Doctor Who 50th And The Hashtag Paradox


So it’s out there.

Finally, after months of work, the Doctor Who 50th anniversary campaign has launched into hyperdrive. With lots and lots of material still to come. But for now the celebration of 50 years trailer can be viewed here.

For those of us fortunate enough to be part of it, it has been a period where the usual pressures of any creative challenge have been added to by the weight of responsibility we felt at being entrusted with a brand so fiercely protected by legions of fans the world over. Many of whom had already produced brilliant trailers for the 50th themselves.

The reality is that in many ways whatever we do is destined to fail. How could you possibly summarise what Doctor Who has meant in our cultural lives for fifty years? Trigger all of those memories from lapsed viewers while still retaining a narrative idea that leads to the 50th episode storyline itself?

In 60 seconds?

Well of course you can’t…you can only condense so much and, short of actual regeneration, recreate so much. Fortunately the reaction so far appears to be overwhelmingly positive and the tough choices on who to feature, broadly supported. Highlighting Elisabeth Sladen for example was something everyone involved with the project was keen on. Even those fans who wanted more Amy and Rory – or their own first Doctor for example – will hopefully enjoy the treasure trove of detail hidden in the layers of the trailer. Judging by this blog, the treasure hunt is well under way.

Even before the trailer aired, the first teasers had already led to some interesting debates, not least of which was around the choice of a bespoke hashtag for the marketing campaign #SaveTheDay.

It received criticism from some quarters for being a) unnecessary – people will tag what they want, thank you very much and b) too long. Andrew Ellard (@ellardent) is a superb tweeter on storyline and form and his tweetnotes on Doctor Who and other shows are a must read. He slightly caustically pointed out that #SavetheDay is a character longer than #DoctorWho for example. (For those of you who would dream of using #DrWho by the way, at 5 characters, please see the Sontaran equivalent of Lynne Trussa).

So why did we do it? Well, as a copywriter, I would certainly defend the accusation of length. When we worked out that we’d managed to condense a globally understood call to action, a reminder of the role the Doctor has played every day of those fifty years, and a nod to the storyline of the 50th all into 10 characters, then we were pretty chuffed. I’d say it’s one of the neatest and tightest bits of writing I’ve ever been involved with. So the meatier question is: why have a marketing hashtag at all?

Perhaps it's worth noting what hashtags truly are. At their core they are simply a way of organising and gathering around a particular conversation in one moment in time. Try searching for #doctorwho and you are confronted with the virtual equivalent of a very noisy convention at ComicCon. The Whovian universe of websites, blogs, threads and discussions is a wonderful, but bewildering galaxy of “stuff” to the non-fan.

Now of course we could have scraped every mention of Who, Doctor Who, 50th, 23/11, etc, but this has given a focus to one particular moment in time. The role of an editor, a curator, a collector is just as important in the webisphere as the role of a channel brand has been in broadcasting, to help point you to something particular, special and timely amidst the bombardment of entertainment and information possibilities (to which I am conscious this blog post is in itself just another entry).

Twitter themselves have, of course, written guidance in the form of something short and useful.

But even their advice is open to interpretation – are we interrupting other people’s conversations for example? Certainly in many cases. Definitely not in others. And even Twitter can’t offer advice for what you do when faced with the mighty onslaught of #1DDay, which would put the Cyberfleet itself to flight.

Now we did actually get the endline and hashtag down to a single character – a Gallifreyan symbol, but sadly most keyboards as yet don’t recognise it.

Charlie Mawer, Executive Creative Director