As a teenager, I wanted a career in negotiating product placement in movies. I loved the idea of cutting deals, collaborating with people in the movies, being a behind-the-scenes powerbroker armed with the perfect Casio watch or an artful packet of Twisties.
It seemed like the perfect marriage of my love for both movies and marketing, and while that particular dream hasn’t panned out so far I’ve stayed fascinated with how movies and streaming shows do their collaborations.
One consistent standout is Stranger Things, Netflix’s hit set in 1980s Indiana that follows a group of young friends who unravel a series of supernatural mysteries.
The kids-vs-aliens trope is hardly new but what puts the show in a league of its own is the immersive and nostalgic 1980s experience—soundtrack, set design, locations—that doesn’t just draw fans but is a ready-made base for its hugely successful marketing campaigns.
The Stranger Things showrunners clearly understand their show’s value thanks to its highly engaged viewers (season three was watched by over 40 million households in the first four days of release) and over one billion total viewing hours since its 2016 debut. They’ve become the masters of branded entertainment, using brand partnerships to build a global juggernaut far beyond its scripts and plots.
For anyone in business, there’s so much to learn from Stranger Things’ approach to partnerships. One thing that stands out is the way they master the unexpected partnership in a diverse range of product categories.
New seasons are launched using partnerships and collaborations, which are always unique and surprising (Lego, Quiksilver, Mongoose bikes, Doritos.) There’s so much we can all learn from how Stranger Things partner across categories and channels to grow awareness of their new seasons, just like a business expert might grow awareness with a new program or service offering.
Ahead of the show’s fourth season premiere on May 27, Stranger Things teamed up with Australian burger chain Grill’d, announcing the limited edition Demogorgon Burger with grass-fed local beef and backyard burger sauce. Doubling down, the Grill’d Galeries restaurant in Sydney’s CBD was transformed into the Upside Down (a show feature), where fans could step through a rift into a world with interactive show experiences.
It also partnered with pizza company Domino’s for the season launch, developing a ‘mind-ordering’ app where users can explore a virtual government facility, find Easter eggs and complete pizza orders via facial recognition and eye-tracking features.
While the stats aren’t in yet on season four, the previous one saw Stranger Things form promotional partnerships with no less than 75 brands. Because Netflix is an internet company, linking its shows with physical products “helps customers think about its shows even when offline,” said the streamer’s head of global partner marketing Barry Smyth.
Think Coca-Cola’s ‘new Coke’, which met huge backlash in 1985 when it was introduced with a new formula. In the series, characters debated the new and old flavours, leading to an 80s-themed pop-up collaboration with Coke where visitors played classic arcade games and scored limited edition Coke Zero cans.
The result? Coke became the most mentioned brand name linked to Stranger Things, with almost 56,000 social media posts.
In a collaboration with Nike, the cast wore vintage Reebok Classics and 80s Nike models to help drive demand for a limited edition run of Nikes with the insignia of the show’s Hawkins High School. A second capsule collection followed, with Nike receiving an estimated $178 million of earned media coverage from the partnership.
The genius of the collaborations is they work on multiple levels. Anyone who lived through the 80s loves reliving nostalgia from 40 years ago, and those who are younger have the chance to dip into the experience for the first time via the immersive atmosphere.
The show always gets me thinking up cool collaborations of my own. You should too—who could you be partnering with? Think like the team at Stranger Things and dream up the unexpected partnership opportunities to engage your desired audience.
If the inspiration is slow in coming, my next Six Week Partnership Mastery program kicks off in August. As always with this signature program, I’ll teach you how to identify and negotiate your own partnerships to rocket your business success. As Forbes said, in a post-pandemic world partnerships are the best, most cost-effective way to get ahead.
First step: book either a spot or book a call with me to work out if the course is a good fit for you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 0427 161 677.
If partnerships are good enough for one of the biggest shows in the world, they could be a great strategy for your business. Stranger things have happened.