It would be hard not to know that on May 26, Netflix will stream a new season of the cultishly beloved TV series Arrested Development. After all, for the past several months Netflix has been building up to the event with a culturally ubiquitous, clever advertising campaign that’s got superfans, the Bluth-curious, and the media buzzing.
From a touring frozen banana stand to blue handprints popping up on Netflix’s search page, the company has engineered a long-running, multi-platform, and fan-delighting campaign. Most interesting, Netflix has managed to create the sense of a mass must-see event while also keeping things incredibly insidery. Most of the promotions, after all, make absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the show. Those blue handprints? To get the joke you’d have to know about Tobias Fünke’s (David Cross) Blue Man Group escapades. And the frozen banana stand—which fans know as the place there is always money—is a Bluth family side business throughout the series.
Netflix would not comment on the rollout, but the campaign was created in-house working with vendors such as Brigade Marketing. Then again, the company doesn’t really need to talk—the media is doing that for them. All across the digital and broadcast media, reporters and observers have been weighing in on elements of the Arrested Development countdown. And, according to research company NetBase, the show has generated three times the social buzz as Netflix hit House of Cards. As Ira Kalb, a professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, explained, Netflix is "using the media to blow up the publicity and the communications."
"It’s a lot like what Nike does," said Kalb. "When they create an ad, it might not necessarily be a brilliant ad, but they make sure it’s a newsworthy thing." (He referred to the controversial ad that Nike ran earlier this year after disgraced Tiger Woods regained his No. 1 ranking: "Winning Takes Care of Everything.")
Ultimately, Kalb said, Netflix is appealing to core Arrested Development fans through insider references, but it’s betting that strong word of mouth, as well as the "intrigue" factor—created by stunts like the frozen banana stand—will draw in new fans.
"They’re using the frozen banana stand, which is a branding element of the show, like a hook to drag people in. It gets people saying, ‘What is this? Why are people lined up for frozen bananas?’ It’s pulling them in in a way that’s not intrusive."
In the slide show above, a highlights reel of the months-long campaign.