Fans who ordered DVDs of this season’s BBC series Doctor Who have started receiving them, only there’s a catch: The disc contains the season’s final episode, which has yet to air on TV! The show’s producers have made a big deal about that finale, including promises of plot twists and revelations that will be huge for Whovians. So a premature revelation could not only lessen their enjoyment, but cut into viewership of the final show, which would lessen the appreciation of the program’s advertisers.
In a deft jujitsu of marketing brilliance befitting a time lord from the planet Gallifrey, Doctor Who has figured out how to turn a crisis into an opportunity. We of planet Earth should take note.
The producers have reached out via social media to their fans, and asked that they refuse to watch the program if they ordered it, resist sharing its contents if they have, and encourage one another to “keep the secrets safe” by doing the former or latter. In return, they’ll get to see a special new clip featuring appearances by a few past Doctors which, if you’re a Whovian, is like discovering some missing artifact of crucial historical (or future) value.
The effort will fail, of course. Word will circulate online for anybody interested in finding it, and the producers will release the special video anyway. But that’s not the point of the strategy.
It’ll heighten engagement among the converted. Those who hold themselves back will be more involved when they view the show. There’ll be informal countdowns, maybe even more viewing parties than originally planned. Offending tweets and blog posts will be flagged so believers can avoid them. It’ll be a thing.
It will promote the airing to the uninitiated. “What’s the big deal about?” viewers will tune in, and a subset of them will become fans. Others will publicly diss the crisis, prompting believers to come to the Doctor’s defense. Promising the reward video makes the producers seem like nice people to everyone, fans or not.
Everyone will have something to do. Resisting discovery of the plot twists will be a real-time effort for this fans who choose to fight their base proclivities. Some will debate about disclosure, while others will wonder if the entire shebang is a publicity ploy (humm…).
Imagine if your customers were similarly inspired and engaged. Would they take products off store shelves if you asked them, or leave untouched a tube or bottle of whatever you make until the designated time of its use arrived? It’s not inconceivable. The Conventional Wisdom on social media engagement is that it has to be easy, quick, and nothing but entertaining. Doctor Who decided to deliver, and then expect something different, something more.
I think we’re going to see more of this transition of customers and fans, from evangelists into activists who do things for brands beyond “liking” them or interacting with marketing content. The opportunities for such involvement on positive themes is probably as powerful as enlisting folks in times of crisis, because it address the mechanism of social media, not just its distributional uses.
My prediction is that Doctor Who will deliver far more engagement and enjoyment through its strategy to address its snafu than it ever would 1) if the squashing plan worked, which it won’t, or 2) if the screwup hadn’t happened in the first place. Unless, of course, he simply uses the TARDIS to go to a time before the errant DVDs were shipped, and stops the delivery truck which…wait a minute…couldn’t he have already done that?
Which means…tune in Saturday…