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What Cult Television Can Teach You About Content Strategy

Cat Fyson

by Cat Fyson on 5th September 2013

Cult TVI am a big fan of cult television shows. With great scripts and compelling characters, they are often completely addictive and I have no shame in admitting that I am prone to becoming well and truly hooked to particular programmes.

Another component that makes these sorts of TV shows such a joy to watch is the emphasis on overriding themes and how they affect the characters and drive the plot forward. Many of these themes can easily be applied to best practice in building your content marketing strategy.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who LogoCelebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the sci-fi phenomenon of Doctor Who needs no introduction. Over the legacies of all 12 Doctors travelling through space and time, the show has introduced countless themes and story arcs (some of which are questionable!), but without a doubt the best thing content marketers can take from the show is the theme of regeneration.

By regenerating your content, you can breathe new life into great ideas and content that has proven its worth. Written a popular article on a particular topic? Regenerate its potential with an infographic. Then regenerate that infographic into a presenation on SlideShare. Regenerating content is not to be mixed with copying it – with any content you create, regenerated or otherwise; you need to give it purpose. Build a strategy around the techniques and the types of content that have worked in the past.

The BBC have also been incredible at using the show to spin off their own content. To celebrate the 50th anniversary this year they have created: A new series, a 3D special in November, a convention, an audio book series, 12 books by different authors (one for each doctor), a making of and a biopic. Not to mention tons of merchandise.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad LogoFor every one person who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad, there are probably at least 4 of their friends telling them they should (this is probably why).

Breaking Bad follows the character of Walter White, a chemistry teacher who gets cancer and turns to illegal means to earn money to leave behind for his family. The show is littered with themes – from colour schemes to individual character traits, but the main theme of the show is change. Over the show’s 5 seasons (the final season is currently being shown), the titular character makes a huge but believable transition.

Content marketing is forever changing.  With Google’s algorithm updates sifting out the poor quality content and web users expecting much more from their content nowadays (think videos and interactive microsites); your content strategy needs to embrace change and adaptation.

The marketing around the show itself has even included some inspirational content ideas. For the final season, the AMC network have introduced a Story Sync app which lets viewers interact with the episode as it is shown by including polls and trivia so that viewers can share their reactions in real time, providing the show makers with a truck load of data to share with their fans. If they so wished they could use that data to create some great content.

Game Of Thrones

Game Of Thrones LogoBased on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy book series, Game of Thrones has proven an incredibly popular TV adaptation. With numerous story lines taking place across the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, there is a strong theme of power – whether amongst the noble houses experiencing a civil war to claim the Iron Throne, or overcoming the rising threat of dangerous mythical creatures.

So what can power do for your content strategy? Firstly, with a well thought out strategy (much like building an army to overtake the Iron Throne), you can have the edge on your industry competitors. Secondly, by creating useful and insightful copy, you can build your brand’s reputation as a thought leader in your field.

In terms of great content generated by the show, this advert in the New York Times generated such a good response people even declared that it “proves print ads aren’t dead”. Best of all, the stories that the dragon covers are all based on the show and fit in to the fictional universe.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead LogoAnother adaptation, this time of a popular series of comic books, The Walking Dead follows Sheriff Rick Grimes as he and a band of fellow survivors deal with the zombie apocalypse.

The main theme of the show is the debate as to whether the zombies or the remainder of the human race are the ‘real monsters’, but ultimately the characters of the show are out for survival – and amongst the hordes and hordes of content available to web users, you should be too. Creating fresh, quality and unique content will help you stand out in the crowd and survive the wrath of an algorithm update.

When The Walking Dead made its way to French TV network NT1, they created a brilliant social media campaign to spread the word about the premiere of the show. They created the first ever social media zombie attack.

What was particularly great about the campaign was that they put out warnings specifically telling people not to use #WalkingDeadNT1 on Twitter, not to share WalkingDeadNT1’s updates on Facebook and not to comment on the NT1 Walking Dead site following the spread of the Walker virus that had infected the employees of NT1. Naturally, people ignored these warnings.

Whenever someone used the #WalkingDeadNT1 hashtag, commented or shared a post, they would be contacted by ‘zombies’ with messages such as ‘GRAAAARGH’ and other such zombie-like sounds, effectively becoming ‘infected’ themselves. Each zombie profile set up promoted the date and time of the premiere of the show. Genius. The campaign was a hit, with 550,000 impressions across Facebook and Twitter.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy The Vampire Slayer LogoNothing says teamwork like a small group of friends headed by a vampire slayer going round and destroying monsters hell bent on wreaking havoc on the fictional town of Sunnydale.

