How Stranger Things (potentially) based its plot on advertising techniques

Netflix’s newest original series Stranger Things is the surprise hit of the summer – but is there a hidden lesson about content marketing between the (plot)-lines? By Emily Lewis

Stranger Things has received plenty of hype for its bone-chilling drama and spooky 1980s Indiana setting.

The plot, without giving away too many spoilers, sees unlikely characters band together to save young Will Byers from the clutches of the ‘Demogorgon’ – a mythical monster with no face.

Although following different routes on their missions, each team eventually ends up in ‘the Upside Down’ – the disturbing parallel universe where Will is trapped.

Can the various journeys of these characters teach us something about the diverse methods of advertising and content marketing?

The native advertising of Joyce and Jim

Will Byers’ mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) is the first to cotton on to the sinister truth of her son’s disappearance. Thinking Will is communicating to her through the lights of her bungalow, the only person who believes her is police chief Jim Hopper.

Sensing that all is not what it seems, Hopper and Joyce work together to figure out Will’s whereabouts. Hopper’s pretty much nailed the basics of native advertising here – using the appearance of a member of the police force, he’s helping address his own agenda.

Native advertising is defined as content that adopts the form of the publication that it appears in, but its content and funding is outside of the original publisher’s editorial control. Just as Hopper appears to be a police chief investigating a disappearance when in reality he’s fighting a faceless monster, companies may produce editorials that look like part of a magazine, while actually being sponsored content.

Business Insider writes that by 2021, native advertising will make up 74% of all ad revenue. Although some media reports suggest that consumers largely have a distrust of native advertising, there seems to be an overall understanding that sponsored content is the reason free news stories are available.

Native advertising does indeed have a significant future in the advertising world. As Joyce and Jim prove, it’s sometimes the only way to get around the authorities, or, in the advertising world, ad-blockers.

Nancy and Jonathan embrace display advertising

Will’s older brother Jonathan also senses the truth behind the disappearance. Accompanied by charming neighbour Nancy, the two take a gung-ho approach towards the Demogorgon.

Making bear-traps and hammering nails into baseball bats, Jonathan and Nancy’s tactic is head-on collision. Just like display advertising, there’s no beating around the bush. It’s obvious what these kids are up to and they’re not afraid to show it.

Memorable display advertising campaigns certainly have their place in the media universe, but if poorly executed or seen as intrusive by consumers, their impact can miss the mark. And despite the efforts of Jonathan and Nancy, the Demogorgon is largely resistant to belligerent techniques – as are consumers. With 39% of UK consumers having ad-blocking software installed on their web browsers, perhaps it’s no surprise that people never even see 56% of display adverts.

The lesson learned here? Know your audience. Did foolish Nancy really believe that a baseball bat could defeat a creature from another world? It’s vital that when advertising or creating content you are producing something relevant and interesting to your audience. Who you are sharing your content with will affect considerations from distribution right down to the subject of the content.

Programmatic techniques employed by Eleven

The final group of comrades set on saving Will from the Upside Down are his buddies – three twelve year olds and a psychokinetic girl dubbed ‘Eleven’ due to a tattoo on her arm.

Eleven’s pretty familiar with all things ‘strange’. Having been experimented on in a government facility during the Cold War, she has previously come into contact with the Demogorgon in the Upside Down.

Thanks to her experiences in the parallel universe, Eleven is able to address the problem of Will’s disappearance with the most success. This is largely the same technique employed in programmatic, or targeted, advertising.

Using your web browsing history, companies can bombard you with adverts that are relevant to your interests and your age group.

Native advertising revenue may be growing year by year, but targeted advertising is still effective. Projections from AdWeek show that by the end of 2017, sales through targeted advertising are set to increase to $32bn.

OK, so the Duffer Brothers probably didn’t base their plot on techniques within the marketing world. But that doesn’t mean the trials and tribulations of the characters within Stranger Things aren’t a great example of these emerging trends in advertising – and perhaps offer some insight into which approaches are truly effective.

Native advertising and targeted content dominate the foreseeable future of the marketing world, but there is still a significant place for display advertising. The most important factor remains delivering relevant and engaging content to your audience – talk about things you know and reach out to consumers who are interested.

Stranger Things appeals to the sci-fi geek in everyone, just as content marketers should appeal to the niche interests of their consumers. A platform such as Content Cloud allows your business to get in touch with over a thousand content creators – each with unique specialities and interests. Through the capabilities offered by this type of platform, relevant and creative content is within reach.

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