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How "Orange Is the New Black" can inspire your campaigns

How "Orange Is the New Black" can inspire your campaigns Lori Goldberg

Netflix's original series, "Orange Is the New Black" -- based on the book by Piper Kerman -- is precedent-setting television, not only in challenging gender roles by telling the stories of women in prison, but in its clever, unscripted digital marketing strategy. Without the promotional power of a major television network backing the series with commercial advertising and strong lead-ins, Netflix marketers had to write the script on how this bed was getting made.

Netflix's on-demand programming does not support cross-promotion commercials, previews, trailers, and ad scrolls at the bottom of the screen. Therefore, when challenged to launch a television program in a fresh way, the marketers behind OITNB often looked to digital media to reach fans.

Below are some of the outstanding digital marketing observations that helped make OITNB a huge success (and it might work for your business, too).

The subtle qualities of good native advertising

The quality of native advertising is improving rapidly, and OITNB is helping to push the envelope. In June 2014, The New York Times published a 1,500-word native ad titled, "Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn't Work." The ad took a journalistic approach to the plight of the show's main characters, but never overtly pitched the show to readers, though obvious conclusions were drawn. The integrity of the ad was vital, as it appeared adjacent to world-class journalism and was careful not to violate the reader's trust. While native advertising content rarely achieves this level of quality, OITNB shows us what is possible.

Be fun, kitschy... and authentic

Budgets can often limit a company's lofty advertising goals and the same is true for this pioneering television series. Netflix likely does not have the promotional budget that major networks have. For this reason, the OITNB season is a brief 13 episodes (compared to an average network season of 22). The marketer's challenge here is to maintain interest in the show during long periods between seasons (particularly true with binge viewers who watch a season in just days). Fortunately, the show's brand and charisma carries the tempo between seasons with brand-inspired fun and kitschy cleverness. Low-cost Flappy Birds-inspired video game apps and Crazy Pyes food trucks supplied fans with enough activity to fill the 8-month prison sentence between seasons. Crazy Pyes food trucks became a social media sensation, offering fruit pies named for memorable scenes at the Litchfield Correctional Facility. While the food truck was likely an insignificant cost, it was a major social media win. Neither of these ideas are expensive endeavors, but they are effective because the fan-base carries them virally around the web and in turn grows the audience.

Integrated, personalized marketing approach

Have you ever tried to get the entire executive team at your company to tweet in support of the company brand? Not easy, right? For the marketers at OITNB, they have succeeded in bringing the show's stars forward to play a central and meaningful role in the show's digital marketing. To this point, virtually every member of the cast is easily found on Twitter. The accessibility of the stars has made its marketing very personal to the fans with genuine integrity. The cast has appeared together in digital fashion campaigns for the online shopping site Gilt.com and in support of the non-profit Dress for Success. Pandora Internet Radio created themed playlists for each of the leading characters. On Twitter, popular hashtags bring the community of fans together with #OnWednesdaysWeWearOrange so that fans can support and identify other fans in their communities, and #AskOrange, which enabled fans to ask questions and interact with stars on Twitter. This integrated digital marketing approach succeeds in combining digital advertising, social media, digital music, and popular fashion trends to deliver satisfying content to fans on a very personal level -- further establishing their connection to the characters.

How to apply these digital marketing lessons to your business

Clever ad campaigns can take on a life of their own.

  • Use a variety of integrated digital media to tell your story, and use social media to tie them all together. Your supporters will carry your story forward.

  • Give your brand a personality, and make it accessible and desirable to your fans and customers.

  • Digital media is the vehicle, but creativity makes the content relevant.

Lori Goldberg is the CEO of Silverlight Digital.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Lori Goldberg is CEO of Silverlight Digital, a New York-based digital media agency. Goldberg leads a hands-on team in developing digital advertising strategies for national and local brands, including Meda Pharmaceuticals, Aetrex Footwear,...

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