Netflix isn’t Your Woke Friend; They’re a Brand.

Haaniyah Angus
Apr 21 · 5 min read

When the cancellation of One Day At A Time came about many were shocked as the show was a much-loved favourite among those online and heavily celebrated for its depiction of underrepresented groups. The cancellation caused an immediate backlash for Netflix, and the company attempted to explain (in PR talk) that the show simply wasn’t worth the money due to the low viewership. While that sounds like a typical response from a media network as usually low viewership doesn’t generate revenue, it seems that many didn’t view Netflix as a media network. Fans of the show were hurt by the idea that Netflix placed costs over their representation and to save the face the company released a statement that attempted to quell the anger of the fans. They argued that even though they cancelled one of the few Latinx led shows they have, they still cared about representation, but it was already too late as many had a clear wake-up call to those who were blinded by its attempt to be an ‘ally’ via ‘brand personalisation’ on social media.

As stated by James Poniewozik for the New York Times:

Netflix, like a lot of companies these days, likes to present itself on social media as having a personality and a playful voice. It doesn’t just want your patronage; it wants a relationship. It wants to be your TV buddy you spend time with. It wants to assure you that it loves the TV that you love, the better for you to transfer some of your affection toward its #brand.

With the landscape of advertising changing vastly, it’s no surprise to see that brands have shifted from cable to the internet. Social media has become a central place for ads, from Flat Tummy Tea’s use of influencers to peddle laxatives they don’t use to Sunny D tweeting depressively about sports for the sympathy of Twitter. We can see that anything and everything must be done to get consumers attention. The concept of brand personalisation isn’t new whatsoever as the American restaurant chain Dennys did the same thing on Tumblr for years via memes until they finally were caught up in an anti-capitalism meme that they attempted to play off. Fast food chains, in particular, had been the leading brands profiting off of this new era of social media and as Youtuber Sarah Z explains it’s all about creating a sharp brand image to make your product stand out among consumers.

One way in which brands attempt to garner consumers is through parasocial relationships. For example, Wendy’s Twitter account seems to be almost universally loved online and many users try to start a dialogue with the account as if it is a person. From its ridiculous beef mixtape to its attempts to clown people for saying a brand wouldn’t be into comics, Wendys is somehow is viewed as an icon online even though it is a walking talking advertisement.

Netflix knows that to survive the social media arena of branding where trends and memes die out in an instant, that they need to build a sharp brand image alongside strong brand relations with their consumer base so they can continue to purchase their subscriptions and watch their content. And so, they use the popular memes, gifs and hot trends to talk about their products, use representation to promote their shows (that usually end up cancelled), and they engage in discourse to garner interaction.

Specifically, a few months ago Netflix attempted to bring about discourse in regards to film criticism. The tweet uses a meme template that ‘spills the tea’, a term stemming from the vernacular English of LGBT African Americans (stolen slang being reinvented to the point of a corporation using it should not be ignored here). The ‘tea’ that was spilt was the idea that if one is to finish the entirety of a film they cannot in good faith call it a bad experience, which angered many within the film community. The tweet serves no actual function to promote them nor does mention any of their products; it merely garnered interactions via the angered replies.

This occurred again recently after Netflix tweeted a thread about the sexism behind the term ‘chick flick’ and while I can understand where the annoyance comes from I can’t help but feel weirded out that a brand is attempting to bring about feminist discourse to gain interaction. Because whether people agree with them or not (the replies indicate the latter), by acknowledging the tweet even as I do so right now, we give them interaction and views. It seems as if Netflix and their social media team understand that by being a brand they’ll automatically get this reaction and so why not push the buttons of those who dislike the concept of brand personalisation?

I’m aware that there are people who’ll say I’m pedantic and that capitalism is merely doing what it does best; selling its products to consumers in any way necessary. And yet, I feel this need to question why people are buying into it. I mean yes, there are those opposed, and many even make memes about the concept, but these accounts still have millions of followers who love the idea that their favourite brands seem to be sentient human beings.

I asked Senior Tech BuzzFeed News reporter Ryan Broderick about the growing trend of brand personalisation, and he offers another perspective;

Social media incentivizes — and commodifies — identity. So to interacting, say on Twitter, without an identity is weird. So brands start to act like people to get better engagement. Of course, it’s usually really hollow and manipulated and 8/10 times it goes wrong horribly.

But I think a lot of people have nowadays where they want brands to be Good. Not just high quality, but somehow socially moral. We want to believe that we can do good things for society just by choosing what we buy. So you end up with this kind of funny, kind of sad, car crash effect where people are angry that brands are shamelessly pretending to be people but people are only really angry about it because they’re too lazy to actually do anything about late-stage capitalism.


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Haaniyah Angus

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