This holiday season, critics and binge-watchers alike went berserk over two Netflix productions, both starting with the letter “B” – Birdbox starring Sandra Bullock and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
With Birdbox’s main lesson being not to walk around blindfolded in real life, Bandersnatch carries its own set of insights which can teach you about personalized marketing best practices.
The film is a great showcase of interactive storytelling, but is also a masterclass on how narratives can be formulated specifically for individuals as opposed to a general audience. Ultimately, Bandersnatch shows what personalized video content can truly accomplish.
Bandersnatch is a psychological thriller and is part of the hit Netflix series, Black Mirror. It was written by the series’ creator Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade.
The story follows a young programmer in 1984, Stefan Butler, who is adapting a fantasy choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game. Stefan gets consumed in his work, dealing with a series of bugs and glitches that put a strain on his mental state.
It carries many of Black Mirror’s dystopian themes about technology playing an overly intrusive role in our lives. But it comes with a twist, a twist that has had critics and fans alike buzzing – it’s interactive.
The viewer experience was designed to mirror the story of Stefan Butler’s decision-based game. For viewers, the show is an interactive choose-your-own-adventure experience in itself.
Participants are invited to make decisions which unlock new scenes and scenarios in the narrative. This leads to different turning points depending on the choices made by the viewer, and if their decisions result in the death of the character, they can respawn like in a video game. But a unique aspect of the show is the fact that every segment and decision serves as a building block. Every choice influences the next one, shaping the scenes the viewer will see later.
That is why some viewers could make the same decisions as others but still follow completely different paths. Because of this, some people will never see certain scenes, including director David Slade himself, who was unable to access some events. Viewers will likely experience alternate endings. What they witness would differ from what their best friends, workmates, or significant others might see.
Overall, the reception of the film has been positive, with many calling it a masterpiece thanks to its complex storytelling, it's dark tone mixed with humour, and its range of outcomes. However, others were more critical of Bandersnatch, citing its repetitive experience and, at times, its dull entertainment value and characterizations.
Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned here for brands and marketers who want to experiment with interactive and personalized storytelling.
Beyond its richly layered story, Bandersnatch reveals some great reminders for those interested in the creation of personalized video content.
Budgets and time may have limits, but creativity doesn’t. Bandersnatch could have been another short-length film in the Black Mirror series, but Charlie Brooker opted to take the experience further.
With Bandersnatch, Brooker seamlessly weaved a rich storyline with an immersive interactive gaming experience, where the viewer partly decides how the story unfolds. The film is an example of how a personalized video can engage viewers much further than simply mentioning their names.
For example, you can turn a branded film, explainer video, or any other format into an interactive piece that makes the viewer feel like an active participant.
To make that happen, your team needs to combine effective brainstorming, inspiration and of course, the right talent.
In a previous post, we made the distinction between different types of video content writers and why those distinctions matter. To write a unique narrative experience that is personalized, you would ideally want to align yourself with creative writers. These writers can weave elements such as narrative, characterization, and emotionally-charged scenes together with finesse.
If you need help choosing your writing staff or just need some “creative consulting”, we can help you decide how to best approach your concept based on your budget, resources, and timeline.
Maybe you don’t have the cast or the crew to pull off a production that’s as ambitious as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Nevertheless, you can still take notes from the film’s deft use of relatable themes and subtext.
Bandersnatch’s themes revolve around mental illness, loss, technology’s impact on our lives, and more. Who doesn’t know someone who hasn’t been touched by emotional difficulties or doesn’t worry about their privacy?
Injecting scenarios, themes or references that your audience can relate to will heighten their appreciation for your content.
For example, let’s say you’re selling a financial product in your personalized video, perhaps, a travel rewards card. You could add an image related to a client’s savings goal – perhaps to take a vacation to their dream destination.
The use of such a personal goal or image coupled with the card’s features, such as increased savings or travel rewards, would make the product more appealing. It’s similar to how the creators of Bandersnatch incorporated themes and issues that have affected us in the past, that affect us now or that will affect us in the future.
Marketers may be tempted to create their video first and then figure out how to personalize it later, but that’s a big mistake. Take a look at this diagram below.
Note: Does contain Black Mirror: Bandersnatch spoilers!
This isn’t an official flowchart made by the Black Mirror team, but it does a good job of illustrating the planning that’s necessary to pull off a personalized story.
Creating a video can be compared to building a piece of furniture. Certain components have to be put together early on. If not, as you get further along with its construction, you will notice that certain pieces are missing and you can’t continue. The only solution at that point would be to go back several steps or to start all over again.
Likewise, the narrative, interactive, and personalized elements of a video need to fit in with each other precisely. Every turning point, transition, or interactive element has to come in at the right time and in the right way for the video to deliver its message while offering a meaningful experience.
It may seem like an astronomical task, one that’s reserved only for award-winning TV writers or a best-selling novelist, but it doesn’t have to be. We can help you storyboard/wireframe your video with our IndiVideo platform so that it plays out logically without losing its entertainment value.
At the heart of personalization is making the viewer, reader, or user feel as if they are being spoken to or addressed directly. Thousands or millions of people may buy the same product or service, but their motivations and the goals they would like to reach will differ.
The Bandersnatch narrative was created with this reality in mind. As we mentioned above, even though viewers of the film could make identical decisions at different points, the outcomes could be slightly different.
Realistically speaking, you may not be able to generate hundreds of “endings” or “plot twists”. Nevertheless, you should attempt to treat each viewer as an individual.
Keep this in mind when creating your personalized video content. Reference the unique insights you have on your individual prospects and create your video to suit their particular interests and needs. With a personalized video, you want to show them only what matters to them at the right moment.
Does such deep personalization sound like a tall order? We can help you build highly personalized videos that cater to your customers with our IndiVideo platform.
Here’s a cautionary lesson – make your video responsive for every device, browser, and platform. Bandersnatch apparently didn’t work for all devices, causing frustration for eager viewers who were impatient to enjoy the film.
Some viewers attempted to watch the flick on their smart TVs, but received a message saying that the film wasn’t available on their device. Others, would get the message on their phones and tablets. For some, it took switching between two or three devices before they were able to stream Bandersnatch.
When it comes to user-experience, trying to get something to work for the third time is irritating and causes a great deal of friction. In fact, many viewers won’t have the patience to troubleshoot the issue and will give up altogether.
Of course, you wouldn’t want a viewer (and potential customer) to lose interest in your content because they couldn’t access it. Remember some devices, browsers, and platforms may have technical constraints that don’t allow for certain video formats. It is therefore important to optimize your content for all of them.
You must test your video to see how it looks and loads on different screens. When it comes to video quality, you have to deliver top quality.
With our IndiVideo service, we ensure your video meets the technical constraints of the various browsers, devices, and platforms.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a timely example of where marketing is going in 2019 and beyond. Marketers and business owners will find themselves immersed in the show’s intricate plot and decision-based experience.
You will notice at least one of the lessons mentioned above in the film. Once you do, make note of it. Bandersnatch is a masterclass in what personalized and interactive videos can achieve.