Zealous fans all but overpowered the marketing of “True Blood,” said panelists at a recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival session. But not only did HBO light that fire in the first place, the network fanned the flames and allowed them to spread untamed — all while staying true to the show’s vision.
In case you’re not familiar, “True Blood” is an award-winning HBO series that created an ordinary world where vampires have “come out of the coffin” and live among us because of a synthetic blood drink called “Tru Blood.”
The panel, which included marketers and representatives from HBO, told the story about how the show’s popularity spread online. Fans started their own communities, Twitter identities from characters on the show and even a Babyvamp-Jessica blog written from the perspective of a minor character who got a much larger role once HBO saw how much fans loved her. Now HBO is helping out and supplying content to make the blog more realistic.
The panel offered three key themes that attendees could take away from HBO’s success:
Create the story. “We believe that story is currency in the social space. Let’s prepare people for that first episode … to set the stage. … We saw that there was a really interesting story that wasn’t being told in the books or in the show. … The ads expanded the story. … The concept that vampires live amongst us is pretty compelling. The minute you’re telling this in a story, you’re pulling people in rather than pushing at them,” said Mike Monello, creative director at Campfire.
Go deep. “We really want to build a rabbit hole. So if you want to go really deep, you can go, and they reasoned that if vampires were indeed living among us, then we’d be marketing to them!” said Todd Brandes, managing director for Digital Kitchen. As a result, a series of faux ads was created that tied into the show.
Snoop Dogg wanted to be on the show so badly he jumped at the opportunity to play a small part on the series. He created this “Oh Sookie” music video in 36 hours.
Identify your core audience. Sabrina Caluori, director of marketing for HBO, said that “from the onset we wanted to engage the fansites. It was a big corporate shift in thinking at HBO, treating the fan sites as media, giving access that hadn’t ever been done prior to the show.” HBO freely gave access to photos and video clips to True-Blood.net, for example.
Monello noted that “in marketing we think that we want to shout at the widest group of people. You’re better off speaking very closely to a small group rather then shooting broad to a much larger group.”
“Find that core audience and speak to them. … Everyone else will come,” he said.