A Presence Bigger Than The TV Screen

Fall is a season of many things: football, apple picking, playoff baseball and, perhaps most exciting for some, the kick off to a new season of TV shows. An element of these shows that has grown over the past few years is the digital experience. Consumers today no longer wait for the next episode a whole week away; instead, they’re engaging in a virtual conversations to keep the excitement going.

Among the shows that have successfully extended their story well beyond the confines of the TV are “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.” In this article, we’ll take a look at these two series where the male protagonists have built engaged digital audiences beyond the TV screen.

“Breaking Bad”: Ah, “Breaking Bad,” the show where Bryan Cranston scares the life out of you but still makes you contemplate giving up your social life to watch reruns. Cranston plays Walter White, a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin-murderer in order to provide for his family after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Though his loyal fans haven’t turned to a life of mayhem, they have become incredibly attached to the character. In fact, @BryanCranston has built a Twitter following of over 700,000, and the show, @BreakingBad_AMC, has a Twitter following of more than 600,000. 



Further enhancing the audience engagement, Walter White’s presence has expanded to other virtual domains, including video games as well as the more traditional merchandise and publications that nurture fandom. 

And before “Breaking Bad”’s series finale Sept. 29, a website called “Save Walter White” was set up by Walter’s son to raise money for a cancer operation for his terminally ill father. The “Donate Now” button, as expected, went not to a donation site but to AMC’s “Breaking Bad” webpage. The digital experience the character’s story produced has taken viewer engagement to the next level, making the persona of Walter White larger than the show itself.

“Mad Men”: If you always wanted to live in a time where it was a man’s world, and music and lifestyle were the epicenter of almost everything, this show is for you. Addressing a pivotal point in American history -- the Sixties -- this show portrays a time when clothing, drinking and jargon shaped the way people lived, interacted and innovated. The main character, Don Draper, embodies the stereotypical Sixties protagonist as a powerful advertising executive who is an irresistible womanizer. Similar to the emotions and fan following evoked by Bryan Cranston’s character in “Breaking Bad,” Jon Hamm’s character in “Mad Men” has created lifestyle aspirations, a massive social media following and a certain image sought after by men, in particular. 

Vintage clothing stores, for example, are seeing a significant increase in sales, and suits are now being worn more regularly. Brooks Brothers even released a limited-edition “Mad Men” suit, which retailed at $1,000. All of this creates brand advocates who not only desire to live the life, but engage with like-minded folks online, creating a vibrant social community. Just take a look at their social engagement numbers: @_DonDraper has a Twitter following of more than 30,000 and @MadMen_AMC’s followers surpass 150,000. 

The main characters in both shows are building great digital experiences as their TV presence has evolved into illustrious and iconic personas that go well beyond the TV screen. But it doesn’t end there. Keep an eye on shows like “Mob City” and “The Walking Dead.” With new means of connecting with audiences online, it will be fun to see what types of digital engagement opportunities present themselves for these shows.

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