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Netflix has come to be known for being innovative with its content marketing. Back in 2014, it published a paid piece through The New York Times titled “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work" to promote the second season of Orange is the New Black (a comedy-drama set in a women’s prison).

The piece was geared at getting audiences to pause and engage with the social angle of the show and organically find their way to watching it. Rather than being reminded to tune in through only traditional promotional material.

Unsurprisingly, the OTT giant extended this unconventional promotional approach to its Indian arm soon after it entered the country in 2016. In 2018, Netflix India promoted Narcos: Mexico, a drug-trafficking drama series, through a sketch that shows a young professional trying to make the famously slippery plan of holidaying in Goa:

The conflict of the story and its characters are thoroughly Indian. But the atmospherics of the sketch and the way its protagonist pushes all the right buttons instantly remind the viewer of the Netflix show.

Like the branded content from 2014, the sketch gives its audience something fresh and socially relevant to consume. All while it simultaneously hints at its connection with the digital series it aims to promote. Almost like it’s saying, ‘Do you like this? Want some more of the same? You know where to go.’

The most recent case of this approach in use

Netflix continues to use this strategy, making the most of what branded content has to offer. It reaches out to people through something they already find interesting – whether it is a well-researched piece on a journalistic platform they swear by, or a funny video that accurately captures a relatable experience. And it makes friends with them using that ‘something’ as a shared interest, before it finally goes on to highlight its agenda.

This makes it stand apart from traditional promotional announcements that focus solely on the sender’s agenda to get the word about their project. It lets the brand live up to its goal of consistently entertaining people – right till the last consumer touch point. And with each promotional exercise, it allows Netflix a nod to its target group saying, ‘we know what matters to you’.

The latest we have seen this strategy reflect is in the promotional material created for Haseen Dillruba, a Netflix original mystery thriller starring Taapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey.

Similar to the sketch inspired by Narcos, it creates cultural relevance through a mix of local and global references. Doing so in response to the brand’s TG that has grown up on local pop culture, gradually come to access the global stuff in their later years, and now goes back and forth between the two like it is the most natural thing. 

The local reference is a throwback to the widely popular crime fiction show C.I.D. from when televisions were the mainstay of home entertainment:

Conceptualised by The Rabbit Hole, the video shows Inspector Rawat from Haseen Dillruba (played by Aditya Srivastava, known for his role as Abhijeet on C.I.D.) reach out to the OG crime-solving team to help him crack the case central to the film.

Much to their fans’ delight, the actors from C.I.D. retain the mannerisms signature of their characters, as they prod the details of the case. If you look through the comments under the video, you’ll see how the content has its audience swooning from the nostalgia.

The global reference has been made through the following video that has Taapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey take the Lie Detector Test – an interview format that has grown popular across YouTube over the last couple of years, with late-night show host Jimmy Fallon having conducted one to generate 7.1M views.

But the video isn’t simply a case of trend-jacking. It also serves as a reference to when Taapsee Pannu’s character Rani has to undergo the test in the film.

Overall, it gives viewers a chance to see the two actors playfully answer questions in an unusual setting, and simultaneously develop a sense of familiarity (if they haven’t already) with a style of content that has grown popular worldwide.

Establishing its strategy as a communication code

Last year, in December, Netflix had employed a similar promotional strategy to promote its black-comedy thriller, AK vs AK starring Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap (we wrote about it here for BuzzInContent). In keeping with the spirit of the film, its content marketing orchestrated a public spat between the two actors, using tweets, billboards and branded content.

The branded content threw in plenty of local references – again, while leveraging nostalgia – by reuniting Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff, the Ram Lakhan jodi, for one promotional video, and almost all members of the AIB team, a beloved comedy company long disbanded, for another.

The global reference was found in the creation of a ‘diss track’ roasting Anil Kapoor – a concept popularly associated with the hip-hop genre where one artist finds creative ways to insult the other.

From what we’ve observed of the brand’s approach to promoting films/digital series, it seems like Netflix is banking on branded content to appeal to its TG. And doing so while ensuring that the content speaks to young Indian consumers on the basis of how they interact with the pop culture around them.

It’s undoubtedly an innovative approach. And it seems like it’s turning into a communication code for Netflix instead of remaining a one-off attempt at establishing connect. The question is, will it nudge a change in the course of traditional promotional activities? Will brands in the category see it as a sign of changing consumer preferences? And will they update their approach to keep with the times? We hope so.