Bird Box: How Netflix Got 45 Million People to Watch a Bad Movie

Posted on January 4, 2019

They’re everywhere, they’re inescapable, and if you look at them, you’ll be either rendered completely mad, or become part of the cult that started it all in the first place. I’m talking, of course, about Bird Box memes. 

The meme economy is becoming synonymous with the actual economy.

Bird Box is a Netflix original film that has captured the minds of the nation, boasting the kind of virality that good brands only witness in the sweetest of dreams. The psychological thriller began streaming worldwide on December 21, 2018, and since that day, social media has been unable to keep quiet. People, meme pages, periodicals, and even companies have made memes from the film, so much so that a conspiracy theory has been established wondering if Netflix used bots to hype up the movie. This was evidently disproven, but the buzz around the movie is that big.

You may be wondering what the reach of memes can realistically be. Can vapid, joking images really help out in the marketing of a multi-billion dollar company? Yes. They can help in a massive way.

Consider this: over its opening four-day weekend, Black Panther made $422 million in sales. If we average that to $9 a ticket, that’s essentially 27 million views. Within a week of its release, Netflix claimed over 45 million accounts viewed Bird Box. Those numbers are staggering. Now you may be thinking, “Tucker, maybe Bird Box is better than Black Panther. Maybe it’s just that good.” Here’s the deal: it’s not.

I did a science project for this article and watched Bird Box, and I have to say I thought it was a mediocre or even below-average film. If I were rating it out of 10, I’d give it a 6. The pacing was all over the place, the dialogue was laughable (the film features the “joke” “We are making the end of the world … great again! Yoooooooo!” Seriously. I think the dialogue is so bad that A.I. must have written it.), and the plot of the film was predicated on stupid characters doing stupid things. So as not to be too negative, I will concede that Sandra Bullock had an excellent performance, and John Malkovich did an excellent job of being a surrogate of my voice in the movie when he asked a character who committed an egregiously stupid act, “Are you a simpleton?” 

Now, you may be thinking, “Geez, Tucker, you know, maybe you don’t speak for everyone when it comes to watching movies,” and you’d be right. I don’t, nor do I claim to do so. Consider though that the film boasts a Metacritic score of 52 out of 100 and an audience score on Rotten Tomatoes of 65 percent. Those aren’t stellar enough numbers to equate to 45 million views (Netflix considers those views to be accounts that watched at least 70 percent of the movie). And yet, here we are in a post-Bird Box world.

So how did Netflix pull off the greatest heist of the 21st century? How did they steal two hours from 45 million viewers (3,750,000 days worth of viewing time!!) despite putting out a mediocre movie? This is what we keep stressing about great social media presence: it works, and if you do it the right way, it can be free. A significant number of those views came from people simply seeking to understand the context of the memes they kept seeing on twitter. Even if the memes originated from less than legitimate accounts, they resulted in millions of legitimate views. That’s a superpower.

I cannot recommend the Cohen Brothers film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs enough. Roma is also getting Oscar buzz, and we have an article about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch in the works.

There’s also the fact that Netflix’s distribution is second to none. When users log in, they see a banner of original films, many of them with auto-playing trailers. The provocative poster, paired with the automation of playing and the social media buzz would entice even the most stoic customer to view the film, or at least a trailer.

You probably aren’t capable of the output of Netflix, but you aren’t expected to match them. The lesson of Bird Box is a lesson about virality, social presence, and site design. If you can reach a semblance of virality with an already good social presence, and your site design leads customers to your hero products, then you’ll convert at unprecedented levels. In this case, you absolutely need to take off your blindfold and start seeing the possibilities of modeling your business off of non-traditional sources.