How do you promote your television program to the demographic that spends as much time texting as watching video content and more time on the computer than watching television on a traditional set? This is the challenge for BBC3, a digital television channel in the UK with a specific remit to target 16-34-year-olds with high quality and innovative public service content. BBC3 has turned to particularly novel forms of promotion and branding in order to chase this elusive audience.
Take its new horror drama, The Fades. The ‘Fades’ of the title are dead people, visible only to a special few, who have become trapped as ghostly figures on earth and who begin eating humans in order to gain a corporeal presence. The BBC set up a Twitter account for the series (@BBCTheFades) and started 'following' other Tweeters, prompting a viral response as people started tweeting their fear and excitement at being ‘followed by the Fades’. The campaign not only generated buzz (causing @BBCTheFades to start trending) but also invited active participation in the imaginary world of the series before it was even broadcast, blurring the boundaries between promotion and program.
This innovation extended into the promos produced for the series. One made creative use of a QR code, which, when scanned, took viewers to a mobile site offering a sneak peak of the program. A series of particularly creepy promos gradually revealed faces hidden in clouds or flocks of birds, asking ‘Can you see them?’ These promos didn’t just tell the viewer about the new series, they also acted as a call to action, reinforced by their distribution across social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, where viewers could watch and comment simultaneously.
The promotional campaign for The Fades shows how broadcasters are making increasingly inventive use of new media to speak directly to potential viewers in the social spaces that they frequent. Such forms of promotion, however, depend on the labor of the individuals who post on Facebook, Tweet, scan the QR code and search out the meanings of elusive trailers. By encouraging our active engagement this form of promotional ‘tele-participation’ generates investment with a show before it is even broadcast.