Memes, once a trivial form of entertainment, are now generating millions in the movie industry. Whether or not you’ve actually watched Bird Box, you’ve definitely heard about that Netflix hit. Bird Box is a science-fiction thriller based on the novel by Josh Malerman. A supernatural force hunts the eyesight of civilians, feeding on their fears and leading them to suicide: Catch a glimpse of a supernatural force, and your wildest nightmares will consume you.
In the story line, a mother and two young children, plus an assortment of good and evil secondary characters, struggle to escape these monsters and find refuge while having to do anything they do outside their boarded-up homes — including rowing through river rapids — blindfolded.
With major stars like Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson and Trevante Rhodes headlining the film, you’d think Bird Box would be a guaranteed hit among viewers. However, the Netflix feature was rated only a 6.8 out of 10 on IMDb and received a mere 62 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some are even calling Bird Box a copycat of A Quiet Place, with a simple switch in which of the five senses was involved. So, how has this Netflix film risen to its fame?
If you’re on social media, you’ve probably come across the memes that have emerged since the film’s release on December 21, creating a sort of unexpected phenomenon. The negative comments, endless flood of memes and dangerous challenges following the debut of Bird Box have contributed to millions of streams on Netflix – over 45 million in the first week, to be exact.
Memes are a new marketing strategy, transforming the way brands put themselves out to their customers and the public. Adding value to entertainment, these catchphrases have showed their power in the business world — increasing brand recognition, reach and influence. Memes can market, and they are definitely here to stay: This became explicitly clear with the release of Bird Box and its incredible involvement of global viewers.
A-list celebrities were even involved in the online conversations around the show. Kim Kardashian West tweeted, “Watching BirdBox. I really like it. Who has seen it?” And Chrissy Tiegen replied to her with, “kimberly like everyone in the entire world” (sic).
Aside from the Twitter and meme craze that ensued, the “Bird Box challenge” was born. Fans began blindfolding themselves and performing a variety of tasks, ranging from simple to extreme. This trend even led the official Netflix account to tweet: “Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE.”
Whether intentional or not, social media propelled what some critics considered a mediocre movie into an internationally trending topic.
Bird Box was reportedly produced for less than $20 million, a modest budget for such a successful outcome. What the feature also proved was that with a carefully chosen cast, a perfect pitch and a strategic marketing campaign — including an enormous video billboard on 34th Street outside Macy’s in New York City — streamed content can be as successful, if not more so, than a big-screen release movie.
With Bird Box, Netflix is setting the bar lower (financially speaking) for how future projects might be marketed to the public, and for how the cable network’s algorithmic strategy may help it achieve a higher, maybe even dominant, position among the big-shot studios.
Ending 2018 with a huge win, and making use of memes, Netflix’s marketing on Bird Box may offer some lessons for entrepreneurs, even as the cable network enters the new year as a serious threat — possibly leaving its competitors with their blindfolds on.