By Justin W. Sanders
On paper, it’s hard to imagine a more niche-sounding summary than the story of a bayou family who struck it rich making duck decoys from Louisiana cedar wood. And yet in December, the season 2 finale of A&E’s Duck Dynasty became, after 6.5 million viewers tuned in, the most-watched show in the history of the network. Its success is a testament to A&E’s distinct brand of character-driven storytelling, proving that fascinating people transcend niche to touch every kind of viewer.
“Anyone who sees an episode of this tends to love it,” said Guy Slattery, EVP of marketing at A&E. “So the challenge for us as marketers was to get people to it.” Knowing from the steady growth of season 1 that the word-of-mouth engine was Dynasty’s most reliable marketing tool, Slattery’s team “spent loads of time [between season 1 and season 2] making sure people could find the episodes free on multiple platforms. We put them up wherever we could to try to encourage sampling of the show between seasons.” Free outlets such as Hulu and the A&E website allowed a whole new cadre of viewers to find the show during the interim, who then proceeded to show up for the season 2 premiere as well, launching it with a bang. From there, it was a matter of mining the show’s most precious resource, the Robertson family, for all it was worth.
To this end, social media was a “fantastic tool for this show,” said Slattery, citing Dynasty’s “extremely robust” Facebook page, which supplied a steady stream of daily exclusive content throughout season 2, and featured a “Beard Yourself” app, which is now in development for transition onto mobile devices. Indeed, the page has been so successful, it was recently declared by Facebook the most buzzed-about show of 2012.
Over on Twitter, the show’s main profile page, in addition to its flow of text and photos, featured a virtual duck call game involving a #Duck tweet for every #Quack tweet. Its efforts were supplemented by the Robertson families themselves, who live-tweeted during each episode of season 2.
The offbeat charm of Willie, Phil, Jase, Si and the rest of the Bayou brood in general was one of the marketing campaign’s most powerful assets. Capitalizing on their sense of humor, spots utilizing the hilarious theme “The Beards Are Back” saw the menfolk finding random objects in their facial hair while others juxtaposed their quirky southern mannerisms with a heavy hip-hop beat. Meanwhile, Slattery’s team ensured that memes circulated constantly showcasing the gang’s memorable one-liners and in October, the cast participated in a Google+ hangout along with a selection of lucky fans. In an even bigger coup, a contest called Join The Dynasty let viewers enter to be selected as an honorary member of the Robertson clan. The winner got flown to Monroe, Louisiana for a fun-filled day-in-the-life with the wacky family.
“These guys are just funny people,” said Slattery. “We just had to tap into that and get the fans to that. We still can’t get Uncle Sam to Twitter. I’m not sure if he’ll ever do that.”