special agent dale cooper, rosie larsen and learning something along the way

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I was a huge fan of the short lived television program Twin Peaks when I was growing up.  There was just something about the combination of the sleepy, pacific northwest setting, the cool musical soundtrack of Angelo Badalamenti, the eccentric characters (FBI agent Dale Cooper and his love of coffee, Sheriff Truman, Bob, The Log Lady) and the off center vision of David Lynch that utterly caught my imagination.  In the end, Twin Peaks had a short-lived run and I totally acknowledge that it lost its way during the second (and final) season, but that show has always stuck with me.

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Last year I started watching the new series, The Killing, which is reminiscent of Twin Peaks in many ways.  Just like in Twin Peaks, where the setting of the Northwest felt like a character in the story, the city of Seattle is front and center in the storyline with it ominous and rained soaked feel.  Also similar to Twin Peaks, The Killing features a non-linear storyline that works its way through an ensemble cast while trying to uncover the killer of a high school student.

 

One of the other things that interested me about The Killing was the aggressive marketing campaign employed by AMC.  The advertising almost explicitly insinuated that the show was going to solve the mystery of the murder by the end of the first season.  Everything was centered around the payoff to the first season question of “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” How many shows are actually explicit in saying that they will end the story line after only one season?  Not many, and this had me intrigued.  (Now from a business perspective, it should have been silly of me to believe that the producers were going to allow the show to be nicely wrapped up in one season’s story arc.)

Considering the similarities to Twin Peaks and, since I enjoy shows that are somewhat of a slow burn, I really enjoyed The Killing when I first started watching.  As the season progressed, I watched along with hordes of others in hopes of figuring out “who killed Rosie Larsen” before the show revealed it.

 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of season one of The Killing.  AMC didn’t actually reveal who the killer was.  Not only that but the producers of the show threw a curveball at the end of the season that made it obvious that the mystery was not going to get solved any time soon.  A full second season was going to be needed for things to play out.  The entire premise of the marketing campaign evaporated and the inferred promise to viewers was blown apart.

 

Needless to say, there was a lot of backlash from viewers and critics of the show across traditional and social media.  And I was right there with them.  I’m pretty sure that I posted a rant or rave on Facebook about it and I know that I saw many similar comments from my friends along the same lines.  I swore off the show and decided I was done with it.  AMC and The Killing made a promise and damn them if they didn’t stand by it!  (Ok, I know I’m getting overly dramatic about a TV show here, but still….)

 

Fast forward from last year to this month, AMC has been prepping for the second season premiere of The Killing.  Different than the marketing efforts last year, AMC has been taking a different tact.  The marketing has been more low key.  The advertisements talk about the mystery but don’t make anything explicit.  It’s pretty obvious that they knew that viewers were angry and the network was trying to earn their way back into consideration without being over the top.  So earlier this week Leslie and I sat down to watch the second season premiere and gave The Killing a second chance.

 

Now I know that I swore off the show, but I have to say that after watching the season opening episode, I’m hooked again.  The episode did two things really well that I will try to summarize without giving any details or spoilers away in case you watch the program.  It quickly resolved the curve balls from the previous season finale, and it made tangible progress on some key elements of the primary storyline of the mystery.

 

As a fan of pop culture and as a marketer, I came away pleasantly surprised.  Before the second season started, AMC could have easily focused on a public relations campaign to try to curry favor of their viewers.  That would have been an easy thing to execute: reach out to critics, “influencers,” bloggers, etc. and try to win them back over by giving them a sneak peek behind the scenes and reasons why the TV show did what they did at the end of the first season.  But from what I have observed, they didn’t do that.  Instead, AMC focused on fixing the story and found ways to re-engage their viewers right from the onset of the second season.

 

Fix the product.  Improve the experience.  Make it more interesting for consumers.  Don’t solely rely on marketing to solve the problem or the perception.  From the outside looking in, that’s the approach that I think they took.  And at least from the onset of the new season it has worked well so far, and it is an approach that many marketers and business owners should keep close to heart.

(Photos courtesy of creative common license: Shannon Okey and Timothy Apnel.) 

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