If Shortland Street was an Orwellian reality show in which the characters were just living their lives rather than acting, there would never be a need to stop broadcasting over the Christmas break to give the actors respite from their jobs. The show would simply go on with the characters living their lives under the gaze of the camera throughout the jolly season.
But even though the lines between characters and actors do become obscured over the lifespan of a soap opera, those involved in the production are simply employees who do need a break – even if it’s only because labour laws require it.
This obviously poses a problem for broadcasters, who rely on the continued intrigue (some may say addiction) of a loyal fan base to keep viewership numbers up.
So, in an effort to maintain viewers’ curiosity levels while Shortland Street is on hiatus, TVNZ has devised an interactive crime mystery that will give fans a daily fix until the show returns on 13 January.
The campaign is based on the premise that one of the characters died during the 11 December finale. Since the identity of the deceased is still unknown, TVNZ aims to keep fans interested by posting one revealing clue every day until the premiere of the 2014 season.
“The campaign features a mixture of audio, video and written clues that are designed to result in sharp, brief engagement for fans,” says TV2 marketing manager Chris Hooper.
The entire project has been designed by TVNZ’s in-house production company Blacksand, and Hooper credits the creativity in each clue to the broadcaster’s new senior media digital producer Amie Mills.
“Amie has only been onboard for two months, and she has just been working tirelessly to ensure that the clues are unique and interesting,” he says.
The first clue, which features a faux 111 call, was launched immediately after the finale and this was followed by fabricated news stories, text messages between characters and a video based on the original promo.
“The third clue is based on a recut version of the promo video and it features subtle changes that hint at the identity of the person in the coffin. [TV2 creative director] Greg Hughes headed the creative for the video and [Blacksand campaign director] Drew Pollock directed it, and they have both really done a fantastic job of pulling together Shortland Street promotional content throughout the year,” he says. .
According to Hooper, early statistics seem to indicate that this is the best response TVNZ has had to an online media campaign in his six years with the broadcaster.
“In the past we’ve had several social media based campaigns. There was the summer fling campaign that gave fans a chance to have a fake summer romance with a character. We also had a serial killer whodunit, which allowed fans to voice their opinion on who they thought the killer was. Then there was the 'guilty secrets' website, where visitors could anonymously post some of their personal secrets. But none of these were as successful as this one.”
“Since it was launched, we’ve had 249,000 video views, 238,000 photo views, just under two million unpaid impressions on Facebook from the clue posts, and 36,000 likes, shares and comments.”
This added interaction builds onto the high number of fans that tuned in to watch the finale. Hooper says that the season closer had a 15.7 rating, and a 58 percent share of those aged 18 to 49, which amounts to an average audience of about 299,600 people. In addition to this, the final episode has also tallied over 100,000 on-demand streams since it aired.
Despite these impressive results, the campaign hasn’t enjoyed smooth sailing all the way through. Right before it was released, it came to the attention of the creators that someone had purchased the domain name that was initially intended to host the campaign. The prankster who made the sneaky purchase then dedicated the web space to a video of a singing man who engages in excessive pointing and laughing.
“It was an unfortunate oversight, which was a case of human error. But luckily, it hasn’t done any harm. We actually also had a laugh at the creative use of the domain,” says Hooper.
But an anonymous domain-stealing troll isn’t the only one who has been having a laugh at the new campaign. Jono and Ben also created a parody, which featured Guy Williams as the anonymous victim in the coffin.
At the end of the parody, Jono and Ben cover their ears when Guy Williams reveals who he thinks died in the final episode. While this tongue-in-cheek scene pokes fun at the fans' fascination with the show, it also goes to the crux of the intrigue that underpins the never-ending narrative of a soap opera.
And Hooper says that those who can't handle the torturous wait until the first episode of the new season to find out the truth should definitely continue checking out the website.
"If you follow the clues through, there's a definite reward at the end. You'll be able to eliminate several of the characters, and you'll have a decent idea of who it is," he says.
Creative and Production
Executive Creative Director: Jens Hertzum
Creative Director: Greg Hughes
Director/Editor: Drew Pollock
Campaign Producer: MoragLavich
Producer: Lindsay Gough
DOP: Drew McGeorge
Post Production: Guy Brinsdon
Digital Producer: Amie Mills
TV2 Marketing Manager: Chris Hooper
TV2 Brand Manager: Gary Mulholland