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The beloved Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman is famous for countless cinematic cultural touchstones such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men and The Princess Bride. Yet one small element of his enduring legacy that remains pressingly relevant is his succinct summation of the Hollywood industry: “Nobody knows anything.”
Goldman was commenting on the uncertainty of an industry that relied on creativity and personal taste. Predicting success in a business ruled by bias was an inexact science at best. Today, data can never replicate the special creative alchemy that births iconic characters such as Inigo Montoya. But data can help arm companies with the necessary insight to make the most efficiently targeted and effective decisions possible in an increasingly challenged marketplace. How? Because we know more about who is watching today.
In this fragmented entertainment ecosystem that sees an endless array of competition for our attention spans, studios must be hyper vigilant in any and all attempts to cut through the clutter. Programmers must maximize the pre-release marketing window to ensure target audiences and ancillary audience demographics are aware and interested in an upcoming title by tracking the reach and effectiveness of promotional campaigns.
Using Netflix’s live-action One Piece as an example, let’s walk through Parrot's pinpoint three-step process on how best this can be accomplished to ensure titles are released from the most optimal launching points.
Step 1: Developing Marketing Strategy & Tactics
In Step 1, we need to identify the existing audience that represents the core target for Netflix’s live-action One Piece and the audience expansion opportunities to inform marketing strategies. This can be done by running a brand affinity analysis, which can identify the opportunity to leverage brands, outlets, talents, etc. with the most affinity, or shared audience overlap, to the One Piece fandom in order to retain and grow audiences.
We start by finding a general audience demographic profile for Netflix’s One Piece 45 days before the release of the show’s first trailer on June 17 based on the shared interactions and social engagement of those already engaging with the Netflix series online. Later, we’ll reexamine the audience demo profile 45 days after the release of the first trailer to help measure the effectiveness of the initial promotion.
Here we have an understanding of the show’s core audience: male viewers from the ages of 13-22 (Gen Z) and 30-39(Millennials). The latter category is fueled in part by nostalgic affection for the original anime series, which has been airing since 1999. Naturally, the brand affinity analysis identified high audience interest overlap with those that engage with the original anime and manga. This offers a launching pad for initial target audiences.
From here, we can examine the growth opportunity based on the affinity and reach, or how significantly it penetrates our sample, of various brands, shows, movies and talent which would ideally raise awareness and elicit interest from new and existing audiences. This provides a snapshot into the areas of interest and demographics of the various audiences in the One Piece ecosystem. From this, we can build a short and long range road map for marketing efforts.
Looking at the brands with the highest affinity to the core One Piece audience 45 days before the release of the show’s first trailer reveals some advantageous patterns as well:
- Powerhouse Animation
- Toei Animation
- Sony Pictures Animation
- Netflix Geeked/Netflix Japan Anime/Netflix Family
- Universo PlayStation
- DC Kids
- DC Universe
- Resident Evil
There exists an unsurprising affinity with animation in general, which can be easier to convert into live-action viewers thanks to the familiarity with the source material. (Both the original Cowboy Bebop anime and Netflix’s live-action adaptation skew male and over index with Millennials and Gen Z, for example). Raising awareness for One Piece can begin by utilizing in-house platforms — Netflix Geeked, Netflix Japan Anime and Netflix Family — to reach highly engaged Netflix users for the shortest bridge to viewership conversion. Utilizing external media outlets such as WatchMojo and Collider can help reach audiences with similar taste preferences that may not necessarily be as highly engaged with Netflix programming.
Though the DNA of the material varies, the overlap with the Resident Evil franchise, which has been around for more than 25 years, can potentially help reach audiences older than Gen Z. (Netflix’s Resident Evil series counts Millennials as its largest audience demo and nearly 50% of its total audience is aged 30-40+). PlayStation (where the One Piece franchise has a presence across several games), DC Kids and DC Universe also present activation opportunities and advertising destinations that align with scripted content tastes.
Given the younger-skewing male resonance of Netflix’s One Piece early on its pre-release campaign, the obvious audience expansion opportunity is to reach female viewers and older audiences.
Step 2: Trailer Impact/Reach
In Step 2, we assess audience reach to better understand whether the marketing efforts and events (e.g. trailers) successfully reached their intended audience and/or grew the existing audience base. This can help inform paid media in the weeks ahead of release.
We’ve already established our general audience demographic profile, but let’s break that down even further to unearth more targeted promotional opportunities.
Three of the four largest audience clusters within that general profile are:
- Fans who share a high affinity for animation and children's programming, suggesting a mix of kids and parents with young children (comprising 14.3% of Netflix’s One Piece audience prior to its first trailer)
- Fans who consistently interact with the Marvel and DC universes, video games and comics (20.5%)
- Fans of the original One Piece anime, as well as general manga and anime fans (25%)
These tend to align with the highest affinity brands mentioned in Step 1. What’s interesting about the Manga/Anime Superfans cluster is that it skews more female compared to the overall One Piece audience 45 days before its first trailer. This represents an opportunity to tap into the more female-leaning interests of this audience subset to try and expand the overall viewer base. Some of the brands with the highest affinity to this subset include Colourpop Cosmetics, Kpop and Starbucks, all of which can be leveraged for further activation efforts within the audience expansion target.
Now that we’ve established expansion focus within specific audience subsets and potential activation routes, this can help strategically direct what is highlighted in the show’s first trailer. Essentially, it’s a guideline on how best to double down on attracting the core target audiences while carefully expanding appeal to new viewer demographics.
