If you’re anything like us, the holidays were jam-packed with plenty of couch time scrolling through Netflix to find a binge-worthy TV series or blockbuster movie to pass the time. No doubt as you embarked on your journey’s you probably stumbled on the latest offering from the Netflix classic Black Mirror, Bandersnatch.
Now, if you’ve seen Black Mirror, you’ll know it’s famous for being out there, pushing the boundaries and challenging the viewer to think outside the box on a number of deep and socially relevant topics. Bandersnatch is no different.
While on the surfaces, the movie looks like any other, as it follows the journey of a young video game creator, Stefan, trying to find his way in the Atari dominated 80’s video game world. But just as you are getting comfortable you are given a choice: what cereal will he have for breakfast? Yep, you get to choose. And similar to when Neo had to pick between the blue and the red pill, what you pick will shape the rest of your journey.
Interactive entertainment formats aren’t a new concept, with countless books and video games basing their storylines around the user directing their own journey. However, this is the first use of technology in a mainstream feature-length film. But beyond providing over five hours of entertainment, Bandersnatch could open up a brand new avenue for data-driven marketing activities.
Let’s start at square one, it’s time to reshape how we look at Netflix. To the untrained eye, Netflix is a streaming service that is committed to providing us with endless entertainment for pennies on the dollar. To be real, Netflix is in the data business first and the content business second. Netflix has amazing algorithms collecting data on you from the minute you sign up for a free trial. How else do you think they formulate they’re ‘recommended for you’ lists or star ratings? It’s because they are constantly tracking what you are watching, what thumbnails appeal to you and even what devices you watch on.
At this stage, this data is solely Netflix’s property and is, in most part, used to improve the user experience and for their own marketing purposes. However, this new interactive format has the potential to provide insights into how people view real-world situations. And for marketers, the potential of this data is priceless and something to fight for.
If you’ve seen the movie (if not, finish reading and then park up on the couch), you’ll remember early in the movie you are asked to pick which cereal Stefan has for breakfast, Frosted Flakes or Suger Puffs. Then a few minutes later, you’re faced with another choice, what cassette tape does Stefan listen to on the bus? What direction did you go? While, this may seem like a harmless choice, with no real consequences on the overall movie. For businesses, the data generated from these decisions could literally shape their future strategic direction.
The interactive nature of these films grants Netflix a direct feed into the hearts and minds of the audience and how they react to different stimulus. This opens up the door for Netflix to tap into one of the oldest marketing tools in the book: product placement.
From our perspective, this is shaping up to be a win-win situation for both Netflix and brands. For brands, they’ll receive invaluable data on how the public reacts to their offering. For example, a company could throw out two different product designs or messaging types and base which one they ultimately go with on the data they receive. In a way, these interactive films could become the new focus group or control trial.
While Netflix will simply be able to continue harvesting and analysing the behaviours of their audience to ever so finely fine-tune their platform; while benefiting from another stream of revenue – of course.
To the naked eye, Bandersnatch is simply a new piece of entertainment and a look into the exciting new platforms that are down the road. To us, this is the first real, tangible example of where the relationship between entertainment and marketing is headed, with data being the driving force.
At this stage, with the technology in its early stages and the novelty of choosing your own story still real, we do need to ask if we continue going down this road, how are brands going to harness this new medium and whether consuming acknowledging this new form of advertising will produce reliable results.
From our perspective, in our world high-quality data is power and with that power a world of endless options. It still may take a few years before we see these interactive films start to take off but after the success of Bandersnatch don’t be surprised if Netflix and other streaming services start ramping up their production of these films. The next step after this will be big brands and agencies knocking on their door asking to sign exclusive deals to get their products or clients in these films. As a result, don’t be surprised if you are watching a movie down the line and you select a certain cereal box or logo and shortly after your choice is rolled out across the globe.
So remember, what may seem like a rudimental choice between what shoes a character wears, could actually shape our future. Just image if House of Cards was an interactive series and we got the choice between choice Frank Underwood or Will Conway for president. Imagine if this data was then used to shape how political parties run their campaigns and ultimately which party come into power – it’s a pretty scary thought.
These interactive entertainment platforms provide the type of real-world insights that businesses dream of and fight for. This new frontier in entertainment is shaping up to have a much greater impact than simply keeping us glued to the TV trying to experience all possible endings. It has the potential to impact every aspect of our society.
So, kind this in mind, and remember chose wisely!