Retail Marketing and “Stranger Things”
The kid has no collarbone, no front teeth and is a breakout star in the Netflix series Stranger Things. Gaten Matarazzo plays the curly-haired, lisping Dustin on the hit show, serving as the smart and sweet comedic relief in the often-tense sci-fi drama.
The episodic thriller about what happens after a young boy disappears in 1980s small-town America has touched a nerve with viewers, who have flocked to social media to ponder its twists and odd resolutions. And to talk about Dustin.
If you’ve seen the show, then you get it. If you haven’t yet met Dustin, stop reading immediately and pull “Stranger Things” up on Netflix. It’s only eight episodes; I can wait.
The kid is awesome, right? He’s among the top reasons to get into this show. (Along with scary monsters, odd disappearances, government bad guys, loveable geeks, bike riding at night and Winona Ryder.) Show creators Ross and Matt Duffer have tapped into a conscious collective to create a brilliant, visceral, emotional television experience.
Kind of like the in-store Shopper Moments retail marketers should be creating. So let’s learn from the current “It” boys of broadcast interaction. What have they done to create authentic, satisfying Moments?
Tap into nostalgia – shared memory – and spare no details. Stranger Things is a wonderland of ’80s throwbacks. If you love the decade that brought us Men at Work and the Iran-Contra scandal, Stranger Things will send you back there.
The Duffer Brothers reference and re-reference the cultural touchstones of a very specific – and no longer existing – American childhood. Dungeons & Dragons, earth tones, rotary phones, wood paneling, banana seats, Aliens, the Star Wars series, pudding cups, rugby shirts, terrible haircuts, John Hughes, the Evil Empire, and, above all, the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg.
Borrow from the best. “Stranger Things” is, perhaps above all else, a homage to the Spielbergian universe, where childhood wonder is mixed with a bit of otherworldly menace, à la E.T. The Duffer brothers leave little doubt about their creative inspirations. Even the opening credits feature a collection of red, menacing lines (can lines be menacing?) that slowly spells the show’s title in a perfect Stephen King book jacket font.
Shake people out of complacency. Be bold. The show has a few real scares in it. Lest you think that Stranger Things is simply a salute to Spielberg from two fanboys, make no mistake: The series contains quite a few jump-off-your-sofa frights, as well as a lingering aura of creepiness.
Stranger Things expertly walks that narrow line between genuinely creepy and sincerely sweet, two great tastes that may taste great together but are difficult to blend successfully. It is a jarring combination that causes severe and satisfying emotional ricochets among viewers.
Showcase the stunning. In Stranger Things, every single frame looks like a carefully considered photograph. The sheer beauty in every shot in every scene will blow cinematography nerds away. This is a visual feast for the audience, much like an unexpected, beautifully crafted, provocative, brilliantly executed a Shopper Moment must be.
Tell a story. Above all, Stranger Things is an expertly told story. The characters are vivid, their motivations are logical, the conflict is front-and-center. There is a pace and a rhythm that pulls viewers forward. The good guys defeat the bad guys (usually), and the bad guys get what they deserve (sort of). The classic story arc is respected and reflected in Stranger Things, much like the marketing story must be. (Though Shopper Moments should probably have fewer dank tunnels and scarily flashing florescent lights.)