Long gone are the days of passive consumption and primetime tune-in—we've officially surpassed the tipping point wherein audiences require a second screen and sanctioned hashtag while watching their favorite shows.
Building on its long history of fostering connection, and its new role as an entertainment brand, AT&T challenged us to create the future of connected entertainment. Cue "Guilty Party: History of Lying"—a real-time scripted original series that played out over eight weeks across social networks in a participatory multi-screen content experience.
Observing that social media has blurred the lines between friendship and entertainment, our strategy was to build an original series with a new narrative model that functioned more like a "friend-group," rather than a traditional "show." To do this, we engaged with the audience not as "fans," but as students who attended the same fictional school as the main characters and were also trying to solve the story's mystery. We elevated audience members from "fan" to "participatory peer."
The show's eco-system encouraged audience engagement, and its critical themes sparked meaningful connections and created hundreds of thousands of friendships in social communities that are still active today.
In creating "Guilty Party," we focused on entering the native spaces young consumers were spending time in. The strategy was to authentically replicate their behaviors while delivering a consistently unified brand message.
To establish a personal connection between fans and the "Guilty Party" franchise, the story was told in real time across seven social platforms, eight traditional mid-form episodes, and a podcast, as well as cast participation on their handles and a meet-up in Los Angeles.
In total, we deployed more than 1,700 unique pieces of content over the course of ten weeks. We won't bore you to death with all of the details, but a few standouts include:
Real Time Character Engagement: Each of the fictional characters had their own "in-world" social media profiles where they posted vlogs, interacted with fellow fictional students, and chatted directly on a daily basis to our real-world fans.
Google Classroom: We turned the fictional "History of Lying" course in the show into a real, researched, and comprehensive course on Google Classroom moderated by one of the show's characters. Fans watched lectures, submitted homework, and received grades alongside characters in the show. Clues found hidden in the homework or lectures were promptly found by our fan super sleuths and shared with anyone not taking the course. Fun fact: The classroom reached capacity in less than an hour—we literally had audience members begging to do homework for a fictional class!
Discord: Best described as a "Slack for Fandom, " Discord has traditionally been used by gamers to connect. We used this platform to host the gossip blog of one of our characters—the conceit being that the fans there were helping him solve the mystery. Here fans worked on their homework, dissected all of the clues they were finding across social media, grilled suspects, shared fan art, hosted viewing parties, and started a Guilty Party Gay/Straight Alliance.
Podcast: Fans also listened to "Suspect," the first-ever podcast where fictional characters interviewed real experts on everything from the future of crime to FBI protocol to media literacy. Featured in the show episodes, the standalone podcast was available on iTunes and Spotify where it was downloaded more than 32,000 times.
These community platforms, in addition to the show's presences on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, allowed for a transformative fan experience.
And, frankly, the fans transformed the story.
As it turns out, our audience was comprised of great detectives and they solved the mystery faster than we anticipated. So, what did we do? Well, our constant engagement with the audience and real-time analytics prompted us to quickly shoot an entirely brand new ending to the show—one that confirmed audience suspicions, but also blew their minds a little.
And while a great twist at the end of a series is nice, the more importantly direct access to the narrative, overarching mystery, and the influencer cast allowed viewers to completely immerse themselves into the "Guilty Party" world and forge meaningful connections with fellow audience members.
"Guilty Party: History of Lying" created a new template for audience participation in entertainment. In total, the franchise published eight episodes, 21 character vlogs, eight podcast episodes, and 1,700+ pieces of social content, garnering over 89 million views and over 83 million fan engagements. In fact, on YouTube—where we had no paid media—our engagement rate averaged 19.94%, far above industry standard and category norms.
And the engagements keep on coming. Despite the season being over, fans are still active both on Discord and in the Google Classroom, using them as safe spaces to continue to explore tough issues. We were also able to see lift on key AT&T brand metrics such as relevance and innovation for viewers.
Honestly though, the lasting impact the show has had on fans has been the most rewarding outcome. We think one of our fan comments from YouTube sums it up best: "Thank you for allowing us, the audience, to experience such a great story as if we were there. Can't wait to see what AT&T has planned for the future and how we can get involved and help!!"