The trailer features the core cast of characters in a kinetic and stylish way, re-establishing known figures to fans of the original anime and introducing the main players and primary tone of the show to newcomers. It managed to attract a larger general female audience, increasing by 7%. Cast members Iñaki Godoy, who plays the main character, and Emily Rudd, who plays Nami, were among the talents with the most affinity 45 days after the release of the first trailer to the One Piece general audience. Nami is a prominent and fashionable female character in the original One Piece anime who is featured in the first live-action trailer.
This is a successful addition to the largely male audience Netflix’s One Piece began with. However, Millennial and Gen X+ audiences remained flat, suggesting the streamer can still convince slightly older audiences to hop on board.
Manga/Anime Superfans has the highest concentration of Gen X+ audiences (26%) and tends to skew more global than the other audience subsets. Specific brands that boast high affinity with this subset include the in-house Netflix Indonesia, as well as the Indonesian national football team Timnas Indonesia. Both can be utilized to activate international audiences in the Millennial to Gen X+ age ranges.
Superhero Buffs boasts the second largest contingent of Gen X+ interest (18%). High affinity brands that can be used to help reach the target expansion audience include apparel lines such as FYE and Insert Coin, video game developer Ember Lab and kitchenware company BoxLunch. The Dragon Ball Z franchise is also of high interest to this audience subset. Given its 40 year history, this is yet another avenue with which to reach and raise awareness with Millennials and Gen X+(advertising the live-action One Piece on anime-centric streamer Crunchyroll is one potential route here).
“Translating anime to live action is hard, with most adaptations failing to excite core fans or reach new audiences. Our team did both successfully thanks to a deep partnership between our US creative executives and their counterparts in APAC,” Netflix wrote in its Q3 2023 earnings report. “This enabled them to build a strong relationship with creator Eiichiro Oda and honor his storytelling, while bringing Monkey D. Luffy’s world to life on screen in exciting new ways.”
Step 3: Campaign Tracking
The first two steps focused on granular audience identification and attraction efforts that included external marketing opportunities. Step 3 focuses on tracking how effective the actual promotional campaign has been by examining various demand signals.
First, let’s start with an audience sentiment analysis, which sifts through social media in order to evaluate how the online conversation surrounding a title or talent skews positive, negative and neutral. Understanding the changes in viewer reactions can then help inform marketing decisions.
Prior to the release of One Piece’s first trailer, 34.4% of online commentary surrounding the live-action adaptation was positive compared to 20.9% negative and 44.7% neutral. After release of the first trailer, however, positive sentiment had increased to 46.5%, negative sentiment had decreased to 12.20% and neutral sentiment stood at 41.3%. In other words, the first trailer provided a positive perception boost to the series, indicating a successful start to its promotional campaign. Audiences responded well to the first footage.
Additionally, the average worldwide audience pre-release demand for Netflix’s One Piece rose 89% in the first month (June 17-July 17) after Trailer 1 was released compared to the month prior while the show’s peak pre-release demand surged by 151%. Again, this reflects growing global awareness and interest in the series.
Zooming out, we can see how One Piece’s first two trailers, as well as other Netflix marketing, helped put pre-release audience demand on an upswing ahead of the show’s premiere. Below is a worldwide time shift analysis of One Piece that starts 90 days before the show’s premiere.
The first trailer was released 75 days before the show debuted, which is indicated by the first spike in pre-release audience demand in the chart above. The first trailer maintained increased demand for the upcoming title for roughly 20 days before evening out. Around 40 days before premiere, another trailer was released which elicited an even greater spike, leading into a steady upward trajectory in audience demand for the final three weeks leading into the show’s release. This underscores steadily rising audience awareness and engagement thanks to a consistently effective promotional effort by Netflix. The company hit on One Piece’s core audience target — fans of sci-fi, fantasy, action and adventure, superhero, anime and animation — and viewers on the periphery with slightly varied tastes — romantic dramas, sitcoms, horror comedies, kids programming and even unscripted content.
Now that the show has actually been available for some time, One Piece’s audience is 72.5% male and 27.5% female, representing an improved gender skew. It ranks 10th in worldwide travelability (which indicates the popularity of a series outside of its home market) among all series released from Jan. 1-Oct. 18, 2023.
Culturally, Netflix was determined to bridge the source materials with Eastern roots to Western audiences.
“This was the first time where we had IP that really invited and required multiple perspectives and different creative teams,” Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s vice president of scripted series in the US and Canada, said. “We really partnered together across the time zones and across languages. We knew how important that was for the success of it.”
In terms of general performance, One Piece is the most in-demand Netflix original to release in 2023 globally and the first ever English language title to debut at #1 in Japan, according to Netflix’s self-reported rankings (the show also garnered #1 rankings in more countries than Wednesday or Stranger Things, per Netflix). One Piece became the #1 most in-demand TV title worldwide just one day after release and has been renewed for a second season.
“It has expanded the possibility of live action not only in Japan but also in the world,” said Kaata Sakamoto, the company’s vice president for content in Japan.
What hasn’t changed since Goldman’s era of entertainment is that the movie and TV industry is still largely dictated by the unpredictable whims and preferences of a constantly evolving audience. In any such environment, the shifting winds of personal taste will always make it difficult to navigate.
However, what has changed is the ability to provide greater insights and services to best position any title for success. By getting more involved earlier in the life cycle of an upcoming series, the content stands a better chance at connecting with the right audiences in a highly competitive landscape.
Identifying core target audiences, viewer expansion opportunity, talent, brand and content affinity and activations that aid in raising awareness, and tracking the effectiveness of a marketing campaign are all essential to the pre-release process. Doing so not only guarantees the vast resources dedicated to title promotion are being spent wisely and effectively, but also greatly improves the odds of generating a quality return in terms of title performance. To borrow a line from Goldman’s The Princess Bride, doing otherwise would be “inconceivable.”