Yes, binge-watching is good for us

Jane Ostler
Global Head of Media
Kantar's Insights Division

Ann Green
Managing Partner, Creative Development
Kantar Millward Brown


The UK is a "Nation of binge watchers" (Ofcom, 2017), while the US is now "Stream Nation" (Deloitte, 2018). So, what can advertisers and marketers learn from these compulsive binge-watching habits brought to us by the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu?

"Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Making Us Smarter", the landmark book by Steven Johnson, argues that computer games and complex multi-part TV storylines are good for us. It proves that popular culture is becoming more sophisticated in both concept and structure and proposes that people's brains are evolving to cope with it. And that kids can cope with more complexity than older people. The book says that this also applies to the development of movie scripts over time: Star Wars has 10 main characters, but Lord of the Rings has nearly 30 that you need to follow.

Interwoven storylines between episodes and characters are a feature of many TV dramas in the last few years; The Handmaid's Tale and Black Mirror offer a slight projection into the future which is tantalising, horrifying and compelling – all at the same time. The West Wing started it all in 1999 – almost incomprehensible technical political dialogue which goes at a slightly faster pace than the viewer. It's gripping.

So what characteristics are transferable for marketers trying to produce compelling communications?

The implications for media planning and creating greater depth and intrigue via multi channels is significant. For example, our research shows that retargeting can benefit brands, if used intelligently to sequence stories for their audiences.

Our AdReaction study in 2017 showed that Gen Z like to have to have control and some interaction in communications from brands and are receptive to branded content. Teenagers and children spend their time on computer games which require mental and manual dexterity – as well as multitasking (talking to their friends on multiplayer games). This is surely the next step for binge producers – programmes which include interactivity, role play and control – all the things that Gen Z seek out.

Here are the 5 rules which we think can be carried over to content development:

  1. Tell more stories. Only 2 out of 5 ads are based on a narrative.
  2. Use storytelling to create emotion which engages, and don't shy away from drama and cliff hangers
  3. Leverage channel selection to provide greater depth to the engagement and tell stories from multiple perspectives
  4. Make the brand the hero not only in the story itself, but also in terms of the business vision
  5. Find ways to make your audience part of the story or at least spark old "water cooler" moments

Arguably, complexity is counter to the point of most types of advertising messages. But those brands that can tell stories can really take advantage of lessons from TV and gaming. And every brand can pick up on some of the simpler rules.

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