Netflix's new choose-your-own-adventure movie "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch" suggests that the streaming platform could leverage its nascent interactive features as powerful marketing tools, writes Jesse Damiani in The Verge.
- The first choice users make in the movie, which has viewers guide the decisions of an increasingly paranoid video game designer, is between cereal brands, one of which is Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. Damiani refers to this strategy as a type of "programmatic product placement" that could theoretically become more diverse as Netflix evolves its technology beyond the exclusively binary or singular narrative choices presented to viewers of "Bandersnatch."
The types of decisions viewers make while watching Netflix interactive content could ultimately guide how the streaming platform segments its audiences and caters product integration to specific genres. Damiani suggested the company could associate Frosted Flakes with dystopian thrillers aimed at 18- to 24-year-old men, for example. The data accrued from viewers' cumulative decision-making over time could also be a way for Netflix to deepen both third-party partnerships and also how it presents content to viewers, with different products and brands automatically being displayed in shows and movies based on past preferences.
Analysts have speculated that Netflix could integrate some forms of advertising into its content for awhile now, but the idea has always been one carrying a high risk: How does the platform not alienate viewers who've become accustomed to paying for an entirely ad-free experience? Deeper product integration is an approach even traditional TV networks are adopting more frequently to allay audiences' ad fatigue, but gamifying those experiences through interactive storytelling could be a unique — and potentially more robust and personalized — advertising format for Netflix. It might also be an essential way for the platform, which currently has a significant amount of long-term debt, to keep consumers engaged, attract more marketing dollars and differentiate from a growing pool of rivals that includes Amazon and the pending arrival of Disney+ later this year.
The presence of Kellogg in "Bandersnatch" is infrequent but fairly direct, per Marketing Dive's viewing of the program. In the first decision-making point, where the protagonist's aloof father presents his son cereal options for breakfast, Frosted Flakes are measured up against Sugar Puffs, a U.K. offering that rebranded to Honey Monster Puffs in 2014, according to The Verge. Given the rebrand and its smaller market share, Sugar Puffs inherently has less name recognition than Frosted Flakes, which could encourage some viewers to choose Kellogg's. On the narrative path Marketing Dive took throughout "Bandersnatch," Frosted Flakes didn't appear to be featured again, save for in a retro commercial with Tony the Tiger that plays on a TV in the background.
A subtle recurrence of brands that users have previously shown favor for could make Netflix product integrations during interactive content feel less intrusive and more curated. According to Damiani, there's been no real outcry over Kellogg's presence in "Bandersnatch." That type of acceptance could, of course, change as the novelty of interactive streaming content wears off and if the product placement becomes frequent and blatant.
With "Bandersnatch," however, Netflix is seeing its most successful experiment to date with a digital content type more major marketers are investing in. For example, Walmart in October announced a joint venture with the video technology developer Eko to produce interactive content ranging from cooking shows to toy catalogs. Eko has previously worked with other brands, including the film studio MGM, which it helped to create an interactive update to the '80s movie "War Games."