Media: Strategy Analysis - E4 discovers the value of community

Brand: Channel 4 - E4
Client: Lindsay Nuttall, marketing manager, entertainment and E4
Brief: Launch Skins, a new British drama on E4
Target audience: 16- to 34-year-olds

AGENCIES
Media: OMD UK
Media strategists: Naked, Holler
Digital: Holler
Creative: Channel 4 Creative Services and 4 Creative

STRATEGY

Skins is a brand-new British drama, from the makers of Shameless, about the lives and loves of a group of mates.

Traditionally, a TV show will advertise two weeks before transmission. With Skins, that process started last November, and continuously built through a number of different media to establish the launch as a true entertainment event.

The E4 team identified the opportunity to develop a community of fans before the show launched that would help drive positive word of mouth. Consequently, the campaign started on air to tease interest, and drove fans online to engage with the show.

Activity was conducted through four media, a number of innovative partnerships with MySpace, Kiss, More magazine and the record label for The Gossip (whose track featured in the ad), as well as a pre- launch blitz in youth-targeted six-sheets and entertainment-oriented weekly press titles.

EXECUTION

Critical to the success of the campaign was using media that were true to the show and relevant to the audience, as credibility is key to this audience. - Online The online activity introduced characters and content to be shared with friends through a social network, featuring snap-shot imagery on the site and MySpace page, text and video blogs seeded with communities and communal news posts on MySpace. Fans were invited to contribute content through competitions.

The creative hook for the campaign was the idea of a house party, which is a strong recurring theme of the show and is something familiar to the age group of the fans.

Early MySpace community members were invited to a party with the cast that was shot for the on- and off-air ads. An uncut three-minute version of the party was then posted exclusively on the MySpace site, with the accompanying images on Flickr, and the featured track by The Gossip playing on MySpace. This was followed by an invitation to a party with the cast in London.

The strategy also included an exclusive preview of the first episode on MySpace - a first for a UK broadcaster.

RESULTS

The first episode received 1.6 million viewers - making Skins the highest-ever rated E4 show outside of Big Brother, and the highest-selling show on Channel 4's video-on-demand site.

A week before the first episode, the show had the highest levels of pre-launch awareness in Channel 4's history.

The three-minute party trailer received 250,000 unique views. There were 500,000 unique users viewing myspace.com/e4skins in the month before transmission.

More than 20,000 friends signed up before the show, and 5,000-plus users featured the Skins' party trailer or banners and backgrounds on their own profiles. The combined views of all the trails on MySpace were more than 500,000.

During the week leading up to the first Skins episode, the site received an average of 60,000 unique visitors per day, which is equivalent to the Big Brother site.

THE VERDICT - Kate Rowlinson, head of strategy, Carat

We're a bit prone, in media land, to jumping on bandwagons (AFP, 360 degree, content is king), and it's fair to say we've all gone a bit "consumer-generated content" bonkers recently.

In America, they've gone even more bonkers. The ad breaks in this year's Superbowl carried three consumer-generated ads. Yes, ads made by consumers. Or rather, ad ideas which are generated by real people and then developed, massaged and shot by advertising agencies. The Doritos ad is actually quite funny, and the ad for Chevrolet is, yes, completely bonkers.

There is clearly a massive trend in consumers creating their own content and wanting a more active relationship with brands, but isn't there a more interesting way we can tap into this?

I think E4 and its agency team have done exactly that with the development and launch of Skins. It strikes me that the problem with getting consumers to just create ads is that we miss out on a lot of other stuff they could be doing, too. In this instance, the E4 team has invited consumers to do much more than just make an ad. They have invited them to be part of something really exciting.

Importantly, people were invited not to advertise a finished, shiny TV programme, but to contribute to its development, its look and feel and, importantly, to hang out with its good-looking stars at a very cool party. What E4 is doing here is adding real value to people's lives, giving them interesting stuff to engage with and getting some free PR in return as consumers become advocates for the show.

It's smart to look at the communications plan as an "extension of the show itself, rather than as marketing collateral", and hats off to them for being so organised and inventive in achieving this. It is also good to see TV programme launch convention being challenged so fundamentally, moving away from the tried and tested two-weeks-prior-to-transmission approach.

On a more picky note, it would have been nice to know how the Kiss and More magazine partnerships integrated with the MySpace and online activity, but only because I'm interested, rather than critical.

The results speak for themselves. I'm guessing E4 is pretty chuffed with the outcome.

Score: 4 out of 5.

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