Trend Watch: The hidden story behind the wild popularity of the Handmaid’s Tale

Month after month, Amazon rated Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale in its top 10 most-purchased novels during 2017. Hulu’s gripping adaptation was a runaway hit generating countless blog posts. What does it mean?

The tsunami of social media surrounding the women of Gilead, the dark dystopian society where the Handmaid’s Tale is set, proved that it chimed with a post-feminist, neo-nationalist culture. Let’s look deeper.

Using our proprietary algorithm, we tracked conversations across social media. We learned many things. First, whether in homes and dorm rooms, women mostly watched it alone. Some heated frozen waffles and ate while watching it on personal devices. And they talked about how it made them feel. Mainly, they felt dread.

Head’s up: But what blew us away were the viewing habits.  Most viewers tuned in between midnight and 2:00 a.m. and watched between 2 and 4 episodes per session, as this time was unclaimed by other duties. What? (I plan a follow-up rant about the wrath of insomnia).

Take away:  Females consuming the Handmaid’s Tale, either as a book or television series, are feeling uncertain and overwhelmed. The upshot is a self-described sense of dread. Brands can learn from this.

Nitty gritty: We suggest avoiding hollow messages that are simply consoling and encouraging. Rather, opt for celebrating small acts of progress. Strike chords of self-determination. And focus on achieving, not losing something.

Upshot: By helping people gain some sense of control, even if only on the margins of their lives, such as getting more sleep instead of late-night binge watching, you are a collaborator–not a commander.