Netflix’s The Politician Gives Us A Glimpse At The Future Of Storytelling For Brands
Storytelling is as old as time and ever evolving, adjusting and shaping our society. When it comes to TV shows, Netflix has been re-shaping the way we watch and what we watch. Netflix’s The Politician is the perfect example of modern storytelling. In this blog I analyse the things they do differently that are distinctly modern and what brands can learn in terms of storytelling.
Netflix is known for their high quality TV shows that push all boundaries. They continuously break the rules, set new standards and break those all over again. One of their recent shows, The Politician, inspired me to write this blog. I watched both seasons twice and could watch the series again. During my (first) re-watch of the show, I noticed many things, that the show does different in terms of storytelling. Aside from the amazing cast and appealing story, their techniques really stood out, that made the show feel particularly modern. Netflix shows have been known to be different from network TV shows, and The Politician takes this to another level. Where streaming shows are created to watch where and when you want them, The Politician is created for the modern viewer.
“Life Isn’t A Train; It Is A Sh*T Tornado Full Of Gold” — Georgina Hobart
First, let’s touch base on the show itself. In The Politician, we follow Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) as he is starting his political career in high school. His ultimate goal is the presidency. During the show we follow his ambitions and meet a bunch of colourful characters. The show’s cast is simply amazing, having well known names, like Judith Light, Bette Midler, Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow. The younger cast, comprised of Ben Platt, Zoey Deutsch, Lucy Boynton, Julia Schlaepfer, Laura Dreyfuss, Theo Germaine and Rahne Jones, performs outstandingly in their roles and makes you want to continue watching and know everything about their characters.
Enough praise about the show itself. As you might expect I definitely recommend watching it. The creators, Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy did an amazing job. Let’s dive into it and analyse what makes the show such a great example of modern storytelling for brands.
Don’t start from zero
The show immediately throws you into the middle of the story, and that’s exactly what you signed up for. Even though the first episode is called ‘pilot’, it does not feel that way. After the first half of the episode you know most characters and are fully aware of the story in front of you. In the show, the story is not ‘set in motion’ or ‘created’. You enter in the middle of it and know that it’s far from over.
Your audience doesn’t care about the origins, why some things are the way they are, or even why the teller is telling the story, they are there for the drama, intrigue, inspiration and emotions, to be entertained or informed.
The incredibly fast-paced storytelling of the show is perfect for this day and age. Even though each episode is approximately 50 minutes long, the speed doesn’t make it feel like that. In traditional shows, episodes finish each other’s story, which is still the case with The Politician. But in most episodes the ‘opener’ is answered throughout the episode and progresses the story sufficiently. Very often you think something might happen and then it really happens, but it all goes so fast that you’re used to the drama unfolding after the first episode.
This fits perfectly to the needs of our audiences. They often don’t have time, are scrolling through their newsfeeds with light speed and need something to rest their eyes on for a few good seconds. Make sure you’re not wasting your audience’s time. Get to the point quickly and deliver what they need before they’ve scrolled past you.
Ups and downs are realistic
In the show, the characters experience intense heartbreak and insane setbacks, but also ultimate victories. Most of these setbacks are resolved within a matter of minutes, in viewer’s time of course. Where it seemed like the world ended at the end of the previous episode, within the first fifteen minutes of the next the story has already dealt with it and has moved on.
This perfectly reflects our modern age, where it might seem like the world is ending on one day, but the next day we’re already dealing with it. And we have plenty of recent examples to underline this point.
The same goes for brands. They make mistakes, go through tough times and are affected by economic and societal developments. Most of them pull through and should not spend too much time focussing on the negative, but rather on the positive narrative that comes out of it.
Portray people by modern standards, without making a fuss about it
In The Politician, the sexuality, gender, social background, skin colour and more of the characters play a part, of course. But the emphasis is not on these things. In fact certain things are only discussed in milliseconds. Not like with classic TV shows, where these things would’ve made up for an entire storyline, spanning over multiple episodes. The show rather focusses on what makes people stand out, focusing on their ambitions, passions and what they do. It seems as though the show treats love, sex, gender and sexuality as fluid things. They are important, but don’t define the story or the characters by any means. They’re not making a big deal out of it. The writers of the show cleverly played with certain stereotypes, but treated them properly. In the second season a character raises their voice to make a point and is very blunt and direct about it, but the show doesn’t make you think they are a bitch, angry or a bad person. In fact, they show you that you can stand up for what you believe in, without always being nice. And yes, of course, there are plenty of ‘bad guys’ in the show. What I’m trying to say is that the show doesn’t let you think certain things, or put characters in boxes as other shows might do.
And this is especially important for brands.
Let’s take pride month as an example. Where a lot of brands feel the need to make content in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, often through content with people sharing their coming out stories and by forcing the ‘this is normal’ and ‘we support all love’ narratives. Where in fact, they should always do this, not just during pride month to get some headlines, in all communications and storytelling coming from the brand. Otherwise brands risk coming across as fake, unrealistic and beneficial. Portray people as humans, real stories and put your mouth where your heart is.
Climate change is a given, it’s always looming in the background
The climate crisis plays a part in The Politician, but it’s not the main antagonist of the story. In fact, the topic is always present. In every episode there are signs, but not in the way you might think. It plays the part of the biggest issue at the moment, more in a political and societal way, but going into more detail would mean spoiling the show. This perfectly captures the sentiment of the present day, everywhere we look are signs of climate change. In the news, editorial media, social media and now also in entertainment. It would just not be realistic to pretend it’s not there.
The point for brands is that you can’t ignore climate change or the climate crisis. In many ways, brands are perceived the same way as ‘people’. They are judged for what they say and what they do. Bluntly pretending climate change is not a thing that can happen in the perfect world the brand is trying to create for itself through storytelling makes them come off as tone-deaf, ignorant and simply stupid. Be aware of how you add this to your communications in 2020, consumers are better informed than we pretend they are.
Branded storytelling can still learn many things from the entertainment industry. I often recommend trying and daring more in terms of content. But most of all, I think brands should not be scared to go for it, tell the story they want to tell and that their audiences are thrilled to hear and see. We live in exciting times, entertainment comes from different corners in many ways.
I believe that by implementing some of the things The Politician does great in branded storytelling and can make your audience get more thrilled about the brand. And by doing that, it can work towards greater impact.