Doctor Who marketer sold ‘the sizzle and not the sausage’ to reposition new series

Now in its 11th season, British sci-fi television program Doctor Who has unveiled Jodie Whittaker as its first ever female doctor. For the launch, the BBC took a marketing strategy which saw it “sell the sizzle and not the sausage” for the series to stand out in a crowded entertainment marketplace.

Speaking at Mumbrella’s Entertainment Marketing Summit, Sally de st Croix, the global franchise director of Doctor Who at BBC Studios, said the franchise “took the perhaps radical move of going completely quiet after our last episode which was a regeneration episode, and didn’t communicate at all with the audience or respond to any press speculation”.

The Doctor’s regeneration takes place every few years with the introduction of a new actor in the starring role. The show sees the Doctor and his band of (usually) human companions travelling through time and space, saving the universe.

De st Croix said establishing Whittaker as the new doctor was just one of four major goals for Doctor Who’s rebrand and campaign.

“We also needed to introduce our new ensemble and cast of friends… and build connections to the audience so they felt like they knew them.

“But nobody knew who these people were, they also needed to generate mass awareness, buzz and noise and ultimately viewing figures for the series.

“In fact the series viewing numbers had been dropping series on series.”

De st Croix said the franchise also needed to reposition itself and launch in emerging markets.

“We wanted to build a creative campaign and think boldly and differently, and we wanted to embrace change and we also wanted our audiences to do that too,” the global franchise director told the room of marketers.

To tackle the multiple challenges it faced, the Doctor Who franchise used a “phased approach” to its marketing because in the “fast paced and ever changing media landscape” you can’t be “complacent”, de st Croix said.

“Doctor Who is competing in a crowded entertainment franchise world filled with other make-believe characters.

“That is before we consider the SVOD platforms pumping out over 400 original scripted pieces of content every single year.”

For the launch of the Doctor Who season 11 campaign, the franchise “wanted to cast the net out to the audiences”, introduce the characters and “connect authentically”, the global franchise director continued.

This was identified the first stage of the campaign.

“As part of this phase the reveal journey of the doctor presented us with the campaign’s biggest moment.”

After receiving 30 million views across Facebook alone and obtaining data which found 86% of reactions to the reveal were “overwhelmingly positive”, Doctor Who went quiet again.

For the second phase of the marketing campaign, the franchise had a launch at the global comics convention, Comic-Con.

“Then having teased the world, we went quite again.”

The final phase of the campaign conducted by the Doctor Who franchise, was to release the campaign across owned, earned and paid media and deepen the audiences engagement.

As de st Croix explained the marketing process the franchise undertook, she acknowledged the competitiveness of the entertainment marketing sector.

“The competition, as we all know, amongst these entertainment franchises is extremely intense and it is a fierce as any FMCG brand vying for space at a local supermarket.”


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