Thiago Lopes, Vice President of Marketing for Brazil, discusses Netflix’s marketing strategy and how autonomy and decision-making works regionally in a global company.
Female 1: This is We Are Netflix, Netflix employees talking about work and life at Netflix.
Thiago: So, we launched this app called Stranger Antenna, that would allow you to use your phone as a receptor for transmission that the Russians in the show were making, liberating unseen content from Stranger Things, but you would actually have to use the Bombril, the Brazilian Brillo pad, to unlock this content.
Lyle: Yes, you heard that right. Brazilian Brillo ads used to unlock content from Stranger Things. It’s just one of the many ingenious publicity campaigns by Netflix's marketing team in Brazil. I'm Lyle Troxell, and today on We Are Netflix, a conversation with Thiago Lopes, Netflix's Vice President of Marketing in Brazil, about the innovative ways he and his colleagues are getting the word out about Netflix content. Thiago spoke with Amir Moini who leads employer branding at Netflix, and also managed the We Are Netflix podcast. We'll hear about Thiago's experiences coming to Netflix, being one of the first employees in our Alphaville office, and about Netflix decentralized decision-making process, giving him and his team lots of creative freedom when it comes to publicizing shows like Stranger Things, and our Brazilian Netflix original series, 3%. And, we'll lean more about those Brillo pads too.
Lyle: Hi, Thiago. Thank you for joining us on the We Are Netflix podcast today.
Thiago: It’s a pleasure.
Lyle: If you could just give the audience a brief introduction of who you are and what you do at Netflix.
Thiago: I work for marketing in Brazil. I'm marketing vice president for Brazil specifically. I joined Netflix six years ago to lead Brazil. Two years later into the job I started working with SoLA, that's our fancy name for Argentina, Chile, and Peru, our other priority markets in South America. And, recently, earlier this year, actually, I refocused on Brazil only given the size of our market there, and obviously the challenges we are facing, sustaining our long-term growth there.
Lyle: And have you been in the Brazil office the entire six years?
Thiago: To answer that question, actually, we have to understand that the Brazil office changed a lot in the period. So, when I started out we were in the Regis facility, meaning that we were in shared workspace. I was the fourth person being hired out of Brazil, and literally what I found when I got in was this beige box with four workstations. Most of our colleagues working there, they didn’t even go to the office every day, because they have very specific roles. So, we had someone on Open Connect that depended on the connectivity they had back home to go about their tasks. We had a colleague from payments that had to travel a lot, so I was the first person who came in with this intention of going to the office every day, but very quickly I understood that that wouldn’t work from an office dynamics perspective. So, that office on the shared space expanded a bit for two years until we got to 15, 16 people at the office in Sao Paolo, and then we moved to our own space in Alphaville right now where we are based.
Lyle: How has it changed, besides just the office locations and headcount, you know, what has it been like being one of the first employees?
Thiago: Oh, I would say the joining so early was a crash course on Netflix values because you really understand what the company is all about in terms of freedom and responsibility, and also in terms of expectations of personal impact. You come in. You're given the context on what you should be doing, and you're pushed to start doing things. There's isn’t the expected structure and guidance in the sense of, this is what you're going to do today. So, you're relying a lot on your own judgement or own maturity to understand how to plan, strategize, to make decisions. So, it was very interesting in the early days to understand that, and to see that a lot that I had read on the culture back then Deck, now Memo, was true, and I was having the opportunity to experience real life.
Lyle: And you probably had to make a lot of those decisions yourself, not having many other people there in the beginning, and I'm sure your manager was not based there.
Thiago: Yeah, so my manager, based out of LA. He's also Brazilian, which helped a bit, but he was not there. So, it was an interesting exercise of context, not control. He would tell me, "Listen, this is what we're trying to do there." Apart from that, there was lots of freedom for me to understand what was the best way to go about those plans. But, again, I grew up in my career having people complaining about not having enough freedom, and not having enough space to make their own decisions. And, interestingly, when you're given all that space, it feels like a glitch in the matrix like, "What's happening here? Can I really make all these decisions?" So, for me it was also an interesting exercise in in coming to terms with is this the space, is this the freedom I was always hoping for? And, interestingly, it was. As soon as I got accustomed to exercising it, it became a very fulfilling experience.
Lyle: If we can backtrack a little, you know, what was your journey like coming to Netflix? Where were you working prior to that, and how did you join?
