I first heard about 13 Reasons Why from a friend of mine in high school. I was always looking for new addicting novels to read under my desk while neglecting to pay attention in class (before I got my first iPhone, that is). She let me borrow her copy, and it sat in my room for months, even after I had finished reading it. Not only was it an incredible book, but something about it stuck with me. It was haunting, and had many serious underlying messages that I couldn’t seem to shake.
Since Netflix came out with a series based off of this book – which centers around a series of tapes left by high school student Hannah Baker for her friends, following her suicide – I haven’t stopped hearing about it. Whether or not you have seen the show, you probably have found that this series is impossible to ignore. I watched it out of curiosity, and to see if I liked the show as much as I liked the novel. I finished the series this week and once again, haven’t been able to keep my mind off of it.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about this series: not only because it’s seriously addicting, but also because it capitalizes on a subject that should not be taken lightly: suicide. The series left me with a lot of strong mixed feelings. I have read articles both in favor and not in favor of this show. Regardless of where your opinion lies in terms of this series, there is one thing everyone can agree on: it has created a deafening buzz both online and in everyday conversation.
How did a simple Netflix series rise so quickly, and so dramatically, in popularity? Through its unique brand identity and brand strategy, 13 Reasons Why has spread like wildfire throughout pop culture conversation.
Reason One: Emotionally Provocative Subject Matter
I have written previously about brands targeting consumers’ emotions in order to connect with them on a more intimate level as a branding strategy. 13 Reasons Why takes this strategy to the extreme. In some ways, this is just the nature of the show; the plot encompasses a teen suicide, which naturally is going to be very emotional. However, both the show’s content and its branding are used very strategically in portraying raw, highly upsetting imagery of not only suicide, but also bullying, sexual assault and other emotionally sensitive topics.
Because the show and its branding focus on such a serious topic, it sparks a lot of conversation, and questions: Does the series help by creating more open and candid discussion about mental health, or just glorify suicide and trigger those who have suffered from serious depression? The show has become a topic of controversy – either you love it or you don’t. But regardless of your opinion, the show has sparked a lot of online and in-person conversation.
Reason Two: Strategic Use of a Hollywood Influencer to Get Street Cred
Like many good consumer branding strategies, 13 Reasons Why recruited a Hollywood celeb, singer and actress Selena Gomez, to produce the show, thus using an influencer to get a little more press about the series. Gomez originally bought the rights to the novel so that she could manipulate the plot to make it more of a TV series. Since the show is comprised of mostly unknown actors, Gomez’s affiliation helped 13 Reasons Why establish Netflix clout and get people paying attention.
Reason Three: Sheer Addictiveness
One of the things I loved about the novel is that it was nearly impossible to put down, and the show is no different. Like any addicting Netflix series, you just want to keep watching until it’s all the way through. This is another component of the show’s controversy: it’s created a thriller out of a very real, very serious subject that should not be glamorized. Each episode is more enticing than the next, keeping its consumers wanting more. Even the ads for the show lead with a dark and mysterious persona. 13 Reasons Why has branded itself in a way that keeps consumers hooked until the very end.
Though 13 Reasons Why has an effective brand strategy, its situation is unique and not one I would recommend other consumer brands try replicating. Emotional manipulation and connection with consumer emotions are two totally different things, especially in terms of mental health.
Will the buzz surrounding this series begin to subside anytime soon? With talk of a second season, it seems unlikely. And that said, would the launch of a possible second season have the same profound presence in pop culture news? We’ll just have to wait to press play and listen for what’s to come.