Netflix is in bed with big brands and despite their efforts to distance itself product placement ad accusations, the proof is clear as day. Exhibit A: Season 3 of Stranger Things had on average nine minutes of product placement ads per episode. One-fifth of an episode cannot be by accident.
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Here’s the catch: Netflix doesn’t want to be known as a corporate sellout. That’s not in line with their brand. However, their original content, not just Stranger Things has always included product placement. From House of Cards, through Orange Is the New Black, to Sense8. It’s a common practice for Netflix and in all honesty, who cares?
Never crossing the line
At no point does Netflix’s product placement feel jarring. So what if the characters are drinking Coca-Cola or eating at Burger King? It doesn’t matter — until it’s a slow-motion sequence of condensation hugging the side of a branded glass with Dustin saying, “You know you want one!” If it hits that point, we’ll grab pitchforks and protest. Or unsubscribe, whichever is easiest.
Now for the really clever bit. Netflix has stated that they’ll never sell ads on their service. Yet, having product placement is advertising. So how are big brands in Netflix originals? Simply put, they’re trading promotions. For instance, we’ll show your brand if you promote our show. This is how Netflix can deny the corporate sellout label and further their reach via cross-promotions. It’s super-smart.
The bigger picture
If Netflix did get branded a sellout, its position as a creative force becomes questionable. Right now, Netflix can do no wrong because of the award-nomination quality it produces. But although their pioneering, massive spending on original content is good for subscribers, they have to foot the bill somehow.
If Netflix alienated any audience with selling out, their pursuit of awards may become harder. Without awards, the streamer is harder-pressed to disrupt multiplex theatres, which look to be the next assault on Netflix’s Silicon Valley agenda.