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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

All singing, all social : How "Dr. Horrible" Web Series got its buzz

Thursday 21 August 2008, by Webmaster

This summer a supervillain took over the Internet. His weapon of choice? Social marketing.

The musical superhero spoof “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” debuted online in mid-July. It was a collaboration between “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon, his brothers Zack and Jed, and Jed’s fiancee Maurissa Tancharoen. The team embarked on the venture during the writer’s strike and filmed it in six days on a low-six-figure budget.

So what does a singing mad scientist have to teach marketers about creating a social buzz? Plenty.

* Make it an event

Whedon and Co. kept much about the production under wraps until a teaser trailer was released a few weeks before “Dr. Horrible” went live. The first 13-minute installment was available for free streaming on July 15, followed by the second on July 17 and the finale on July 19. The free streaming ended July 20, although fans could still download it from iTunes. A DVD is forthcoming.

The overwhelming response to the first part led to the site crashing on opening day — www.drhorrible.com was getting about 1,000 hits per second, Jed Whedon told USA Today. I’m guessing, though, that overall the video’s host site Hulu.com was pleased with the experience — it’s likely a lot of viewers checked out the rest of Hulu after their Doctor’s appointment.

* Take advantage of free stuff

Whedon had a very limited staff and budget to promote “Dr. Horrible.” But hey, creating a Facebook page? Free. A MySpace page? Free. Embracing the fans who quickly created and flocked to a fan site (http://doctorhorrible.net)? Free.

And those fans did more than just visit the site. Many posted the promo widgets and banners on their own blogs, Facebook pages and Web sites to encourage friends to watch the video.

* Timing is everything

The “Dr. Horrible” launch was as calculated as the best supervillain’s diabolical scheme. The video hit the Web as TV viewers were bored out of their skulls with summer reruns and reality programming. It also coincided with the press tour for television networks to trot out their stars and promote the fall schedules — Joss Whedon was out and about talking up his upcoming Fox series “Dollhouse.” And the Emmy nominations were announced that week too, with Dr. Horrible himself (actor Neil Patrick Harris) on hand to help announce the names and pick up a nod for his work on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”

Finally, in yet another crazy random happenstance, Comic-Con International — where Whedon always appears and is revered with a deity-like fervor — was held the following week in San Diego. All of these events — Comic-Con in particular — are blogged and Twittered about incessantly, keeping the buzz buzzing. * Like the show? Get the T-shirt

Smartly, Whedon didn’t forget to throw e-commerce into the mix. Soon after the release of part one, fans could go to Jinx.com and pick up their own T-shirts featuring either the “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” logo, the visages of Dr. Horrible or his nemesis Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion), or a replica of the shirt Hammer wears as his costume.

The shirts with the hero’s and villain’s faces were featured as part of the story in the third installment, which likely goosed even more fans to make a purchase. The ever-dwindling stock meters on the Jinx site were also a smart move to create urgency among supporters to buy.

Then again, anyone who watches “How I Met Your Mother” knows that Neil Patrick Harris is a friend of direct marketing — or at least his character Barney Stinson is.

It was revealed on the show last season that when he gets upset, Barney likes to go shopping — at SkyMall. A memorable scene showed the character in his office surrounded by impulse buys from the catalog, such as a pop-up hot-dog cooker and several self-cleaning litter boxes (although he doesn’t own a cat).

Of course, Barney’s greatest DM purchases are the motivational posters riffing off items in the Successories catalog. The best would have to be the one on “Awesomeness.” When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story.

A search on Successories.com for “awesomeness” brings up prints on “The Essence of Imagination,” which are nice but not quite the same. Sure, there are loads of places — like Café Press — where you can make up your own version of Barney’s credo, but think how great an official version would have been. With this in its portfolio, Successories could have become — yes — legendary.