As a media company committed to a subscription business model, Netflix relies on advertising of its convenience, and more recently, its original programming to bring customers into the sales funnel. To accomplish the pervasiveness of Netflix-exclusive content, the company is increasingly relying on sponsored content marketing.
The new strategy, though not novel, is extremely effective. Netflix has sponsored paid posts to create native ads from The New York Times for "Orange is the New Black", The Atlantic for "House of Cards", Wired for the streaming model, and — most recently — The Wall Street Journal for "Narcos." The articles are narriative-driven, and the advertising pays for itself through social media engagement and direct signups for Netflix.
We're now at the scale where we can economically create original content that is exclusively for Netflix and our offering will grow and diversify as we gain further scale and confidence. With each original, we learn more about what our members want, about how to produce and promote effectively, and about the positive impact of originals on our brand.
By releasing original content and advertising it with original content, Netflix is betting on its viewers. They're putting the narriative ahead of the brand to advertise an experience of better TV. Let's look at some examples from each campaign.
- Wired: "TV Got Better"
For a new feature on the way technology like streaming video is fueling TV's current golden age, Wired produced a deeply immersive experience with text, charts and video. It's also a native ad for Netflix, with a persistent "Sponsor Content" label to avoid confusion. "TV Got Better" unfurls as readers scroll through the article, revealing a video interview with "Arrested Development" co-creator Mitch Hurwitz (whose show got a new life on Netflix), a timeline of TV's milestones, an audio recording of the author, a reader poll and more. One multimedia element shows how many hours of TV people have watched since opening the story.
- The New York Times: "Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn't Work"
Using video, charts and audio to supplement text about female incarceration in the U.S, the 1500-word ad is in-depth and engaging. "Orange is the New Black," is a show about one woman's experience in prison, and the show's second season became available on Netflix prior to the ad. While the Times' paid post never explicitly tells readers to watch the show, it does delve deeply into the topic of women in prison. The author of the book which the show is based upon, is featured in the paid post.
- The Atlantic: "The Ascent"
We're trying to build a fan base here and a loyal audience
Netflix paid The Atlantic to create a a lengthy, reported article with interactive charts and a video exploring the dynamic between certain U.S. presidents and their wives -- including the fictitious first couple in the Netflix original series "House of Cards." The article, called "The Ascent," is a native ad created by The Atlantic's in-house marketing shop, Re:think, and promotes the third season of "House of Cards."
- The Wall Street Journal: "Cocainenomics"
The Journal's turn is at least as ambitious and perhaps more so: It uses reporting, video interviews with DEA agents, graphics, photos and an interactive map to tell the story of cocaine as a business. They even created a Spanish-language version. Fara Warner, global editorial director at WSJ Custom Studios had the following to say about the piece:
I think one of the biggest things for me as an editor is making certain that what we wrote and what we came up with would be something our audiences wanted to read. The idea of a business and economics story behind the Medellín cartel was something I really thought we could own.
The five-part quiz is no small feat, full of enough video for a feature-length documentary and enough history to fill an encyclopedia page. The content is diverse, interactive, and even capped with an engaging quiz. The best part: not once does it ask readers to sign up for Netflix or watch “Narcos.”