Poor Buffy could never destroy these creatures herself (even with her impressive fighting skills), and so we can learn from this that by utilising the strengths and skills of a team, you can create a more robust content strategy. After all, brainstorming ideas with others is a much more creative and useful technique than doing it all by yourself.

What’s also notable about Buffy is that despite ending in 2003 people still talk about it now, remember it fondly and go back to old episodes. It’s a great example of “evergreen content” that sticks in people’s minds. New things are created all the time but truly classic content will last a lot longer.

So having looked at just a selection of brilliant cult television, we can take away some great tips for your content strategy. The fandoms of cult TV shows are incredibly passionate about them, and that’s what you want to aim for from the consumers of your content too.

Have I missed out your favourite cult show? What can it teach us about content strategy? Let me know in the comments below.

Image Sources

Remote Control Image Courtesy Of BigStock Photo

Cat Fyson

Cat Fyson

Cat works as a Content Marketing Executive at Koozai. Having studied an NCTJ accredited course at University, she has gained valuable skills in creative copywriting, press communications and research. She is an avid blogger and has a keen interest in popular culture and technologies.

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19 Comments

  • Jennifer 5th September 2013

    Cool post, Cat. I’m a big fan of where quality television content is going and I think we really can see the same kinds of trends in content marketing too. Nice one :)

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 5th September 2013

      Hi Jennifer

      Many thanks for your comment – TV is certainly taking a great turn towards on demand viewing, and I think there’s a lot to be learnt about content from this.

      Reply to this comment

  • Nabeel 6th September 2013

    This is exactly the idea I’ve pitched to my company recently. I’ve proposed them to review their existing content let it be published on on-site blog or an external source (guest posts, articles etc) and convert it into infographics. Not to stop here, one can also take competitor’s blogs into consideration and convert their best content into infographics.

    The thing that goes wrong usually is target audience. Here i can suggest using tools like topsy to see how many times a post has been tweeted. One can simply pitch those infographics to the same people in a right manner and the chances are higher that your infographics will get viral.

    Sorry about the exaggerated explanation but i just wanted to share the right approach with your audience. Creating great content is just half of the job and to get it done completely is to make it viral which is hard knowing the fact that internet is full of useful content and people have way more choices than past.

    Thanks for such wonderful presentation of content marketing with TV programs. This could be a link bait! :)

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 6th September 2013

      Hi Nabeel,

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      When considering competitors content, the key thing to do is create a new angle on it – much like one Doctor does from the last. Peter Capaldi will bring something new to an institution, as did Matt Smith.

      Target audience is very important to consider. By keeping an eye on your site analytics as well, you can see what content works well and where those audiences are coming from to discover it. This data is instrumental to creating future content.

      Getting your content to go viral is always going to be a struggle, there is no easy or guaranteed way to go about it. You can follow all the rules in creating great content and promoting it far and wide and it may still not go viral.

      Reply to this comment

      • Nabeel 6th September 2013

        Absolutely agree! Keep sharing such nice posts :) I would also appreciate if you can come up with another post on how you make it viral. I know there are limitless opportunities one can avail but how do you figure our your target audience on a particular channel let’s say twitter?

  • Cat Fyson

    Cat Fyson 6th September 2013

    Thanks Nabeel. This post does talk quite a bit about viral content if you want to check it out: http://www.koozai.com/blog/social-media/why-viral-campaigns-succeed-and-fail/

    Reply to this comment

  • Katherine Kotaw 10th September 2013

    I love that you included Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of my all-time favorites! I think people will always go back and re-watch episodes of great shows like Buffy, because a great story never gets old. That’s why content marketing, done correctly, is so powerful. Because everyone loves a great story and if your audience connects with your story, they’ll happily re-tell it for you.

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 10th September 2013

      Hi Katherine,

      Buffy was an amazing show with brilliant writing by Joss Whedon. I agree that shows like this are great for re-watching and good quality content has the capacity to be re-told and shared in the same manner.

      As a writer, Joss Whedon has also shown that you can rise from a certain level of obscurity – he worked his way up and is now involved in blockbusters like the Avengers, a testament to the power of creating content that people love!

