of the major reasons for this is that the show was poorly promoted. Fox did little to market their show, and finally canceled it after three lackluster seasons.
A generation ago, that would have been the end of it. But not in today’s world. In the aftermath of its cancellation, the once-neglected show was able to gain a huge new following on DVD and through instant viewing on Netflix.
Fast forward to the present. Netflix has branched out from providing popular content to creating their own. And one of the first things they decided to do was to give one of the most-viewed shows on Netflix Instant its much-anticipated fourth season. It was perhaps a gamble, considering that Netflix is subscription-based, thus automatically limiting the show’s viewership. The entire experiment could easily be a dismal failure, unless the project was extremely well-promoted. And so, to avoid repeating Fox’s mistake, Netflix launched one of the largest and most innovative marketing campaigns in the history of Internet content.
The promotion began unexpectedly late last year. Suddenly added to Netflix was a whole host of new titles being recommended to subscribers, from TV shows like “Wrench!” and “Scandlemakers” to specials like “Girls with Low Self-Esteem” and “Boyfights.” Astute fans of course recognized these titles as “shows within a show” that were featured in the first three seasons of Arrested Development. Clicking on any one of these titles took viewers directly to the episode and scene where it was referenced, providing fans with a clever reminder of their favorite bits from the series.
But promotion didn’t stop there. They also partnered with other sites to do similar stunts, like a page on the food delivery site Seamless.com offering “Bluth’s Original Frozen Bananas,” a reference to a popular running gag on the show.
As the premiere drew closer, Netflix provided more content promotion via social media. In addition to posting the typical trailers, clips and cast interviews, they featured fan photos, drawings and other content that demonstrated viewers’ love of the show, along with a trivia contest that gave fans a chance to win a Bluth Party Pack to use during the AD viewing parties that the show encouraged. There were also copious photos of the Bluth Frozen Banana Stand nationwide tour. During the weeks leading up to the Arrested Development Season 4 premiere, their content was all over the place, both online and in the real world. And it paid off. While Netflix refuses to release precise numbers for the viewership of their shows, other sources confirm that the new episodes have had a pretty spectacular showing.
So what does this mean for the average marketer trying to promote their content? Netflix obviously put a huge amount of money into this promotion—money most content creators don’t have on hand. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the creativity. From Facebook to YouTube to Tumblr, there are plenty of platforms from which a clever content creator can launch an all-out promotional campaign—free. With a little ingenuity, anybody can create a content campaign that spreads like wildfire and generates massive amounts of fan interest. And if you think you can’t, then you’ve made a huge mistake.