'Stranger Things' Season 3 May Hold the Secret of How Netflix Stays Ad-Free


By: Randa Minkarah

Lately, I’ve been reading a number of articles speculating about Netflix and if they’re going to start airing ads. On a seemingly unrelated topic, Stranger Things is bucking the Netflix trend of shows being cancelled after no more than three seasons.

But these may, in fact, be inextricably linked.

Throughout Season 3 of Stranger Things there has consistent and very prominent ad placement. Of course, we could have seen this coming. Season 2 made sure that in this particular scene, for example, the four actors had to share their screen time with the Colonel.


But now they are deep into the promotion game. By Season 4, you can expect the salaries for a cast of such a massive show to soar, and with Netflix continuing to burn through its cash the ROI here may not seem worth it. But keeping the story of Hawkins going feels like a no-brainer based on what I saw: New Coke (which Coca-Cola is re-releasing), Marlboro Cigarettes and the Gap, just to name a few.

According to the American Marketing Association, there were over 100 instances of visibly displayed products at an estimated value of $15m. Also, according to the AMA article (their source was a report from Concave Brand Tracking), Netflix has declared that the product placement was written in by the Duffer Brothers and was not paid product placement.

Honestly, that is difficult to swallow (much like New Coke). The shots featuring these products were too deliberate. The camera lingered lovingly over them. In some cases, the focus of the camera almost felt like a parody. Why would items be written in that way if not to focus on a financial, rather than narrative, value?

Please don’t get me wrong; I have no issue with product placement. It is a good way to underwrite expenses in a production. But I cannot believe the story required the highlighting of so many prominent brands from that time period.

According to the AMA article, the top 10 most visible brands were Coca-Cola, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Casio, 7-Eleven, Sharp, Adidas, Pentax, Reebok and Burger King. Coca-Cola was featured in every episode of the season, receiving exposure worth $1.5 million in the first three days of its release on Netflix.

Of course, all of this does not mean that eventually Netflix doesn’t create an ad tier at a lower cost. It could be a good way to pick up a different demographic than it reaches today, and increase their market share. As they mature, and with so much competition on the horizon, it may be the best decision, even if subscribers claim they will revolt. But product placement seems to be the current way they plan to make extra money.

And if it means we get more Stranger Things, then you won’t see me complaining.