The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
Netflix has already completely rewritten the movie and TV-viewing rulebook by pouring a hundred million dollar budget into a film without a theatrical release, and creating their now ubiquitous “binge-watch” format that the service rolled out for the first season of House of Cards.
While Bright wasn’t a hit with critics, the service was pleased with the sheer number of people who tuned in for the Will Smith-starring vehicle which has already been greenlit for a sequel. And although Netflix clearly wants to secure that first Academy Award Win for Best Picture – and could possible achieve that with Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming gangster flick, The Irishman – they’re still in the business of putting as many eyeballs on their projects as possible.
On one hand, Will Smith does that. On the other hand, Academy validation achieves that. And finally still, the surprise release of The Cloverfield Paradox on the night of the Super Bowl is another strategy that suggests Netflix always pulls the right strings.
For those still uninformed, The Cloverfield Paradox was teased during the Super Bowl with the tag, “coming very soon.” While most cinema buffs were aware that J.J. Abrams and co. were cooking up an extension of the franchise which began in 2008, many assumed that “coming very soon” meant in subsequent months, not subsequent minutes.
And yet, there it was, glowing in a person’s Netflix queue as soon as the game was over.
Just for a moment, let’s not consider the plot, acting or execution of the film by Nigerian-American helmer, Julius Onah. Rather, let’s take a moment to explore how Netflix’s approach to film – which bares a striking resemblance to what musicians like Beyoncé, David Bowie, Pixies, Rihanna, and Radiohead have done in the past – is a complete game changer.
The unexpected always trumps the hyped
There were a number of trailers for films and TV shows which premiered during the Super Bowl – with none bigger than the standalone Han Solo film – that not only has the pressure of Harrison Ford’s past performance to contend with it, but also a string of controversies involving fired directors and rumors that the lead, Alden Ehrenreich, may not having the acting chops to pull it off convincingly enough.
With the film set to premiere May 25, there is a good four months for people to salivate for the origin story. But like with anything that is hotly-anticipated, it has the recipe to be a let-down regardless of how good it actually is.
Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine researchers have actually discovered that he brain’s pleasure centers are more activated when we experience unpredictable pleasant things.
Thus, we tend to enjoy things – whether film, food or other experiential activities – when it doesn’t come with the weight that you’re about to enjoy “the best” because anything less than perfection will be a massive let-down.
When you add this to other scientific data which illustrates that people like things simply because it’s new, Netflix’s Cloverfield strategy checks both boxes.
One can’t help but wonder if Justin Timberlake had eliminated all those album teasers, and instead signed off the Super Bowl telecast with, “Man of the Woods, available now,” would perceptions be any different?
Using big events as the ONLY marketing tool is genius
According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 1980, the average cost of marketing a studio movie in the U.S. was $4.3 million USD. By 2007, it was $36 million USD, and by 2014, it was $40 million.
Although buying advertising during the Super Bowl ran brands $5 million USD for a 30-second commercial, they’re rewarded with a staggering viewership (103.4 million this year).
Essentially, Netflix was able to turn back the marketing costs to costs by almost two decades. They also reached the maximum amount of people as possible and created a water-cooler moment almost as effective as their binge format for their series.
Imagine the possibilities of Netflix using other highly-viewed cultural events – like say the State of the Union – to advertise and then release fare that may possibly be in the same wheel house (ahem, House of Cards).
Old school marketing tactics like billboards and bus wraps seem antiquated and rely on a Don Draper/Mad Men ethos that if it is effective enough, it will stick with you, and patrons will subsequently turn out for said product. But what it fails to accomplish is the right now.
Bad reviews come in after the fact
The Super Bowl lead in is a valuable commodity. Consider NBC’s family drama, This is Us, which was given the coveted slot this year. Although the show is popular on its own – drawing in 14 million viewers the week before – that number almost doubled to 27 million on the night of the Super Bowl.
While Netflix continues to keep ratings information relatively classified, they did release numbers for the aforementioned fantasy film, Bright, saying it drew in 11 million viewers during the first three days after it was released.
Let’s hypothesize that the Super Bowl piqued enough people’s interest that 10 percent of the total audience were swayed by the secret release of The Cloverfield Paradox. Not only would that suggest it was successful by Netflix’s own analytics, but it would eliminate bad word of mouth.
In subsequent days, the film has been been eviscerated almost universally by critics.
Sure, Netflix would have preferred it was well-received. But perhaps their strategy was in direct response to what they knew was coming. January/February are usually considered the “dump months” for campy films that have a significant enough budget that they can’t go straight to VOD.
Had The Cloverfield Paradox been teased to death, and slammed by critics beforehand, it would have felt like Netflix was giving up on a project like all the other studios do during this time. Instead, they used the Super Bowl – when other advertisers are touting the products and messages they most believe in – to sway audience behavior for something that just wasn’t any good.
It’s exciting directors
Admittedly, some Netflix users may feel duped after watching The Cloverfield Paradox. But again, let’s consider the bones of the strategy over the substance of the film.
The “day-of” release is already exciting notable directors like Ava DuVernay, who Tweeted, “I always say the traditional walls are collapsing. New pathways are necessary in this old system. Change is good.”
Art the end of the day, directors want to direct, actors want to act, and writers want to write. But somewhere along the way, they’ve had to morph into PR machines to promote their various endeavors. We’ve all seen it – the doe-eyed starlet – throwing to a clip on The Tonight Show, and then the awkward applause from an audience who doesn’t really get it because there’s no context.
With Netflix’s strategy, creatives may finally get to focus on their actual jobs. And if there is less time spent on promoting, there’s more time spent on making films.
The happy byproduct in all of this may be more unique voices from a variety of different backgrounds.
Watch The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix here.
- Featured/Main Image: Netflix