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Six things brands can learn from Making a Murderer

Since Making a Murderer launched on Netflix, it’s become a global phenomenon. Regardless of whether you think Steven Avery is guilty or innocent, the documentary provides a masterclass in integrated marketing. Here are six take-outs from Netflix’s latest killer show.


1. Drive response with a provocative narrative.

‘One man. Two crimes. Wrongfully accused? You decide.’ Off this deceptively simple premise hangs 10 exhausting hours of documentary, a global media response, petitions, and heated debate. Is Avery innocent? Is the US judicial system broken? Is true crime drama ever ethical? The questions are short, but the answers are complex. As marketers, we can learn from this.

Yes, you should be able to communicate your campaign’s creative idea in one powerful line. But today’s audiences can handle story complexities like meta-narrative, ambiguity and multiple points of view. Respect this sophistication, and you’ll create campaigns that have an edge when it comes to intrigue.


2. Add depth to the story with channel-specific activations.

From the BBC to Fox News, Steven Avery’s mugshot has been ubiquitous in the media since we all took down our Christmas trees. Every piece of content relating to the show has been unique. The New Yorker delivered an in-depth thinkpiece on the systemic failings of the judiciary. Buzzfeed ran with “17 Thoughts You Had While Watching Making a Murderer”. Meanwhile Twitter went predictably crazy with Memes of Questionable Taste.

The point is, channel activations must be both purpose-built, and fit for purpose. Think of your campaign idea as the central tent pole, and every expression of that idea as part of the tent. Ropes, canvas, zips… you need them all if you don’t want to wake up in your sleeping bag with rain on your face.


3. Challenge tradition.

Netflix launched all 10 episodes of Making a Murderer at the same time, and the media response was immediate. At audience level, all the content was out there at once. Whether we binge-watched or showed restraint (who does that?!), we set the pace. There was no phased deployment of either the story, or the media response.

This is fundamentally different to the traditional network television ‘cliffhanger’ approach to programming, and it’s a different that Netflix has been successfully exploiting to steal market share. By empowering the audience to interact with our brand stories when they choose to, we encourage active (rather than passive) participation.


4. Be transparent.

Google Making a Murderer today and you’ll find dozens of articles claiming that filmmakers painted Avery too sympathetically. Disgraced former prosecutor Ken Kratz has talked about evidence the documentary ignored. Jurors have given their views. Avery’s former girlfriend has accused him of being guilty. The upshot of all this media fallout is that viewers have much more information than just the documentary itself.

For brands, this shows the importance of making sure your brand promise accurately reflects your values and practices. Bad news travels at viral speed these days, making brand integrity a commercial necessity. Fancy a horsemeat burger? Go on, I’ll drive you to Tesco in my VW…


5. Help audiences participate in a meaningful way.

Stories become more powerful when the audience takes ownership of them. When we have strong feelings about a story, we become part of it. At time of writing, nearly half a million people have signed a petition demanding that the White House pardon Avery.

So be bold, and stand up for the things that matter to your brand. Whether you want to turn your CSR vision into a reality, or simply want to tell a story with verve, you’re likely to find that customers appreciate and remember your passion.


6. Worry less about originality and more about authenticity.

Making a Murderer wasn’t the first show to shine a spotlight on a possible miscarriage of justice. Earlier in 2015, there was The Jinx. In 2014, there was Serial. And before Serial… well, you can ride the ‘wrongful accusation’ train right back to the days of witch hunts.

What made Making a Murderer so successful was its obsessive detail. This was a documentary filmed over 10 years. It analysed not one, but two instances of potential systemic failure. Exceptional access to family members, taped phone calls, legal teams and evidence made for addictive behind-the-scenes viewing. It wasn’t the first. But its authenticity made it the most compelling.


Written by Tom Tootal

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