So, it turns out that the BBC has learnt a few things from Apple when it comes to a PR press launch. The ‘big reveal’ of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor ironically had a rather old-fashioned ring about it. For the past few years most brands phased out launch events – in the B2B tech world, at least, journalists just don’t have the time or inclination to attend them – but mega brands like Apple and Facebook have been finessing them to become epic, hyped-up super events.
The reason why Sunday’s announcement worked is that hyping up a Doctor Who announcement is like giving brightly coloured sweets to sugar-high children: fans love the show so much that they’ll gobble up anything that’s put in front of them. They’re not just brand ambassadors, they feel a sense of ownership and community.
According to the BBC Entertainment website, the Doctor Who Live show was the brainchild of Charlotte Moore, the newly appointed controller of BBC One. Previously, the BBC PR department has made do with a press release and photoshoot, but this time went the whole hog, with a live show fronted by Zoe Ball, which was simultaneously broadcast on BBC One and BBC America.
In addition to over 6.2 million viewers and blanket media coverage, it went down a storm on social media. According to The Drum, the BBC Doctor Who website crashed under the strain (cue a bit of issues hijacking from cloud computing companies in days to come, I’m sure) and there were over 800 million tweets using the hashtags #doctorwho and #petrcapaldi, representing 89.4% of all conversation (I’m sceptical of this figure).
Post-event (which I confess I only watched the highlights of), I was wondering whether it was truly inspired piece of PR and a glimpse into the future of launch events. On reflection, I think they just about got away with it because of the show’s capacity for hype.
So, how did the BBC get away with blatantly hyping something that would have been adequately served with a press release and photo?
Well, applying a sonic screwdriver to the PR chemistry, here’s a rough formula to calculate a brand’s capacity for hype:
What’s New Factor x Audience Fervency x Audience Size = Capacity For Hype (CFH)
In other words, something like announcing the new Doctor passes the what-does-it-do-new-for-whom test (what Matt Smith had for breakfast much less so). Doctor Who fans have almost unlimited levels of enthusiasm for the show, so that’s a high Audience Fervency. And they number in their millions, so a pretty good size, though perhaps not big enough not to baffle a fair few people. That all adds up to a big CFH score.
The bigger the capacity for hype, the more you can throw at it and still retain credibility. What’s more, the hype multiplies itself, so it inflates coverage and conversation further still (as is the nature of hype). Live shows, vlogs, computer games – basically as much content as you like for things like Doctor Who or iPhone launches.
Misjudge the capacity for hype, however, and you have egg on your face.
The million dollar question is what to do if you don’t have a big CFH? Well, the worse thing you can do is over hype your announcement. For the vast majority of us living in everyday PR land, it boils down to the basics: find out where your audience hangs out, craft a story that they think they’ll be interested in and give them the chance to talk about it – if you have the opportunity to cultivate a community, you’re in bonus land. The rest of it is just science fiction.