Roping in the Audience: Marketing Differences for Downton Abbey


This post contains minor spoilers for the first season of Downton Abbey.

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, today, I will be analyzing how the first season of Downton Abbey was marketed in different countries.  To be clear, I’m no expert on marketing, and these are merely some observations and musings I have as a fan of the show.

Although Downton Abbey is a British program, I begin with the American advertisements.  In the US, Downton Abbey airs on PBS, which is a publicly supported network.  It is known as a niche network that attracts a slightly older demographic.  Furthermore, Downton Abbey is part of the series Masterpiece, which often airs British programs and has been home to various Jane Austen adaptations.  Armed with this insight, take a look at how PBS marketed the program:

As you can see, PBS chose to market Downton Abbey as a stereotypically prim and proper British period piece, emphasizing the role of the aristocracy.  It also adds shades of Pride and Prejudice by talking about inheritance laws.  Nowhere does this promo hint that the program is in any way edgy, and it hardly acknowledges the importance of the servants to the story.

In Britain, the ITV advertisers understood that they had something a little different on their hands.  They decided to emphasize the sneaky nature of the program:

More stylized and creative than the PBS ad, with its artistic choice of shots and its haunting music, this ad also better reflects the nature of the series, where scandalous secrets are just waiting to burst out and sometimes the servants know more about what’s going on than the head of house.  Also, like the program, this promo gives equal time to both the aristocracy and the servants.

In Australia, the advertisers at the Seven Network took an entirely different approach to marketing Downton Abbey, deemphasizing the period drama and trumping its critical acclaim and soap opera-ish elements:

Though simple, the above promo communicates that the program has a lot of praise and is more than it may appear to be.  Unfortunately, though other Australian ads for the show are more electric, they all contain major spoilers for the third episode of the season (or Part 2 of the PBS edit).  You can watch them here, here, and here if you wish.  What all four of these promos do well is demonstrate that Downton Abbey is not your average period drama.  They use rock and pop music to equate it to a modern soap opera.

So which method of marketing is most effective?  I would actually argue that all three are equally effective because they cater to their audience, though my personal favorite is the ITV ad.  ITV and the Seven Network are large networks in, respectively, Britain and Australia, so their ads were targeted at a broader audience who might not have wanted to watch a period drama.  In the US, however, PBS knew that its audience liked period dramas, so they marketed Downton Abbey as such.

Interestingly, however, for the second season, PBS has released different types of promos, all of which can be seen here under “Previews.”  (I can’t speak to how spoilery these are since I even haven’t seen the second season.)  One is like the first season PBS promo, one is like the Seven Network promos, and two are like the ITV promo.  At this point, PBS must have realized that they have a genuine hit on their hands, and they seem as though they themselves don’t quite know what kinds of ads would be most effective anymore.

If you’ve watched Downton Abbey, which of the above ads do you think best communicates the nature of the show?  If you haven’t watched it, which (if any) of the ads piques your interest in it?


4 thoughts on “Roping in the Audience: Marketing Differences for Downton Abbey

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I really liked the Australian trailer. I didn’t realize how rave reviews the series had been given until I Googled it! I had just finished watching the last episode of season 1 and I was like “How is everyone NOT talking about this?” and then I realized that I was the last to know. I don’t like the ITV trailer. It’s so vague and zero suspense. They make the show look like a big gossipfest when it’s actually a lot more.

    • The great thing about Downton Abbey is how it really became popular thanks to critical acclaim and word of mouth. In fact, I think it holds the Guinness World Record for most critically acclaimed series!

      I see what you mean about the ITV trailer. I personally like it because it’s so artistic. Interestingly, the other Australian ads that I linked make the show seem like an even bigger gossip fest than the ITV trailer does. It just amazes me how many different aspects of the show there are – and how advertisers were able to latch onto each specific aspect.

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