Stranger Things have (not) happened: The Nostalgic Collaboration that Maximized Marketing

Working in tandem with each other, Coca-Cola and The Netflix series “Stranger Things” spent the summer of 2019 promoting each other while maximizing engagement with their own products and audiences. Taking a high risk, Coca-Cola and Stranger Things yielded a high reward through knowing their audience, their product, and platforms.

The popular Netflix series “Stranger Things” has served as a time capsule for the 1980’s; showcasing eighties fashion, music, politics, trends, and products. One of the many staple eighties trademarks featured in the show is Coca-Cola, and more recently in the third season, the New Coke. While the creators of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, did not use Coca-Cola as a means for revenue, but rather as a key element in story-telling, there was a recent marketing campaign in which both parties worked together to promote one another within their niche markets.

To promote the third season, Coca-Cola released special-edition-limited-edition New Coke, which would be featured in the show. To promote this special release, as well as its third season, Stranger Things recreated a popular New Coke commercial using characters and settings from the series. Coca-Cola also released Stranger-Things-Themed products, such as special edition “upside down” Coca-Cola Classic, and Coke Zero. Coca-Cola also announced pop-up-shops and arcades based on the series; these locations would be distributing the Stranger Things Edition Coke products. Both Coca-Cola and Stranger Things posted content to further promote one another; whether a graphic, photo, teaser, or gif, on their various platforms.

Both Stranger Things and Coca-Cola promoted the collaborative campaign on their social media platforms. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook were used predominantly, while advertisements were also seen on YouTube, and Pinterest. Traditional Methods such as posters, billboards, and mail were also used to promote the collaboration. Non-affiliates of Coca-Cola and Stranger Things also promoted the collaboration through their own tweets, photos, and updates upon receiving packages, buying new products, or stumbling across a billboard. The Campaign was designed for Spreadable Media, and reached success through the translation through platforms, as well as the combination of traditional and non-traditional marketing methods.

As previously mentioned, the cast of Stranger Things and Coca-Cola collaborated to re-create an old commercial for New Coke. The commercial adopted the aesthetic of a Coca-Cola commercial from the eighties, while marrying the eighties nostalgia of Stranger Things. This commercial was the beginning of the collaboration between Stranger Things and Coca-Cola, serving as both a trailer for season 3 of Stranger Things, and a commercial for the limited edition New Coke. This commercial was released on the social media accounts of both parties, the caption being the release date or information regarding the special edition Stranger Things New Coke. The content continued this trend of combining the eighties nostalgia of Stranger Things with the eighties nostalgia of Coca-Cola. The content produced rarely had captions; perhaps an occasional release date for the third season, or information regarding pop-up-shops distributing the Stranger Things Edition Coca-Cola products.

Coca-Cola has a very large and diverse consumer-base. Coca-Cola appeals to every generation, every nation, and every culture in one way or another. Coca-Cola was a trademark for the eighties; the Duffer Brothers saw it necessary to include Coca-Cola in the show as early as the first episode to amplify the eighties appeal. Stranger Things also appeals to a wide variety of people. The Stranger Things audience includes multiple generations; fans of horror, sci-fi, action, and romance find themselves falling in love with the Netflix series. This marketing campaign between Stranger Things and Coca-Cola was targeted to both audiences, on each platform. While these audiences are niche and narrow in nature, they are diverse enough to allow success.

Each platform was used in a similar way; sharing similar graphics, videos, and captions all designed to fit the platform. Photos were formatted to take up the given space on each platform. For example twitter photos were more narrow, while instagram photos were more square. Each photo or gif married the two themes together; showing Stranger Things with Coca-Cola, or Coca-Cola with Stranger Things, adopting a similar eighties style including Fourth of July undertones such as fireworks or sparklers. Whether a consumer of Stranger Things, Coca-Cola, or both these posts sparked attention.

The success of the campaign was monumental. Lines formed outside of pop-up shops, and people started buying as much of the New Coke and Stranger Things themed Coca-Cola as they could. Coca-Cola produced less than 500,000 cans of New Coke, and ran out within a matter of days. On its release day of May 23rd, 2019, the New Coke website crashed due to an influx of site traffic. Numerous reviewers even asked Coca-Cola to bring back the New Coke permanently. Stranger Things released on July 4th and it was only 13 hours until spoilers, recaps, reaction videos, memes, and songs were taking over the internet. Within the first four days of it’s release, Stranger Things 3 has reached 26.4 million viewers. Songs included in the series became new internet trends on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. One of the most popular songs from Stranger Things 3, Never Ending Story, reached over half a million uses on TikTok alone, not including the shares and uses on other platforms. Madonna’s “Material Girl”, also included in Stranger Things 3, spiked in use and now has a quarter of a million uses on TikTok as well.

A high risk. Coca-Cola took a gamble when agreeing to release the New Coke in tandem with Stranger Things 3. Not only is the New Coke of 1985 coined as one of the worst marketing campaigns the company had ever seen, but Stranger Things is contained to a niche market of Netflix consumers. There were no photoshop or illustrator files in 1985, so this New Coke relaunch campaign was beginning entirely from scratch, taking six months to recreate the 1985 beverage with 2019 technology. While Stranger Things is one of the most watched shows on Netflix, with over 40 million house-hold views between the three seasons, it is contained to Netflix. Netflix has approximately 150 million viewers on the platform. 1.7 billion servings of Coke Products are consumed every day, making 40 million viewers a fraction of Coca-Cola’s daily consumption. This marketing campaign was a high risk; thankfully with a high reward. There were endless possibilities of what could go wrong in this campaign; fortunately, the only thing that seemed to have not worked well was the site-crash on the day of the New Coke relaunch; a good problem to have.

Every Platform served a purpose. Each platform served its purpose in marketing to the target audiences. Using similar posts formatted to the platform, this campaign was able to target the niche market of Netflix users, as well as the diverse market of Coca-Cola consumers. Traditional methods such as billboards, letters, and packages served as an extension of the non-traditional social media marketing campaign. Coca-Cola and Stranger Things could have maximized their campaign even more had they chosen to promote their content on TikTok, a platform that took Stranger Things 3 and ran with it.

This campaign was incredibly successful. Taking a high risk lead to a high reward in the case of Stranger Things 3 and Coca-Cola. Both parties knew their audiences, and knew their limits in releasing content. Had Coca-Cola released more than 500,000 cans, this campaign might not have been as successful. Had Stranger Things 3 only shared Coca-Cola promotional materials, the season might not have received the views it did. However, the perfect blend and balance of content and advertisements ultimately led to the ultimate success of the campaign.

Researching this topic was incredibly fascinating. Knowing your audience and marketing directly towards them is the key component in any social media marketing campaign. Taking risks, though terrifying, can yield a high reward.


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