Thiago: So, it was a very interesting one because I never saw myself as a marketer. I come from the advertising business on the agency side, so I started my career in agencies in Rio where I was born and raised. I started with consumer research and strategic planning. Then, I moved to Sao Paolo where you could see the whole digital industry transformation happening, and I was very curious about that. So, I moved there seeking to just like update my career, my portfolio. So, I started working with strategic planning aimed at that, and later on with creative work. So, by the time I met Netflix as an advertiser, I was chief creative officer at an agency that was actually pitching for the account of Netflix in Brazil as we were structuring our brand presence there. So, it was very interesting in the sense that I embarked on this journey of pitching to the client back then, and the experience of pitching to Netflix felt very different because when you're pitching to a client there's lots of poker face. There's no collaboration. Prospective clients basically expected that you guess what they want, and do the chunk, the big chunks of work yourself without giving hints of where you're going. And, with Netflix it was completely different. There was lots of dialogue, lots of collaboration, lots of real-time feedback, and I was very surprised by that because there was definitely something cohesive when uniting all of those people in that room, but they were, like, very different individuals. So, I kept asking myself, "What's that?" Later on, I realized that that was our culture, and something I was falling in love with as we went through the process. But, interestingly enough, my agency lost the pitch, so we didn’t get it. I went to my therapist saying, "Help me here with something, because this was actually the most rewarding pitch process I have ever participated in, and I lost it. So, help me comes to terms with that." I think that realizing how productive a project like that could be was actually what made it feel so fulfilling to me. Three months after the process concluded, I was still processing not having won the pitch. Vinnie, my manager now, called me and now when I look at the conversation back then, I realize we're both terrible at reading between the lines, because he called me asking about someone that he wanted to hire for Brazil marketing, to be the leader of the team. And, I couldn't figure out in the beginning of the conversation that he was actually probing if I was interested in the whole thing. And, I was like, "For sure, I can help you find the person. Just tell me what kind of person you're looking for." And, it got to a point where he had to be very literal about what he was trying to do, and then he invited me to participate on the panel, which happened late in 2013. So, it was a very interesting process, and then I finally joined Netflix in January 2014.
Lyle: So, you oversee all the marketing for Brazil, essentially?
Thiago: Yes, all marketing for Brazil.
Lyle: Let's use a Netflix original as a tangible example of kind of how a campaign comes to life. So, you know, once a show is, or a title is green lit, how does a marketing team come into that? How does a marketing team work with other cross-functional teams to eventually get to that kind of final product or promotion?
Thiago: I think 3% is a good example because it speaks about a society where at the age of 20, you have to go through a process to understand whether or not you can move to this utopian place where only the selected few can live. And, what we've done for some of the elements of our campaign, was to use the metaphor of the local SAT called Vestibula for people to understand what kind of process the characters would go through. And, when you talk about Vestibula, this local SAT to the audience, they immediately understand what kind of tensions and emotions go through in that, in a particular moment in their lives. And, I think that's a very interesting parallel, and we always look back to that example when we think of what bridges we can build between the narrative and something that our audience is going through in their lives.
Lyle: So, hypothetically with 3%, the show is green lit, and then how does marketing come in and start to kind of work on that title with content? Do you have people on your team going on set to kind of capture early assets?
Lyle What does that kind of tangibly look like?
Thiago: Yeah, it’s actually - it actually affects the broader marketing organization because we have the specific skills that we have to leverage. They're basically distributed across the whole org. So, what happens first is we create the basic assets of the campaign that will later on promote the show that actually requires us to sometimes go to the studio or to the place where the production is taking place to produce what we call a marketing shoot where we create all the raw assets that we will use later on to produce the campaign. Sometimes we'll do the smaller stuff in studio or even use images from the actual show to produce this material, but the first big step is understanding how to position that show, and localizing where the core assets that you use to put together your company will come from. So, that's a moment in time where it’s interesting because on the marketing side you try to be very specific about which position you want to get to. But on the product side because you're able to sell something in a very individualized way, we actually create many hypotheses to why someone would like the show. So, it’s a very interesting exercise. In between the two, you can cover a broad spectrum of reasons to why someone would end up watching the show. And, after that phase is completed, we actually take these assets and we craft a campaign for each of the markets where the title is going to be promoted. Most of our titles in Brazil were aimed at Brazil first, so we did not have international campaigns being developed for them, but typically those would be the two big phases our local shows go through between being green lit and launched to customers.
Lyle: And when you were saying establish kind of a theme, so for 3%, you know what were some of the major kind of campaign themes or notes that you wanted to touch on?
