Netflix Alters Sci-fi Fans' Ideas About Surprise

The Challenge

Altered Carbon” is a story about what can happen when technology advances to a stage where humans no longer fear death because their digital consciousness can be downloaded into a new body. Netflix was counting on the excitement of sci-fi fans to push the series beyond the genre and drive viewership among a general audience. 

Research showed sci-fi fans wouldn’t be an easy target. They’re smart, feel like they’ve seen everything, and can spot bullshit from light years away. It needed to convince them that “Altered Carbon” was truly unique and that Netflix was serious about sci-fi. It needed to capture their attention in unexpected places and, if possible, surprise them. 

The Execution

First, it positioned the fictitious corporation from the show, Psychasec, as a real company at CES. Actors walked visitors through the booth and invited them to poke and prod the bodies it claimed they could live through. It also staged a protest outside of the convention, complete with picket signs and leaflets opposing Psychasec’s morally questionable technology. Wired magazine showcased how surprisingly close modern technology is to enabling a world like “Altered Carbon.” 

From self-aware AI and police interrogations using VR to bio-organic printers printing actual human flesh, its content sucked Wired readers into a world where immortality is possible, blowing Wired’s benchmark out of the water by 27x. 

Finally, Netflix surprised Los Angeles by transforming bus shelters into three-dimensional lifelike human sculptures. Wrapped in flexible plastic printed with details about the custom bodies, their “flesh” was squishy and responded realistically to the pokes and prods of thousands of curious pedestrians. Sci-fi fans were convinced. 

The Results

  • News coverage of bus shelters was syndicated nationally both by Fox and CBS. 
  • 130 unique press articles about the campaign drove 27MM earned editorial impressions. 
  • Videos shared from activations were viewed more than 9MM times. 
  • 67k posts about the campaign on Twitter and fan posts on Reddit and Imgur reached the front page 3x. 
  • “Altered Carbon” was the most talked about new streaming series the month it launched.

Key Takeaways

Leverage the enthusiasm of your fans to engage a new audience.

Use the element of surprise to capture attention in unexpected locations.

Pull out all the stops using available technology to attract media attention.

This won the Creative category and was an Outdoor Media finalist in MediaPost’s 2018 Creative Media Awards.

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