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"House of Cards," "True Detective," and TV Marketing Strategy Takeaways

  |  February 20, 2014   |  Comments

Digital media has much to offer TV. As it turns out, TV has something to give digital strategists, too. A look at the marketing strategies of "House of Cards" and "True Detective."

You may not watch the Netflix series House of Cards, but odds are good you know all about it...especially if you're on Twitter. For weeks leading up to the recent season two premiere, both Netflix and the show's fans ostensibly blitzed the social site with content. Between the stark and somber images of actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and that haunting upended American flag, House of Cards has been hard to miss online. Even President Barack Obama contributed to the discussion, tweeting about the new episodes last week.

We know how important Twitter has become to TV. The platform has already proven itself as a useful tool for tracking online buzz and enabling interaction with fans. Last November, Twitter introduced a tool that uses conversation mapping technology to help brands target Promoted Tweets to those users already talking about their shows. Ad agency executives expect to see an increased investment in Twitter this year as "an extension of their TV buying" plans.

But Facebook, too, has its advantages for bolstering TV viewing, as do other social sites, and both traditional networks and streaming on-demand media companies are exploring them. Where are they promoting their shows, and how? And what can media strategists and buyers glean from following their movements online?

The Merits of Posting Prompts

Let's revisit House of Cards. Netflix faces a unique marketing challenge in that it releases each season of its original series in one fell swoop. There's no weekly new episode, and no opportunity to get viewers collectively fired up. Instead, Netflix has to attract viewers from the get-go and find a way to keep them - harder said than done when you consider they're dealing with a content model that's more pull than push.

houseofcards-tumblrNetflix handles it by highlighting the show's addictively black mood and characters rather than building episode-specific buzz. On Twitter, images and quotes are interspersed with fan art and third-party reviews. On Tumblr the focus is on sound bites: stills and animated GIFs couple with the most compelling one-liners from the script. Instagram and Facebook, meanwhile, house a compendium of the same images found on Twitter, along with exclusive content like promotional posters and photos of the actors at the season two premiere.

Takeaway: Brands can learn from the Netflix approach to social media marketing. Highlighting the distinguishing features of your product is a great way to remind your customers why they love it. Phenomenal storytelling and a stellar cast set House of Cards apart. Underscore what's best about your brand to keep it top of mind.

HBO's Unambiguous Hashtags

truedetective-nytimesWith its True Detective series, HBO faces a different conundrum completely. Not only does it air a new episode every week, but the show follows an anthology format, meaning that each season will feature a different cast of characters and crime. Consumers were first made aware of the show's January launch with traditional digital buys like a banner on the home page of The New York Times website. It's social media, though, that will help ensure they come back for more. HBO's strategy is largely based on leveraging hashtags on Twitter. Instead of putting its energy into fostering the use of #TrueDetective, which fans will find of their own accord, the cable network creates a hashtag for each episode based on its unique title. The tags are promoted on True Detective's Instagram and Facebook pages, along with Twitter's logo.

truedetective-instagramThis makes it easy for viewers to find posts related to each new episode, as they can follow conversations linked to tags like #TheSecretFateOfAllLife and #WhoGoesThere, and know exactly where episode-specific discussions are taking place. It also addresses the issue of spoilers that tends to accompany more general series hashtags: avoid the hashtag assigned to the episode you haven't yet seen, and you'll likely avoid the unwanted chatter.

Takeaway: Choosing company-name hashtags or conceptual tags related to a campaign theme has its advantages, but product-specific tags allow consumers to zero in on the social media content they seek - and bypass the chitchat they don't. It's a smart way to ensure like-minded fans find each other online to rally around your brand.

Digital media has much to offer TV. As it turns out, TV has something to give digital strategists, too.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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