Thiago: In 3%, for instance, we talked about duality, which was interesting because every one of the characters enter their journey in a very pure state of mentality. And, when I say that I mean that they trusted something, and they trusted that in a very solid and questionable way. And as soon as they enter the process, they start seeing the biases and the nuances in their beliefs. Again, it’s not that different from how young adults enter university, for instance. When they come in with a very romantic view of politics, for instance, and they understand that there's much more there for them to factor in to shape up their view on the world, or their view on a particular thing that is happening. So, that's one of the things I like - I liked about that one. Oescolito [phonetic 0:13:30], more recently it talked about faith. And, in Brazil, specifically, the idea of faith and superstition is very connected. So, instead of engaging on very lofty conversations about faith, we decided to enter the realm of faith to superstition that is something that everyone can relate, because as a country, everyone has at least a small superstition. So, I think those two examples are good ones, first, to understand how we create these bridges that make content more relevant to a broader spectrum of people.
Lyle: Interesting. And, for the people that are the, you know, creative marketing managers for these titles, do they have relationships with the show runners and the talent? Like, how does that kind of work in terms of them getting access to these assets?
Thiago: That varies, but in general you want to give them a lot of access to make sure that whatever we portray about the title in the positioning or later on in the campaign, feels true to the original creative vision of the creators of the show. So, it depends on a lot of things - agendas, availability, etc., but I think we've been successful making these connections and making sure we are drawing as much information as we can from the minds crafting the stories. And, I think that when we do it, it infuses a level of authenticity in what we're doing that is priceless, and it shows. You can definitely see a better product at the end of the day when you have this kind of insight being put into our work.
Lyle How do you holistically, you know, when you look at all of your team and all the work that you're doing, how do you measure if you and your team are making an impact and are successful? What are you kind of looking at in terms of those measurements?
Thiago: I think when we think about impact, there is one thing that feels very subjective we always aim at, that is creating pop culture relevance for our shows, and there are many ways to check whether or not that's happening. I think I would say that there's a big part of it that you can view, and you don't even have to look at the metrics to realize that they're not succeeding in that space. But, there are many other things that you can put on the side of it from the volume of conversations in social media, the number of organic press pick-ups, and obviously, are more business-specific numbers that we look at on a daily basis, but it is a combination of all of this. But, ultimately when we want to measure success of our shows, I think the one thing that differentiates viewing and acquisition from long-term subjective impact for the brand, is there's impact in pop culture. People talking about it, memes coming out of the title you've just launched, people expending the universe of the show asking you to know more about that character, fan fiction, so all of that, I think, can illustrate how passionate people can be and to me are very powerful signs of success. They're not necessarily our metrics.
Lyle: Yeah, and it’s fairly interesting that we're also trying to now quantify pop culture in a way where it's, you know, instinctively you know of something has kind of permeated into the pop culture, but to actually put numbers behind it, I think that’s pretty interesting.
Thiago: Yeah, it is. Actually, to launch something there is that cultural humming in the background. You know that there's something there, and sometimes our social media agencies haven't sent their reports back, but you already feel like you hit on something, you pierced the collective subconscious. There's something there, and the signs sometimes are so subtle, but when they happen, you know something big or special happened as well.
Lyle: So, just out of curiosity, when we have a global IP that we launch - let’s say Stranger Things, how does your team specifically focus on that in terms of the promotion of it in Brazil compared to the teams in the US?
Thiago: That's an interesting question, and what I would say is that it’s easier than one might think, because if you think of our global shows, they are all grounded on very powerful human insight. So, it’s not that you cannot connect with the story that is being told there. I think the challenge then becomes finding the bridges that can connect that truth to what is happening in each one of our markets. So, if you're talking about nostalgia, and I think Stranger Things is a good example of that, what's the nostalgia that you can draw from Brazil to make that idea feel relevant to our local consumers? So, it’s almost as if you're translating the core elements of our show into your own cultural landscape, and you're using your own references and your own cultural vocabulary to bring those ideas to life. But, as I said, it's surprising how powerful the insights behind our stories are. When I started working for Netflix and I got in touch with Orange is the New Black, the marketer in me looked at the show and said, "This is about female prisons in the US that feel very different from anything we have in Brazil. How will people connect to that?" But, then there are all the human stories in that show that made this connection for us. So, I think we have to remember how powerful the stories we are telling are, and give them the space to shine.
Lyle: And going back to Stranger Things with that theme of nostalgia, what would be an example of something that's nostalgic for Brazil that you tapped into?
