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Marketing Case Study: Stranger Things Product Placement & Brand Partnerships

Much has been made of the number of product placements and brand partnerships tied to the latest Stranger Things series. The show shamelessly leverages nostalgic 80’s products to connect with viewers of varying ages, driving revenue through brand partnerships and new subscriptions. But what can brands learn from the move?

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Audience opportunity

Within four days of the release of its third series on July 4 2019, over 40 million households had tuned into Stranger Things on Netflix. Incredibly, almost half of these (18.2 million) had watched all eight episodes within those four days. That’s eight hours of viewing time, which means a lot of potential advertising space.

Online streaming services like Netflix don’t sell traditional advertising space through commercial breaks or even banner advertising on-site. Netflix generates its revenue through subscriptions and, seemingly brand partnerships. So, this was a clear opportunity for Netflix to leverage one if its most popular shows.

Generational focus

Nostalgia and 80’s popular culture has proven to be a powerful niche. Those that were born or grew up in the 80’s and 90’s include Millennials and Gen X – generations of consumers who are earning and spending money right now, more than ever. Plus, the use of teenagers as main characters connects to Gen Z, exposing them to iconic brands, music, games, and movies that they may not have been previously aware of.

Therefore, with the obsession that many brands have with engaging Millennials and Gen Z, Stranger Things is an attractive opportunity. In addition, viewers will note the amount of screen time spent in the ‘Starcourt Mall’, and its 80’s shopping mall culture. This was a placement opportunity which played into the hands of fashion and fast food brands.

Vintage sneakers from Stranger Things

Product placement

Firstly, Netflix has claimed that it has not taken money from any brands in return for product placement. Instead, the official line is that brands pay Netflix for license to use the Stranger Things brand in their own products and campaigns. Netflix then places certain products in the show, therefore increasing partner brands’ exposure.

Eggo waffles – a nostalgic 80’s snack of choice for main character ‘Eleven’ in series one – attributed a 14% increase in sales to its appearance in the show. This actually wasn’t a brand partnership at the time – Netflix just chose to use Eggo as a stereotypical 80’s food. It turned into an excellent product placement case study for Netflix to leverage among other brands. Here are some examples from series three:

Reebok shoes were worn by many characters. Though seen discreetly, there are a few close-ups where the logo is visible. 80’s nostalgia was perfect for promotion of its Classics range.

Adidas appeared in every episode, with several main characters wearing Adidas shoes, and various others wearing Adidas clothing.

Casio watches were worn by several main characters, with over eight minutes of screen time, more any other brand.

Pentax (though non-operational since 2008) is a classic vintage brand for TV and movies, with Pentax cameras and binoculars highly visible throughout series three.

Sharp had screen time of less than two minutes, but had several close-ups on radios, microwaves and a cash register, boosting visibility.

Coca-Cola was in every episode, totaling nearly five and a half minutes of screen time, with strong logo visibility and brand mentions in dialogue.

Burger King appeared in five episodes for a total of two minutes of screen time, with a restaurant in the mall and eaten as a takeaway.

7-Eleven store is the setting for a major scene in one episode and is referred to throughout the series. A 7-Eleven slushy is also drunk in another episode.

Chevrolet was in all but one episode, with three different cars featured, totaling over four minutes of air time.

A bright yellow Cadillac Eldorado convertible plays a key role in an escape scene in episode five, and remains notable for the rest of the season.

The "Upside Down" Whopper

Brand partnerships

And, whilst product placement is aimed at increasing sales for food, fashion, and other brands, on the flipside the partnerships also benefit Netflix through increased exposure in brands’ campaigns and products, as the hype around the show pushes more consumers to subscribe to its streaming service. So, as well as brands paying Netflix for the license to use Stranger Things in their products and campaigns, revenue is also driven through increased subscriptions.

And Netflix needs the cash. The company has to fund growth, investing in advertising to drive new subscriptions, plus new content to keep existing members. Netflix is reportedly spending $3 billion on advertising in 2019, and $15 billion on new show content.

H&M launched a global Stranger Things collection, complete with retro logo T-shirts and swimwear.

Levi’s collaborated with the show’s costume designers to create authentically replicated items for two of the main characters.

Nike launched an 80’s-inspired shoe collection, which takes its iconic designs and fuses them with Stranger Things logos, and come with limited-edition merchandise in each shoebox.

Capitalising where Pentax is no longer able to, Polaroid launched a limited-edition instant camera inspired by the show, with filters to give photos a Stranger Things feel.

Snapchat teamed with the Chicago Cubs to bring the upside-down world to life by using augmented reality at Wrigley Field stadium. Snapchat has also released several Stranger Things lenses over recent years.

Shutterstock produced a video to highlight its collection of stock, including Stranger Things-related images and videos of a nosebleed, 80’s-styled people, woods, and aliens.

Fortnite introduced a ‘Scoops Ahoy’ ice cream outlet in the game’s mall, plus upside-down portals.

Burger King launched an upside-down Whopper, and flipped its logo on social media channels, renaming itself ‘Stranger King’ on Twitter.

Coca-Cola opened a Palace Arcade, as seen in the show, complete with 80’s video games and an upside-down world. The brand also released a Stranger Things advert and re-launched limited-edition New Coke – a failed Coca Cola product launched in 1985 – the year that Stranger Things is set in.

real-life Scoops Ahoy ice-cream pop-up replaced a Baskin Robbins store, as the ice cream partnered with Stranger Things, serving special flavours including Elevenade Freeze.

A two-way relationship

As online streaming services – such as Netflix and Amazon Prime – overtook pay TV subscriptions for the first time in 2018, this looks to be a future trend to keep an eye on. We saw a similar wave of partnerships with the final season of Game of Thrones.

Brands looking for exposure alongside the most-watched shows look to be moving away from commercial breaks or show sponsorship. Instead, the future looks to be in branded partnerships, purchasing license to use a show’s assets in products and marketing campaigns, in return for product placement.

Making it transactional

The final step for these brands must be to drive sales, converting a captive audience through a campaign that will peak for just a few days or weeks as the shows go to air.

And with such a visual and nostalgic theme as Stranger Things, brands had fun with curating rich customer experiences. Coca-Cola’s ‘1985’ website was promoted through various online and offline channels, including social. The fun online store is themed upon a classic 1980’s video game, and lets users enjoy exclusive Stranger Things video content and find out about events, as well as purchasing merchandise.

Mobile advertisements based on Stranger Things

H&M promoted its Stranger Things collection on social and email, with items available for purchase in store and online, through the website and Instagram Shopping. The fashion giant also teamed with stars of the show for a series of blogs to further engage the show’s fanbase.

To capitalise on this potential, brands need to align their digital channels – and physical in many cases – to drive a smooth journey for consumers to engage with the brand end purchase a product.

This means a curated connection between social, websites, in-store, email, and any other channels and promotional campaigns, where products and offers can be discovered and purchased.