Netflix Marketing Chief Wants You to Watch the Films on Netflix, Not in Theaters

·4 min read

Netflix fans are about to have a busy weekend, and so is Netflix chief marketing officer Marian Lee. On Saturday, the streaming giant’s Tudum fan event will quintuple in size and go global.

Tudum began in January 2020 as an in-person event in one market, São Paulo, Brazil. The Covid pandemic disrupted that whole in-person thing, but on September 24 the event is back — and it’s supersized.

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Named for the streaming service’s start-up sound, Tudum is now made up of five events from around the world, offering “more content, more shows and movies, more talent,” and yes, “more news to break,” as Lee said in a telephone interview with IndieWire.

Tudum is Netflix’s D23 and its Disney+ Day rolled into one. It’s not quite San Diego Comic-Con, but Tudum serves as a strong — and controlled — complement to existing fan conventions. “I wouldn’t say we don’t look at those events, but we’re really trying to put our own mark on something,” Lee said. “What do we have that’s really unique here? We, just in the last 10 years, have really developed this huge library of I.P. and franchises.”

Those include the mega-hits “Stranger Things,” “Bridgerton,” “Squid Game,” and “The Witcher,” all of which will be represented at Tudum 2022. “We’re really just trying to bring all those fandoms together, celebrate them, give them a way to connect directly to talent,” she said. “We might be debuting things they haven’t seen before, any kind of exclusives.”

Assembling all of that can cause internal “chaos” for her team, Lee acknowledged: “It’s kind of like ‘A Beautiful Mind’ mapping it out on a wall.”

“Squid Game” Season 1. - Credit: Netflix
“Squid Game” Season 1. - Credit: Netflix

Netflix

“Squid Game” remains Netflix’s largest-ever global hit, which helps explain why this year’s Tudum kicks off in Korea, where the series originated. A show like that will sell itself for the upcoming Season 2, but launching a new series is where Lee’s marketing team can truly shine. Even viral sensations can use a helping hand; Lee’s toolbox includes a B.A. in Psychology from Barnard College at Columbia University and eight years as a top Spotify marketing executive.

The South Korean smash, which amassed a mind-numbing 1.65 billion hours viewed in its first 28 days, “definitely had marketing,” Lee said. In other words, the “Squid Game” success didn’t just come by word of mouth. “It had marketing all around the world. Now, was [the viewership level] unexpected in certain markets? Like, did we think it was going to resonate as much as it did in the U.S.?” she said. “Certainly not at the start.”

But Netflix’s Korean marketing team laid the “really impressive groundwork,” Lee told us, including full-set buildouts in the largest local department stores. There was “bespoke marketing all over Asia,” she continued, and when the show really started to take off, Lee’s UCAN (United States and Canada, which is what she ran at the time) team ramped up its efforts to “take the heat on this one.”

And it was smoking hot. “That’s when you saw moments being created, and activations, and the costumes everywhere,” she said.

“The Gray Man” activation at San Diego Comic-Con. - Credit: Hitchhiker Pictures for Netflix
“The Gray Man” activation at San Diego Comic-Con. - Credit: Hitchhiker Pictures for Netflix

Hitchhiker Pictures for Netflix

In conversation, you can tell how much Lee digs a good activation. One of her recent favorites was tied to “The Gray Man,” the big-budget (especially for Netflix) spy-vs.-spy flick starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans that had a one-week theatrical run before premiering on the SVOD service (which will soon add an AVOD tier).

At this summer’s Comic-Con, Netflix created an experience that gave fans the experience of being Six (Gosling) and Lloyd Hansen (Evans). In San Diego, fans boarded a fake tram that fake crashed into a fake building, just like a “Grey Man” scene that took place in the Prague city center. They completed challenges to move from one car to the next before escaping to the top of the tram, with subwoofers, rumblers, and jump scares  enhancing the episode.

“The Gray Man,” which is Netflix’s fourth most-popular movie on record, is a franchise that will expand with a sequel and spinoff series. For the film(s), Lee is happy enough with the brief big-screen option, but it’s not her preference.

“Netflix is the place that we want fans to watch films that they love, or sit down with their family to watch a new movie,” she said. And so far, so good on the Netflix way of marketing movies — which is, to say, not doing much marketing at all.

“From a marketing perspective, what we’re doing is different than major studios” who are “trying to sell a ticket,” Lee said. “But, again, we’re trying to drum up anticipation and excitement for our [movies] so that people can ultimately watch them on Netflix. [We’re] not focused on getting them into the theaters for the short run… for the (awards show) qualifiers. To me, our fans are on Netflix and that’s what they prefer.”

A zoomed out view of Netflix’s “Gray Man” activation at SDCC. - Credit: Hitchhiker Pictures for Netflix
A zoomed out view of Netflix’s “Gray Man” activation at SDCC. - Credit: Hitchhiker Pictures for Netflix

Hitchhiker Pictures for Netflix

Tudum Korea kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. KST, which is 10 p.m. ET Friday (or 7 p.m. PT). The “Global Fan Event” portion begins with Part 1 at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on Saturday. Part 2 starts 90 minutes later.

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