Thiago: Stranger Things is an interesting one because we are - Teresa isn’t in now, and each one of the seasons helped us create an amazing piece of advertising work that we're very proud of. In each one of them, we leverage local nostalgia to connect with local consumers. The latest example is a project we called A Stranger Antenna. It was inspired in the fact that back in the 80s whenever you had a TV with terrible reception, it's crazy but it worked back then, you would get Brillo pads, that in Brazil would be called Bombril, and you would put them on the antennas of the TV to boost the reception. That was very, very common in Brazil back in the day, and was like no surprise that you entered someone's house in the living room, and the TV would be three with two Brillo pads attached to their antenna.
Lyle: That's so interesting. I feel like in the US they would use tinfoil or something.
Thiago: If they used tinfoil, yeah.
Lyle: Yeah, I definitely - mean it was a little before my time maybe, but I definitely remember like something along those lines.
Thiago: Yeah, interestingly, one of our agencies realized that the hardware of our phones actually can perceive if a Brillo pad is brought close to the headset, meaning that we could reproduce, with our phones, the same effect of enhancing the reception that we used back in the days with our TVs. We use that exact dynamic to unlock previews of Stranger Things on cell phones.
Lyle: That's so cool.
Thiago: So, we launched this app called Stranger Antenna that would allow you to, during a week, use your phone as a receptor for transmission that the Russians in the show were making, liberating unseen content from Stranger Things, but you would actually have to use the Bombril, the Brazilian Brillo pad, to unlock this content, and it actually worked. That, I think, is a clear example of how we leverage from local culture to bring some aspects of the show to life, and obviously create a conversation around it, close to launch date in Brazil.
Lyle: That’s such a cool idea. I love that. No bias. So, you're a vice president at Netflix, and you are based in our office in Alphaville. What is it like being a leader in an office outside the US, and kind of, how does decision making work? Do you have to - like is it challenging versus working in the United States in some of the other headquarter offices?
Thiago: You know, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly difficult. I think that it is an exercise of remaining aligned and getting all the context you can get to be able to make all the decisions you have to do on a daily basis without having to check back. So, I would say it’s not particularly hard to do that. I think it can get hard, though, when lots of things are changing, because we are changing all of the time, but sometimes we just change in an even faster pace that views fast even for our standards, and that's when, I think, it can become hard because you start making decisions based on context that is already outdated, because some conversations are still happening here in the US, and they haven’t been fully downloaded to you at that point. So, it just happened now. We went through the process of updating our global strategy, and bringing new elements to the prioritization of our titles, etc., and that was a moment where I could feel the disconnect happening more frequently, because I would take action on some things based on the context that I had, but then, two days later, I would realize that that context wasn’t the right context anymore. But, in general, I would say it’s just a hardcore version of context, not control, on one of the key concepts behind our culture. And, I would say it’s not more challenging than adopting any other aspect of our culture.
Lyle: And, because most companies - and maybe this is an assumption, but most companies, I would think, are more executional in offices outside the US if their headquarters are there. But, at least when it comes to Netflix, it’s a bit more unique where there's more autonomy and more decision-making.
Thiago: It is, to the point of scaring you a bit because I remember when I started, literally everyone was asking me, "What's your plan?" and it was completely opposite to, "Your plans, tell me how are you going to execute them." So, I would say that these dynamics hold to this day, so basically, I'm expected to bring out the vision that myself and the rest of the team want to create for our market. So, in that sense, you can definitely say that there is a lot of decentralization of decision making at Netflix, and that you're not only expected to execute established strategy in our market, you're actually expected to say what that strategy is, and contribute to the whole company, also on a global strategy level. So, it’s very interesting to see how that works here, and I would say it’s something that differentiates us a lot from the other companies with similar structures in the world.
Lyle: How else would you describe your marketing team as unique compared to marketing teams at other companies in Brazil?
Thiago: I would say that there's a lot of freedom given to each one of the managers to truly own the projects they're leading, and for them to come up with the solutions and the ideas to bring those projects to life, which to me feels very different from other organizations out there. I see that they benefit from a very decentralized decision-making process where they can place bets on the projects, and truly become the champions of those initiatives internally. As they pair up with other cross-functional partners, you have that squad of three or four people really bringing this one big ambitious project to life, and that feels very different because it creates this sense where it’s not that you as a leader, you're approving that. You are just mentoring them to get the best possible results out of that plan, so that feels very interesting. The one thing I like to bring to the team also, and I think it’s something that I learned here at Netflix, is the sense of "complimentarity". So, every time I hire someone I try to think of what new the person is bringing to the team. I'm always thinking of the portfolio that the team has, and what else we'll be able to do once that person joins the team. So, I think that sense of "complimentarity" builds stronger teams, and also, a team where you can operate in a more horizontal way because it’s not a matter of the director or the VP leading that team being the one person knowing everything about those roles. You can put yourself, and you should put yourself in the vulnerable space, and the open space of learning from your team, which is great. And, at the end of the day, you feel, as a team, much more powerful because regardless of what communication problem comes your way, you know you have the right resources to tackle them.
