Netflix’s Shocking Public Activation for Altered Carbon Was the Year’s Most Innovative Media Plan

Disturbing 'marketplace' for bodies promoted the dystopian series

These bus shelters scored 15 million earned impressions. Netflix
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Adweek’s Media Plan of the Year honorees include the most innovative media plans from around the world (see the full list). Here is our Best in Show winner:

MediaHub | Netflix, ‘Altered Carbon’
Categories: Best in Show; Campaign ($500k-1 million); Best Use of Alternative Media

It’s not every day that one comes across a human body encased in plastic at a public bus stop—even in an eclectic town like West Hollywood.

The dystopian Netflix series Altered Carbon operates on a simple premise: 300-plus years in the future, people can download the entirety of their experiences into new bodies, extending their lives indefinitely. Armed with that backstory and several interactive sculptures so meticulously lifelike that they appeared to be breathing, Mediahub, a division of MullenLowe, went about setting up a public “marketplace” for these bodies.

“With all of our campaigns, we strive to find unique and creative ideas that really stand out,” says Netflix vp of marketing and consumer products Shauna Spenley. “For Altered Carbon, we asked ourselves, ‘If a campaign for bodies existed in the year 2384, what would its marketing look like?’ and used that as a guiding force for all campaign touch points.” The first step in the process was figuring out where these futuristic figures might live.

“We knew we could do it, but many places won’t let you; West Hollywood was one that would,” says Simeon Edmunds, vp of Mediahub’s R+D Lab, adding that passersby in this area are not “easily shocked.”

After the bus stop ad vendors received approval from the city, Mediahub worked with West Hollywood officials, poring over blueprints to find major intersections that attract the maximum number of curious onlookers. “Even people who drove by stopped to take pics,” says vp, associate media director Alli Blender.

The Netflix team also had an “impressive tolerance for risk” on this project. For example, Blender and Edmunds say they attached cables to the “bodies” to prepare for the possibility that some viewers might try to cut through the plastic and steal them. (Their fears were well-founded.)

While Netflix does not share specifics regarding the results of its campaigns, the bus shelters alone scored 15 million earned impressions, many driven by organic conversations on social media and local news reports in which anchors puzzled over these strange “billboards.” A full national media campaign followed.

“Through meticulous detail and a variety of in-world concepts, we were able to literally stop people in their tracks when they experienced the placements,” says Spenley. “Every campaign is different in terms of overall effectiveness, but what stood out for Altered Carbon was the fact that news of these bodies traveled beyond both the 1-to-1 interaction and cities where we bought media.”

“Having bus shelters discussed on the 6 o’clock news is a shining example of cutting through the clutter,” Edmunds says. “Any brand on any level would consider that a success.” Perhaps most importantly, Netflix renewed Altered Carbon for a second season in July.

(Read about the other Media Plan of the Year honorees here.) 

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.