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What Alan Partridge and Derry Girls can teach us about marketing.

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

They may seem like unlikely sources of inspiration but Alan Partridge and Derry Girls offer us plenty to think about...or at least the marketing teams at BBC and Channel 4 do.

Start with the idea not the platform

After a two decade-long absence from BBC, Alan Partridge returned to his spiritual home in February 2019. One of the stand out pieces of marketing for This Time with Alan Partridge was ‘Alan’ celebrating his return to the Beeb using his official BBC email address to send out an all-staff message.

A classic PR and marketing technique worked for Alan Partridge's new show
The email that Alan Partridge sent to BBC employees

This is good, old-fashioned, clever PR. Mainly because, this is exactly what Alan would do. Rather than looking for the latest fads and having Partridge mess around with VR headsets, the marketeers thought ‘What Would Alan Do?’ Send a gloating email to his new/old colleagues? ‘Abso-bloody-exactly.’

Naturally, this had plenty of PR-value because the character was stepping into the real world. Carefully scripted by the writers and costing them nothing, it showed a great understanding of the audience and the kind of thing that would get fans excited. And excited they were, sharing the screenshot of the email across social media and even in some cases replying to Alan’s email address. An eventuality that BBC thought of by providing an Out of Office reply, again written in Alan’s acerbic tone.

Authenticity will always be key

If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog entries (if you haven’t CLICK HERE) you’ll know how important I believe authenticity to be. Whether engaging sports fans about a brand or exciting comedy enthusiasts about the return of their favourite character, being authentic will always stand you in good stead.

When Channel 4 looked to market the second series of hit comedy Derry Girls, they sought out innovative and exciting ideas that were in keeping with the show’s personality.

One of the focal points of the campaign was a community mural in Derry featuring the main characters. If you’ve not seen it, the show is about a group of four girls (and the ‘wee English lad’) growing up in 90’s Derry, set against a backdrop of ‘The Troubles’. Most will know the significance of murals in the history of the region. Long acting as billboards for activism, portraying powerful political messages, whatever your persuasion.

So to choose a mural to promote a comedy series is a bold move to say the least. The fact that it has been so well received is testament to the show itself. Written by Lisa McGee about her own life as a teenage girl, it has created an authentic experience that relates to those from the area and those who recognise the struggles and humour of teenage years alike.

But the marketeers have followed suit in terms of authenticity. The mural was spearheaded by 4Creative’s Eoin McLaughlin, whose family is from Derry. 4Creative enlisted the help of UV Arts, a local, non-for-profit social enterprise group to execute the plan.

Enlisting individuals and groups who understand the politics, humour and character of Northern Ireland enabled Channel 4 to execute a bold plan flawlessly. The Derry Girls mural was used for print, outdoor and online creative too. Bringing that slice of the City to the wider public.

Channel 4's marketing strategy was authentic and bold
Derry Girls mural was at the centre of the marketing campaign. Credit: © Rossographer cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Ireland

Having a brand as well defined as your characters

Part of the success of both these campaigns has been that the marketing has been influenced by the characters in the shows. But it’s not just entertainment releases that can benefit from the attention to detail that goes into these characters.

Great brand directors are ones who define brand personalities in the same way that writers create characters. Right down to the finite details. We all know that Alan Partridge wouldn’t drive a Mini Metro. Likewise, Sister Michael would never miss judo practice.

The most successful brand and marketing teams know the way that their brands should behave in all circumstances. The topics to avoid, the ones to embrace, the tone of voice, the language you should use. Rather than piggy-backing hashtags or thinking ‘Have we done anything for IWD?’ the best brands understand their role in big conversations.

The product is where ultimately where sales live and die

Smart marketing can help sell a flawed product but it doesn’t mean the audience will be coming back for more. Sadly, that’s the situation that I think the Alan Partridge of 2019 finds himself in.

The success of the Partridge marketing campaign coupled with positive initial reviews, translated into strong viewing figures, over 3.2m tuned in for the opening episode. By week two, this has dropped drastically to 2m.

As a massive fan of the original series, to me, it feels like a ‘horse to water scenario.’ The BBC successfully drummed up the excitement and buzz it wanted. However, once the audience arrived it was only the hardcore fans who found what they were looking for.

Partridge now, feels a bit like Oasis in 2005. They were still making records, people were still buying them but there were much more interesting artists out there. If you’re looking for those in the 'more interesting' category, you could do worse than starting with Derry Girls.



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