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The case of Midsomer Murders’ social media push

Rachel Glaister, senior VP, press & marketing, All3Media International

Rachel Glaister, senior VP, press & marketing, All3Media International

Long-running detective series Midsomer Murders is a classic whodunit, a classic British export – even the Government cites it as an amusing reflection of our society for overseas audiences.

The drama, produced by Bentley Productions for ITV, recently celebrated its hundredth episode – and a concerted effort has been made to keep this centurion on pace via the youthful antics of social media, whilst maintaining the inherent essence of the show – a straight drama with a ludicrously high murder count.

In 1997, Facebook and Twitter campaigns were not even glimmer in your average Midsomer Murderers’ eye; actors were focused solely on their role in front of the camera.

In the early days, with John Nettles playing lead character of detective chief inspector John Barnaby and delighting in press and PR, it could be said that there was an appropriately genteel “fourth wall”, to coin a theatrical phrase. The proscenium arch guarded Midsomer County, which is really a costume drama in a contemporary setting; and an air of unreality and formality prevailed.

Times change however – Neil Dudgeon replaced Nettles in 2011 and plays the DCI Tom Barnaby, the younger cousin of his predecessor. The change coincided with a new executive producer, one keen to embrace audience feedback and the “ownership” that is enabled through social media.

How one approaches social in this instance though is a conundrum. Social can be very time consuming and an end game should always be borne in mind. Initial engagements by the production team focused on the engagement around the UK broadcast, and the last few months have seen us at All3Media International seeking to engage in the next stage – a global and digitally layered approach.

There are factors to bear in mind when taking the social outreach to an international plane. Timing: around the world the two Barnabys are playing at different times in different countries, oft repeated out of sequence, so a ‘spoiler alert’ has to be kept in mind.

Context is significant for Midsomer and worth considering beyond the amusing acknowledgement that promoting murder on social media sites is not sensible (and actually likely to get you arrested)… the nature of social narrative and editorial had to be established

Context: this is a significant one for Midsomer and worth considering beyond the amusing and perhaps blindingly obvious acknowledgement that promoting murder on social media sites is not sensible (and actually likely to get you arrested). The nature of social narrative and editorial had to be established, avoiding an emphasis on murders, weapons and head counts, despite those being part and parcel of an offline chat about the proceedings.

Strengths: guest stars, for example, are a huge factor in the show’s success. A brilliant casting director keeps them flowing and we knew we could engage via this route. Young new actors are more likely to have their own Twitter and Facebook pages, and in a nostalgic “remember which episode” vein we created a picture posting ‘Gold Picture Frame’ strand.

Detecting: the satisfaction of solving the conundrum is universal and is what draws audiences; we knew we wanted to include a puzzle element in games and competitions. Tying in with our digital team’s efforts, we strived to engage visually through a Hidden Game app that has been developed for Facebook and the Apple platforms by promoting the visuals as part of the social postings for dual promotion. The App is delightfully universal in its execution: the player is the detective, operating in a recognisably Midsomer environment, beautifully drawn and hand crafted by the developers. An unseen Barnaby offers encouragement but it stands apart from plot spoilers and scripts.

We’ve progressed to live chats, initially via Facebook with the executive producer and a director to make the social audience truly aware they were now welcome behind the scenes and at MIPCOM we arranged a live chat on the Facebook stand with Neil Dudgeon and another of the show’s stars, Gwilym Lee.

With these promotions, we always strive to achieve a further global benefit – we tie in free iTunes downloads in the key territories we are targeting with the chats, we set the timing to work for live feedback in those regions as well and if that’s not possible we seek to offer an additional benefit to a local partner so we don’t exclude key fans.

We reached out to 250,000 people over the campaign. When we took over from the UK- focused launch we had inherited 90,000, so we’ve achieved steady and significant growth in a demographic not know for unbounded social engagement.

Building on that, to mark the hundredth episode we decided to look at the Twitter account and ran a pre-broadcast question and answer with Neil, which ran alongside a Facebook promotion of the Q&A that also offered a competition with prizes featuring the visuals of the app.

Expanding our universe on Twitter is proving tougher than via Facebook but for both, we are confident that we can achieve further growth by building a global club feel, and we’ve a year before the next UK premieres to do so.