Black Mirror tube takeover is a shocking New Year wake-up

The Crocodile’s Marcus Gibb shares an unsettling vision of the near future….

The first day back at work after New Year is never easy. It’s a real shock to the system when you finally have to crawl out into the cold January dawn and face the horror of a London commute. So, imagine my fear, dread and anxiety when I stepped off the tube at Old Street to be confronted on every poster with the bleakest headlines you can imagine…

  • ‘Tech startup turning dead loved ones into chatbots’
  • ‘Brain implant lets parents monitor teens’
  • ‘Hackers blackmail victims using their internet history’

What was happening? Was this the news in 2018? Had the world gone mad? (Well, madder.) Had Donald Trump pushed the big red button instead of the Tweet button? Or had I stepped into some kind of dystopian future nightmare?

As I headed up the escalator, my latter suspicion seemed to be confirmed. The stark black-and-white posters, filling every advertising board in the station, began to feature the words ‘Black Mirror’.

I realised that Old Street station had been completely taken over – but not by aliens, incompetent world leaders, or technology tyrants. This was an imaginative, unsettling and subversive takeover advertising campaign by online broadcaster Netflix, for its latest season of Black Mirror – the ‘future shock’ TV drama series created by British writer and TV critic Charlie Brooker.

And the ads weren’t the end of this immersive Black Mirror experience. As I exited the station, I was handed a box labelled: ‘Are you being watched?’ Inside was a plastic cover to stick over my webcam – alluding to a Black Mirror episode where victims are blackmailed with covert webcam recordings. The box itself makes no mention of Black Mirror or Netflix – a very brave move by a major brand.

The station takeover was arranged by Netflix with TfL through ‘pop-up space marketplace’ Appear Here. Old Street was selected as it’s apparently a hub for “forward-thinkers and early-adopters” – (ahem) – “making it the ideal place for brands to test out more daring ideas”. All in all, it’s a great execution of an idea that perfectly reflects (excuse the pun) Black Mirror’s themes of zeitgeisty techno-angst.

But why am I discussing a B2C ad campaign on a B2B blog? Because it highlights that in 2018, more than ever, any brand, whether B2C or B2B, has to overcome people’s ability to zone out their message as background noise. (Rather like the Black Mirror episode where people use augmented reality to mask out things they’d rather not see.)

By contrast, this campaign is surprising and affecting, thrusting big and thought-provoking ideas into people’s faces – making them literally stop and take notice. But most of all, it definitely succeeds in creating conversations. And at The Crocodile, that’s an objective we think every brand should mirror.

Black Mirror Season 4 is on Netflix now.