Downton Abbey, the British period drama focusing on the era between the Titanic and the beginning of World War II, began its sixth season here in the U.S. last night. The wildly successful series, which started on ITV in the UK, subsequently crossed the pond to PBS. During its five previous seasons, the show has entertained millions and also made interesting inroads through tried and true as well as innovative marketing tactics.
Here’s a sampling of some of Downton Abbey’s smart marketing:
- The Downton Times: an advertising supplement was included in Sunday’s New York Times; in fact it actually was wrapped around the front page. The four page “paper” included a scone recipe from Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen and news about the latest spat between the Dowager Countess and her cousin Isobel Crawley.
- PBS has rearranged its fundraising timing to coincide with the most popular episodes of the show, currently the most popular scripted show in PBS history.
- Two weeks ago, there were live viewings of the first episode, including one at Macomb Community College. I attended and it was an absolute delight: audience members dressed as maids and flappers. It was essentially watching a movie but with a group of rabid fans. It’s the exact opposite of watching on a smart phone. How fitting that a show about trying to manage the changing times finds a retro way to enjoy the show!
- The New York Times also has interactive components in its online version, adjacent to reviews or news of Downton Abbey, including quizzes.
- The show already has been shown in the UK, but there appears to be a gentlemen’s agreement and spoilers have been well hidden, letting the American audiences enjoy the unfolding drama without knowing the plot twists.
- Including some cast members known to American audiences like Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith didn’t hurt at all. Maggie Smith has been a fan favorite, with her biting one-liners, including last night’s “Doesn’t it get cold on the moral high ground?” Even her critiques of American society were well-received in the U.S.
- HGTV a la PBS. Anybody who enjoys the innumerable house and design shows on HGTV could enjoy salivating over the house and grounds of Highclere Castle, one of supporting actors of the series.
- PBS channel on Apple TV and other viewing platforms which is similar to HBO Go, but with no subscription fee, has had multiple Downton-related programming including interviews, architectural tours of the castle and discussions of the etiquette, decor and mores of the time.
- Timing truly matters. PBS locked down the Sunday evening spot for Downton and never wavered from it. Viewers could count on the series’ timing (or seeing a repeat). This used to be how TV schedules worked. Now, major reshuffling appears to be the norm.
- Social Media Savvy: The cast and creators regularly tweeted and posted on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and Pinterest, including making some fun at their own expense. The Twitter feed during the Golden Globes when Downton Abby won best mini-series was high traffic indeed, outpacing the Super Bowl and the Royal Wedding.