Lyle: What do you feel is missing from your team right now? Is there a type of background, or experience that you're kind of looking for at the moment as you're building, continuing to build your team?
Thiago: Yeah, we are always looking for an entertainment background, but when you think of Brazil where the industry's much smaller, and when you factor in the need to have culture fit, and the drive, and the pursuit of innovation, it’s really hard to get people that can combine all those variables.
Lyle: Why only entertainment though? Couldn’t you apply skillsets from, you know, video games or other—?
Thiago: For sure.
Thiago: The thing in Brazil is that we've done all of that, but we haven't really been able to draw talent from a studio, for instance. So, we are definitely open to keep searching in that space. The other thing, to me, that is very important is exercising a stronger sense of inclusion and diversity at any new hire. When you think of marketing, it’s very easy to go after the same profiles, even though as I said, we try to leverage different skillsets as we hire, but they come from a very narrow community. So, going beyond that space and looking at other places can help us bring, not only new skillsets, but new points of view, new values, new perspectives, and I think that's even more important than skillsets.
Lyle: You know, I'm curious to know in the next year, two years, what are some of the challenges that you're excited to solve? What's top of mind for you?
Thiago: Yeah, I would say that one thing for us to address is keeping our focus. I would attribute most of our success as a company to focus and discipline. And now, we are in this scenario where there are so many things we're producing - amazing movies, amazing series, and that alone is making it harder for us to commit to fewer, bigger bats. But, when you put on the side of that, the emergence of new competitors that are changing the dynamics of our markets, there are so many new things out there to consider, it’s very easy to get distracted, especially when competitors come about. It’s very easy to start changing our strategy to compensate for something that they are doing, and sometimes you do that, and you don’t even notice. So, remaining committed to our North Star and what we want to do as a company, I think that will be a harder exercise to perform in the following years.
Lyle: You know, you've been in Netflix for almost six years. What kind of keeps you going? You know, I think a lot of people eventually get tired of a job or a position. What keeps you excited to be coming to work every day?
Thiago: Oh, there's a lot of things. I would say that the first thing is the nature of our work. I think entertainment is such a powerful thing to the point that I have to remind myself how amazing it is, because you work with it every day, and it’s easy for you to get desensitized to how amazing it is. It’s so powerful. It can produce so many amazing responses from people. The other thing is that the company changes a lot. It changes in an organic, but in a steady way. So, you see the change company. It’s not random. It’s not arbitrary. You see the evolution, but the product of these changes is that sometimes your role will change dramatically, and in this process, there is an opportunity to learn new stuff, to basically deconstruct who you are as a professional, and specialize on new stuff. So, even if you have a senior role, if you open yourself to this change, you will be able to constantly update yourself, and develop new muscles that you never thought you would be developing at that point in your career. That state of continuous evolution is definitely something that keeps us going.
Lyle: Yeah, and I think for me, even I've been at Netflix almost four years. I don't think there's been one day that I've been bored. I've been overwhelmed. I've been stressed, you know, but I think like there's ups and downs to every job, but I would never say that I've been bored or I feel like I've reached a ceiling when it comes to learning and growing. I feel like every day it’s just been like 110%, and I like that. That's what keeps me here personally.
Thiago: And honestly, there's the talent density. There are so many amazing colleagues in this company, and if you're curious enough to just open yourself to learn from other areas go to other meetings, it’s mind-blowing, the amount of expertise you can find in here, and what you can learn getting in touch with these people and these discussions is definitely powerful. So, if you're willing to do that, there's no way you're going to get bored any time soon.
Lyle: Totally. And I have to ask, what are you currently watching on Netflix?
Thiago: Oh, my God, so I re-watch a lot. I've just re-watched Love, Death & Robots, which I loved. I think it was my favorite thing on Netflix recently. I just finished watching Unbelievable, and I'm about to start The Politician, very excited for that one.
Lyle: Well, thank you very much, Thiago. I appreciate you being on the podcast, and, yeah, thank you for coming in.
Thiago: It was a pleasure.
Female: We on Netflix is hosted by Lyle Truxell. He's a senior software engineer at Netflix. You can keep up with We are Netflix on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. To learn more about careers at Netflix, go to jobs.netflix.com.