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House of Ads: The Advertising Strategy Behind Netflix's Top Show

Mar 21, 2016 3:16:01 PM


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What episode are you on? If you're like the 3M+ Americans (including myself - episode 10 here) glued to the drama happening with the Underwood administration, then these ads are for you. Here at our office, we're still under a strict no-spoilers policy, however, Heather Dunbar and Frank Underwood are often mistakenly injected into conversations about the "actual" Presidential election.
 
My first experience with a House of Cards creative came the night before the new season premiered, while visiting washingtonpost.com (see screenshot below). First, I was blown away by the boldness of the Netflix show’s new ad. Kevin Spacey appears as Frank Underwood, in his best political headshot, juxtaposed next to a photo of Donald Trump in a similar style suit, speaking to the creators' intentional parallel to the current, real life political candidates. After digging further into the digital strategy that House of Cards Season 4 was employing, the results were almost as interesting as the Underwood campaign itself.

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Screenshot from washingtonpost.com, 3/3/16.

Strategy Overview

The Netflix darling started running display ads on February 26th, a week prior to the premiere of Season 4. It wasn’t until the day of the premiere, March 4th, that the show ramped up their efforts dramatically across channels, releasing 43 of the 49 desktop creatives in the opening weekend alone (3/4-3/6). Topping desktop impressions during this onslaught was March 6th, as Team Underwood hit 182 sites, spending $90K+.

While they did run mobile and video ads, it was a much smaller volume compared to their desktop strategy.

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Source: Pathmatics US Desktop Data, 2/14/16-3/14/16.
 

How are they buying?

Over the last 30 days, the majority of House of Card’s desktop impressions were purchased through Double Click Bid Manager. 8% of their desktop impressions were purchased directly, targeting 16 sites with the top 2 being nytimes.com (59% of impressions purchased direct) and gq.com (98% of impressions purchased direct). Here’s a breakdown of their buying strategy, and the impression share attributed per partner:

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Source: Pathmatics US Desktop Data, 2/14/16-3/14/16. 
 

Who are they targeting?

Looking at the demographics, House of Cards’ audience is male dominant. According to imdb.com, the majority of the show's ratings come from males aged 18-29, followed by the 30-44 age bracket. As far as social commenting, men talk about the show more than women online, consuming 63% of the conversation.
 
Of the few sites that were directly targeted by House of Cards, nytimes.com and gq.com were the top two by impression volume, while 98% of their placements on gq.com were purchased directly, making it the most directly targeted site for the show. This was no accident as GQ’s audience fits perfectly into their mold, with the median age being 36.3 and 72% male. The bolder creatives were also used for all GQ placements, echoing the masculine tone of the site. Here’s a screenshot of one creative, captured on 3/4/16 by our platform.
 
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Source: Pathmatics US Desktop Data, 3/4/16.
 
It will be interesting to see how the show’s advertising strategy is planned moving forward, since the entire season is released at once. Will they taper off or continue surging on weekends to remind you to keep watching? Let us know your thoughts in the comments - but remember, no spoilers.
 
*By impression volume. **All trademarks & copyrights property of their respective owners.

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Jordan Kramer

Written by Jordan Kramer

An out-of-the-box thinker with a love for disruptive ideas, Jordan's background spans PR and events for the wedding & hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Scottsdale and also launching one of America's most unique food trucks. She jumped from the food start-up scene to the tech start-up scene in 2013 to join one of the most unique companies in ad tech. Jordan is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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