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      Reply to this comment

  • Montse Cano 10th September 2013

    This is a relevant, cool post. Never did I think about the correlation between cult TV or TV shows and content in marketing. But, it’s true that TV stations are making a huge effort to counteract internet and using other channels to promote their ‘content’.

    Brilliant Walking Dead social media campaign!

    I watched a TV series yesterday for the first time called 40, with Eddie Izzard. They use a topic that script writers tend to go to time and time again using slight twists. So, I guess that if there’s any learnings from it, re-visiting previously successful topics can be useful for your current campaigs.

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 10th September 2013

      Hi Montse, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

      TV networks, like content marketers have a huge market to compete with, and an ever evolving landscape to compete within.

      The successful shows do not necessarily need to create these big scale content campaigns, but they do it to engage with their fans (and of course further exposure).

      The Walking Dead campaign was a brilliant idea, turning social media on its head. This campaign went international, and although primarily intended to engage French audiences, increased awareness of NT1 as a brand across the globe.

      I’ve not heard of 40 – I may need to check it out. A good twist in a TV show is what keeps people hooked, and a good twist in content can do the same.

      Reply to this comment

  • Brian Dooley 11th September 2013

    The article is a treat. I love connecting industry concepts with popular real-world object lessons. Great work!

    I’m wondering (as I go through my Netflix queue) if a connection could be made with A-B testing content in various markets and the show Fringe?

    In Fringe [Possible SPOILERS], there are mirror universes and alternate time streams…realities that capture what might be if just one thing is altered. How it affects lives, events, and existence itself.

    Many times, in the analytic side of the marketing world, the same event, the same content, and the same word choices will have a different response based on very few apparent differing variables, which in turn shapes promotions, campaigns, and business strategies.

    Yeah? No?

    (…and I haven’t finished the series, so please, no big reveals!)

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 12th September 2013

      Hi Brian

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post – it’s always good fun (and insightful!) to combine industry concepts with the things you enjoy. I could have picked a lot of other great shows to add to this list with lessons to boot.

      I have to admit I have not yet seen Fringe, I will have to check it out. The A-B testing principle is a great addition so thank you for sharing!

      Reply to this comment

  • Tony Dimmock 18th September 2013

    Hey Cat,

    Love the analogies and the way you’ve explained an often-misunderstood subject, in a step by step, common sense way.

    The statement “by creating useful and insightful copy, you can build your brand’s reputation as a thought leader in your field.” is one that every business really needs to adopt, if they want to build their brand online.

    Semantically, becoming a thought leader is key too – think identity (authors / publishers), entity (website / business) and the Knowledge Graph (how identities and entities connect).

    Overall, top post! :)

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 19th September 2013

      Hi Tony!

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and many thanks for the comment.

      I find that explaining analogies in relation to popular culture is a great tool for making things clearer, and I think it is something that is slowly growing in content. Some brands will find it much easier to tie their concepts to popular culture than others, but some of the most shareable content is related to things like TV, film and other popular mediums – this works particularly well with infographics.

      Reply to this comment

  • Tom 24th September 2013

    What are you think about Prison Break?

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 25th September 2013

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment! I have to admit that I have not seen Prison Break yet, although I’m sure it has some content marketing lessons in there as I hear it’s a great piece of TV.

      Reply to this comment

  • Paolina Milana 25th September 2013

    Cat, I’m glad you read and commented on my Breaking Bad post – http://paolinamilana.com/2013/09/breaking-bad-top-ten-marketing-lessons/ – AND that you redirected me here to read your Cult TV piece. Loved it, and you are spot on. Buffy is one of my favorites, as is Angel. Dexter is a friend I’ve recently lost. Game of Thrones is top on my list now as is American Horror Story. Yes, TV fantasies in great part, but so much can be applied to real life and learned in the way of marketing. Thanks for the great read!

    Paolina

    Reply to this comment

    • Cat Fyson

      Cat Fyson 26th September 2013

      Hi Paolina

      Yours was a great post – many elements of the show that I truly love about it turned into valuable lessons. I’m glad you enjoyed my post too and many thanks for leaving a comment.

      I wonder if there are any other lessons to be learnt about the shows you have mentioned? I’m sure Dexter has a few!

      Reply to this comment

  • Daniel Page 2nd October 2013

    Hey Cat – I just posted my Monthly Resource Roundup and I wanted to let you know you were featured. http://www.aseohosting.com/blog/2013/10/seo-content-marketing-and-social-media-the-best-of-september-2013/

    Cheers!

    Reply to this comment

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