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The Netflix effect: Eight ways Netflix is impacting society - 26 January 2021

| Written by Katie Torpey

Years ago, if someone had said to me, “Imagine a service that holds hundreds of TV programmes, films and videos on demand, that will make you avoid sleep just so that you can watch them all in one night”, would I have believed them? Absolutely not.

And if they’d told me I’d be desperate to learn chess after watching a TV show, I’d have laughed in their face. But here we are.

Netflix was already on the rise but a lockdown-driven spike in membership means it’s now recognised as being responsible for a phenomenon; something much bigger happening in society, dubbed the The Netflix Effect.

As marketeers, we study behaviour closely. It’s no longer enough to create marketing personas based big brushstroke characteristics such as gender, age or location. To sell to someone is to influence their behaviour. And how can you influence their behaviour if you don’t understand it?

While popular culture has long affected behaviour and opinion, landmark TV series seem to sweep a nation in quite a unique way. This has undoubtedly been true long before the digital age. The shockwaves caused by Barry Hines’ apocalyptic 1984 film Threads deeply influenced the British public’s attitude to nuclear weapons. The 1966 broadcast of Cathy Come Home directly led to the establishment of the charity Crisis, and an upsurge in sympathy for the homeless.  Or, to cite a more lighthearted influence, Delia Smith caused a national shortage of cranberries in 1995, when she included them in a duck recipe and declared that they weren’t just for Christmas.

But streaming services and the unrelenting data possibilities of today mean we can actually measure the way popular series affect behaviour.

Consumer habits

Until the Queen’s Gambit hit our screens in 2020, chess was kind of a geeky pastime. But the 1960s-inspired series brought a whole new meaning to the game. Sales of – and Google searches for – chess boards skyrocketed online in November of that year. Online retailer eBay reported a 273% rise in searches for chess sets – the equivalent of equalling to one search every six seconds.

Chess websites welcomed 2.8 million new members, with a marked increase in female players. As Netflix becomes a part of our everyday lives, it’s clear the link between our buying, hobbies, shopping habits and streaming is becoming stronger.

 

A graph of Google trends showing the increase of chess board searches.

Source: Google trends

 

Binging behaviours

With Netflix making it much easier to consume the content we want to watch, wherever and whenever, binge-watching has become the norm for modern society.

For many of us, it is a type of escapism, distracting us from our everyday responsibilities and uncertain times by giving us the enjoyment of continual entertainment. But in a demanding world, flooded with choice and fear of missing out (FOMO) on the next episode, it’s only made our expectations higher as we demand variety, value and urgency in other aspects of our lives.

 

 

Unlikely trends

One unlikely modern-day influencer was Lady Whistledown, from the period drama Bridgerton (2020). The show was named the biggest drama series ever by Netflix, and the romantic, Regency-era inspired design influenced shoppers to rethink their clothing and homeware choices too.

Pinterest searches relating to corsets, hair ribbons and regency bedrooms all rocketed in the wake of its popularity.

Fast-forward through history to The Crown, which gave a similar boost to Princess Diana’s coy 1980s fashion style, and the correlation between the screens and our wardrobes and homes is apparent.

 

A graph of Pinterest trends showing the increase of corset searches.
Source: Pinterest trends

Rediscovering the past

In fact, whether it’s a reboot, remake or original, revisiting old TV shows and movies brings all kinds of feels. Netflix has capitalised on this by giving us cultural throwbacks and a sense of nostalgia, while allowing viewers to discover times they never lived in.

The Crown, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Cobra Kai all evoke memories, optimism, predictability and safety; emotions much wanted during uncertain times.

Music to our ears

The Netflix phenomenon can be heard through our speakers too. Stranger Things topped the list of the most-streamed Netflix soundtracks on Spotify, with an average of 87 million streams per song. If you’ve watched the 80’s-based series, I’m sure you’ll understand why. And the decade’s revival didn’t stop there; Spotify reported a 54% increase in listeners making nostalgic-themed playlists.

With the pandemic having changed our daily routines and music consumption habits, consumers are looking and leaning towards more creative forms of music to stay engaged, such as through gaming, social media and TV.

 

Screenshot of the Stranger Things Spotify playlist
Source: Spotify

Smart AI and Technology

Netflix has mastered the use of AI and technology, providing unique solutions to the ever-changing and demanding needs of consumer behaviour. Data and insights, trending patterns, personalised content and AI digital marketing are just a handful of tactics used by the TV network to transform the customer experience, whilst setting the bar high for other broadcaster to straddle.

 

Matters that mean the most

Netflix has also influenced political awareness. The pandemic interrupted the cinematic release of David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet, but its Netflix premiere meant it was still able to send its powerful message to viewers, and influence action on environmental issues.

WWF reported that the show ‘inspired millions of people to take action for our planet, including decision-makers and key influencers in their ‘How we made a difference in 2020’  report.

Since its release, social media has continued to see spikes for ‘meat-free meal’searches, with a significant knock-on effect awareness and an upsurge in consumers championing environmental and sustainable brands.

 

A graph of Pinterest trends showing the increase of meat free meal searches.
Source: Pinterest trends

 

 

Taking a Stand

The Black Lives Matter movement prompted the broadcaster to add a collection of films, documentaries and series on the theme, to help people better understand the issues under discussion.

Netflix tweeted “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. we have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.” To date, the post has more than 1 million likes and has been retweeted more than 211,000 times.

 

 

In a fractured world, with almost infinite sources of entertainment jostling for our attention, it’s remarkable that Netflix has been such a cohesive influence on our culture in recent years. But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Global broadcasting behemoths have the capacity to change minds and galvanise action. When you next sit down to binge-watch your latest series, you may want to ask yourself how much  your viewing habits shape your own beliefs and habits.

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