Edgy Streaming Shows Are a Missed Opportunity For Brands

September 17, 2021

By Melissa Fallon, SVP, Entertainment                                                               [Header image credit: Canva]

The Emmy Awards on Sunday have some notable absences. Due to pandemic-related production and release date delays, several of the most highly regarded shows were not eligible for Emmy nominations this year. Among them are the hit shows Succession, Euphoria, Barry, Curb Your EnthusiasmThe White Lotus, and Insecure from HBO, as well as Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Netflix’s Ozark, Stranger Things, Russian Doll, and Dead to Me. Apple’s The Morning Show was also ineligible this year.

In addition to their pop culture impact and rabid fanbases, something that these shows have in common is they aren’t shackled by any broadcast restrictions, which means they’re more free to dive deep into complex stories and characters. They don’t have to shy away from language, sexuality, and violence. Nor do they need to white-wash narratives to the detriment of fantastic, identity-based storytelling.

Brand marketers are always looking to tap into the cultural zeitgeist to elevate their brand or increase brand affinity. But how do brands walk the line between tapping into some of these fan bases while ensuring they don’t alienate the broader consumer base? Are consumers as sensitive to edgier content as we think? Or are the voices of a few, louder than those of the majority, scaring brands into playing it safer than they need to?

I believe brands can take bigger risks in the quest for increased cultural resonance. Take Ozark, the Netflix show about a family man (Marty Byrd played by Jason Bateman) who gets caught up with a drug cartel. What if Redfin tapped into the excitement around the upcoming final season of Ozark by creating a faux “for sale” posting of the Byrd family home, and hosted a fan experience within a replica of the home? Can’t we trust consumers to understand that Redfin isn’t supporting drugs, murder, and cartels, but contributing to the entertainment value of a fictional TV show?

HBO’s The White Lotus was a standout hit this summer, and sure to be on the awards circuit when eligible. The show features a cast of characters with a variety of personal issues on a luxury vacation at a fictional Hawaiian resort, The White Lotus. The show’s aesthetic is a character in and of itself. Maybe Wayfair could curate a collection of products inspired by the show and create some exclusive items in collaboration with the show’s art director or set designer. Is the show’s risqué subject matter a non-starter for brands even when leaning into the design aesthetic?

Brands need to create cultural moments in order to achieve cultural resonance at a time when consumer sentiment is evolving. It is far more practical and cost effective for brands to tap into storytellers who are already connecting with consumers on a significant emotional level. Brands have been doing this for years, but the “no holds barred” content from streaming services has changed the game. Sure there are some safer bets for brands like Stranger Things or Ted Lasso. These might have some bad language, but are generally brand friendly. Coke notably had a successful partnership for season three of Stranger Things that hit on all cylinders, creating a “life imitates art imitates life” that rewarded fans, and in turn, the brand. But what about all the other programming?

Using social data and insights, brands have an opportunity to better understand their consumer base via the programming, tapping into the deepest reaches of their emotional psyche. This consumer understanding can open up possibilities for brands to align with properties historically dismissed out of hand, and connect on a genuine level. The benefits of partnerships with this kind of programming have the potential to resonate longer than a more traditional marketing campaign. What happens when marketers step out of their comfort zone and ask, “what if?”

Melissa Fallon is an SVP in TMA’s entertainment practice, leading brands in integration, product placement, and partnership with film, TV, and streaming properties.