How TV studios use social media to target geeks and create ‘fairy tale’ hits

TV success is extremely hard to find. The number of series in the US that started brightly and are never given a second series is never ending. Some real crackers like Alcatraz and Awake failed the first series test and were canned before frustratingly revealing their secrets.

There is one area that had become bankable, marketable and taps into every generational target audience. Fairy tales. And they have used social media to create that lost “Lost” effect that is TV gold.

Two of the most successful TV series of recent times (i.e. they both got commission for a second series in the US) are both based on fairy tales. The first is called Once Upon A Time and the second Grimm.

Both are fascinating to watch from all sorts of reasons but mainly to try and guess the fairy tale that they are based on! Grimm is based on one story easy week, very loosely and in a very strange and dark world of German monsters, transforming humans and vampire like creatures. Each Grimm episode has some kind of loose connection with previous ones but is essentially retelling a Grimm fairy tale.

Once Upon A Time has no such restrictions as to be based on only Grimm fairy tales and goes to town with a juxtaposition of fairy tales. In one episode I saw Alice in Wonderland being entwined with Snow White and Seven Dwarves combined with Pinnochio! In another they stretched the fairy tale theme to include Frankenstein which was juxtaposed with Alice in Wonderland, Captain Hook and Jack and the Beanstalk! It’s surreally bizarre but compelling TV content that propels social comment that creates great word of mouth (wom) on line.

Once Upon A Time can best be described as Star Wars meets Lost. If you don’t want to think too hard Once Upon A Time has special effects right out of the ground breaking (in the 70’s) Blakes 7 but has the fantastically evil Robert Carlye  playing Rumplestiltskin, (ironically a Grimm fairy tale character) who in Once Upon A Time is the Darth Vader of fairy tales.

Getting the web geeks talking

Interestingly many of the storywriters and producers were also on Lost and many Lost items appear subtly in the show. A canny bit of marketing that has got the web geeks a buzzing and WOM spreading across the web.

For example, many items found in the Lost universe, such as Apollo candy bars, Oceanic Airlines, and MacCutcheon Whisky, can be seen in Once Upon a Time. The town clock was stuck at 8:15, an allusion to Flight 815 from the Lost universe. An Ultimate Wolverine v’s Hulk #3 comic read by the character Henry was written by a Lost  executive producer. All great for social media WOM spreading.

Aside from a million obvious Disney references there are plenty of cultural references too for people to watch and work out adding to the interest in the show.  Henry has Tron lunch box and Regina gave him a handheld video game device upon which he played Space Paranoids.

Yet more geekery

In the episode “Skin Deep”, Mr. Gold confiscates a florist’s truck which reads ‘Game of Thorns’ on the side, being a reference to Game of Thrones. There are also Buffy the Vampire Slayer references….all our wonderfully social media enducing marketing gimmicks for fans to share and intrigue to be inspired.

From a marketing perspective it’s an easy sell to promote contemporary fairy tales with a twist. They really do appeal to generations of all ages. Once Upon A Time takes you on a journey of promising you all the characters from all the story books you have ever read your children or have ever been read to you and puts them in a village where the stories are re-enacted in a darkly twisted kind of way.

ABC’s Untold Stories app

ABC Studios have been clever in marketing Once Upon a Time as the new Lost (as ever series after Lost has been marketed…..) but this time there seems to be more success and more substance. They have cleverly mixed sci-fi and classic fairy tales and used social media and a special mobile Untold Stories app which viewers can download and be given clues as to what is really happening with the story and it’s characters.

Viewers can also play the Untold Stories game on Facebook and get clues to the future story. Very clever but very simple social word of mouth generating marketing to tap into a viewer base that is missing the “Lost” conundrums….

From a product and brand awareness point of view viewers of both Grimm and Once Upon a Time don’t have to leap too hard to understand the characters or the stories as they are all familiar in one way or the other. Everyone knows the story of the big bad wolf, little red riding hood and jack and jill.

Not everyone would expect them to all work together in the same episode but they do. Marketing that twist based on the brand of fairy tales told the world over for centuries gives the marketing a certain head start. The rest is down to the content delivery and storytelling…..