Have you seen death? Have you seen darkness? Have you seen the light?
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 12, 2016
What's all this madness about?
It's for The OA, an original series whose first eight episodes are slated for release this Friday. This comes as a surprise for people who religiously follow Netflix's release schedules: December 2016 notably omitted it.
But that's all in a day's work for suspense marketers. The OA—which feels like a mature take on Netflix's last hit, Stranger Things (with a dash of JJ Abrams, possibly The X Files, and The Fringe, which seemed so promising until it wasn't)—was actually announced in March, though it wasn't clear when it would go live.
The show marks the TV debut for Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, whose past collaborations include The Sound of My Voice and The East. While both are billed as executive producers, Batmanglij will direct and Marling will star in it. Other executive producers include Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Michael Sugar.
Check the trailer out below:
Vanity Fair has a good breakdown of everything it knows about the show so far, but here are the highlights: The show revolves around a woman named Prairie Johnson, who went missing seven years ago. At the time, she was blind; when she returns, she can see.
The OA will explore her disappearance. Its tagline is "Trust the unknown," which appears to be informing the marketing strategy.
Because in addition to creeping everybody out on Twitter (and, less pleasantly, triggering others), Netflix has also launched an OA Instagram—just as cryptic, but beautifully produced. The posts are all pieces of a larger picture, captioned with phrases like "Get in" and "I liked it better when you were blind."
The images are slyly engineered to open a Pandora's box of questions, perfect for Redditing.
The video above opens to creepy music and a twitching foot. Its accompanying caption reads "Sole" (a pun for the bottom of a foot, the state of being alone … and maybe fish. All theories are welcome here).
Meanwhile, clicking on one of the man's tattooed arms up top yields the message, "Hold on."
Netflix doesn't like it much when agencies reveal their behind-the-scenes activities. But in this case, the campaign can safely be attributed to Carrot Creative, whose CEO Mike Germano tweeted about it on the same day it dropped.
— Mike Germano (@mikegermano) December 12, 2016
Campaigns like this have become fairly common—if you're looking for them, anyway. Last year, Old Spice released a "Choose Your Own Adventure" game on Instagram; this year, the Toronto Silent Film Festival, known for its smart appropriation of the medium, created an Instagram Escape Room with just as many riddles as you've seen above.
But if we can say anything about The OA, it's that the marketing is bigger than the sum of its parts. It feeds off our desire to pursue questions in storytelling and spend hours looking for answers, something True Detective's first season thrived on.
It also rides the massive popularity of Stranger Things. Netflix's original series are pretty hit-or-miss, especially now that there are so many of them; just yesterday, we learned it would cancel Marco Polo, a rare move for the brand, which champions a "niche markets" focus and keeps actual viewership numbers secret.
Stranger Things, however, launched quietly and proved a supernova of a show, playing on nostalgia, mystery and the filmy layer of gauze that divides our world from others. (In terms of views, IMDB ranks it second only to Game of Thrones, which has held the No. 1 spot for the last five years, per Vanity Fair.)
The OA stokes that flame while promising to raise the stakes. Netflix calls it "a powerful, mind-bending tale about identity, human connection and the borders between life and death." And one tweeter observed that, on YouTube, its trailer has already enjoyed 7.5 times more views in its first 24 hours than Stranger Things got.
Friday's just a breath away, but the flow of teasers runs on. Just today, Netflix posted another cryptic tweet, one that promises to take us to the brink of death and back again:
"Did you die and come back to life?"
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 14, 2016