Almost a decade after it went off the air in 2007, “Gilmore Girls” returned with four 90-minute episodes on Netflix on November 25. The new episodes let fans revisit the beloved characters and settings and brought them back to Stars Hollow, the fictional Connecticut town in which the series is set.
Revivals and remakes of TV series, films and also video games are all the rage right now in the entertainment industry, with companies aiming to profit from brand names and nostalgia. “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”, as the revival miniseries is titled, is among these many projects, but also stands out. If the huge social buzz and excitement among fans and the media alike are any indication, the limited series is one of the biggest and most anticipated TV events of 2016.
Since the first reports about negotiations between Netflix and series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino in October last year, but especially after the revival was confirmed in January, fans (and also the media) nearly broke the internet with their excitement and the buzz surrounding the returning series.
When asked why “Gilmore Girls” makes the perfect revival series, Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos explained that, unlike with other series, the fan base and love for the “Gilmore Girls” has actually grown since it came to an end in 2007. Netflix itself has significantly contributed to that growing fan community and paved the way for the revival by making the show relevant again. Since the original episodes arrived on Netflix in the US in October 2014 (later also worldwide), established fans could rewatch the episodes and relish the nostalgia, while the show also got a whole new audience.
These circumstances naturally influenced the marketing that followed. “Gilmore Girls” had already amassed a cult following and devoted audience with an emotional connection to the show. Netflix therefore created significant hype for the revival by directly engaging old, and new, fans and letting them participate in the promotion of the show. The overall strategy: primarily cater to the die-hard fans, and let the hype and buzz make new viewers curious about what the fuss is all about.
The marketing and fan engagement kicked off with the launch of official social media accounts at the end of June. Netflix and the returning original cast started sharing on-set photos and more. But furthermore, the service created weekly recap videos of the previous seasons and “Gilmore Guides”, which revolve around recurring elements of the series, such as the Friday Night Dinners at the grandparents’ house. While being perfect introductions to the series for new audiences, all videos also had a nostalgia factor for existing fans and fueled their excitement for the new episodes.
When the revival came closer, Netflix took the marketing to the next level and let Stars Hollow come to life. On October 5, Netflix turned over 200 coffee shops across the US and Canada into the iconic Luke’s Diner from the show. The sponsored pop-ups of Luke’s opened at 7am and gave out free coffee to fans until noon. The date was no coincidence but marked the 16th anniversary of the “Gilmore Girls” premiere. As the dream of going to Luke’s Diner came to life, masses of fans flocked to their closest coffee shops to feel like they were entering the “Gilmore Girls” universe.
The campaign not only provided fans with free coffee and perfect photo opportunities, but also fostered a sense of community as people celebrated the Gilmore birthday with fellow fans. There was at least one pop-up shop in every state, and the campaign created massive buzz with fans sharing photos and news outlets reporting on the long lines in front of the coffee shops. The hashtags #HappyBirthdayGilmore (the official one), #Lukes and #LukesDiner dominated social media and were even used by fans who were not at the coffee shop activation to lament that they couldn’t be there.
Under the custom Luke’s coffee sleeves, fans additionally found a Snapcode that unlocked a limited special Luke’s Diner Snapchat filter. According to Snapchat, the branded filter was viewed 880,000 times and reached more than 500,000 people. The activation therefore resulted in lots of ‘free’ promotion for Netflix. It raised enthusiasm among established fans and also attention among passersby and “Gilmore Girls” newcomers, who were introduced to the series in an interesting way.
Closely tied to the Pop-Ups was the launch of the website of Stars Hollow on the same day. The incredibly detailed website is another trip down memory lane for established fans, who can explore and discover many hidden gems and Easter eggs. To again let them feel like residents of Stars Hollow, the website also provided fans with the opportunity to submit requests, along with their Twitter handle, for the weekly Town Meetings held in Stars Hollow. Netflix used these requests to host weekly Digital Town Meetings on Twitter, which covered some of the topics submitted by fans and let them get involved in the hilarious exchanges and arguments they are already familiar with from the series.
Another excellent way to get fans involved and make them a part of the “Gilmore Girls” family were the special messages shared on Twitter and Instagram. A few selected ‘superfans’ received exclusive teasers. In the short videos – which featured three of the main cast members – the fans were directly addressed by the actors with their name and told a small fun fact about what happens in the upcoming new episodes. The surprise and delight of the fans receiving one of these special teasers was understandably tremendous, and others chimed in to share their envy and to express why they, too, would deserve a video message.
On the weekend before the new episodes were released, Netflix offered one last once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Making another “Gilmore Girls” fan dream come true, Netflix recreated Stars Hollow at UCLA’s Dickson Court and hosted The Festival of the Four Seasons. For two days, fans in Los Angeles got to experience the fictional town. The free pop-up festival featured many fan-favourite locations from the series, photo opportunities and special giveaways.
Whether “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” could then live up to all the fans’ expectations one week later almost doesn’t matter. What is sure is that the revival was a triumph and big hit for Netflix, according to a study by streaming tracking company Symphony. The experiential marketing approach Netflix chose, which was rooted in nostalgia and letting fans get involved, turned out to be incredibly effective and managed to make the “Gilmore Girls” cult even bigger.
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