I have a cunning plan; Blackadder's guide to fostering long-term brand loyalty
With Blackadder recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, Matt Michaluk, ECD at Household, looks at how Edmund, Baldrick et al managed to engender long term relevance and devotion from a relatively short running show and how brands might do the same.
Blackadder is one of the most beloved British sitcoms of all time. The comedy, which debuted in 1983, follows Edmund Blackadder’s wild escapades through history with his loyal dogsbody Baldrick.
The titular character’s cutting sarcasm and self-importance endeared him to audiences but few would have predicted the four-series production would dominate conversations four decades on from its premiere. And yet the show’s 40th anniversary is being commemorated with a set of special edition stamps with each one immortalising an iconic scene, whether it’s Lord Percy’s ‘nugget of purest green’ or Edmund impersonating his liege lord.
Blackadder is living proof that you don’t need the biggest audience to succeed - just a devoted community of fans.
So, how does the short-running series maintain its relevance in a saturated content market? Blackadder is living proof that you don’t need the biggest audience to succeed - just a devoted community of fans. And this, to borrow one of Baldrick's favourite terms, is a cunning plan that businesses would do well to follow.
Above: The Royal Mail recently released a set of stamps to celebrate Blackadder's 40th anniversary.
Writing the perfect script
Just as a company is more than its CEO, Blackadder’s character roster extends beyond Edmund and Baldrick. Who could forget the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells, the violent and corrupt clergymen? What about Nursie (or Bernard), Queenie’s simple-yet-devoted attendant.
Each season boasted a host of memorable characters that leapt off the small screen, and they remain ingrained in viewers’ minds. These figures provide moments of evergreen entertainment, fostering nostalgia amongst audiences long after it aired and allowing fans to reminisce over their lifetime.
It is [the] fan buy-in that has enabled Blackadder to seep into other avenues of life.
Blackadder’s writing transcends the comedy genre. The storylines weren’t afraid to tackle topical social issues such as gender inequality, politics and war; trends that still resonate with today’s audiences.
The latter is even more pertinent given fans’ desire to subscribe to stories and form emotional attachments to characters and their journeys. Blackadder Goes Forth’s final episode tugs on viewers’ heartstrings, the series’ ‘will they, won’t they’ storyline culminating in the soldiers heading over the top.
Above: Nursie [right], played by Patsy Byrne, with Miranda Richardson's Queen Elizabeth I.
But it is the catchy, recognisable dialogue that has achieved cross-generational affinity. Witty one-liners have been passed down through friends and family - be it Baldrick’s ‘cunning plans’ or Edmund’s use of the word ‘wibble’ to try and convince his commanding officer he’d gone mad. And it is this fan buy-in that has enabled Blackadder to seep into other avenues of life. History lessons have long incorporated the WWI series into teaching arcs, injecting humour into a solemn topic.
Blackadder’s anniversary is a timely reminder of how brands can leverage a devoted fandom to stay top-of-mind. Blackadder’s episode count might not have the numbers of Only Fools and Horses, but the building blocks to its long-term brand loyalty - memorable characters, powerful content and a devoted following - highlight that it’s not the size of the boat that matters.
Blackadder’s anniversary is a timely reminder of how brands can leverage a devoted fandom to stay top-of-mind.
The ‘attract viewers at all cost’ mentality is outdated. Blackadder’s success is paralleled by modern micro-influencers. They don’t possess the same one-million-plus follower count of macro-influencers. However, their community is far more loyal, dedicated and impressionable. And this devoted audience trumps high viewing figures.
Above: In this content-driven era, fans are always looking for what’s next and need something tangible to keep them coming back.
Fans aren’t one-time customers. In this content-driven era, they are always looking for what’s next - they need something tangible to keep them coming back. Acknowledging this and prioritising turning customers into fans can be the stepping stone brands need to continue creating memorable experiences whilst building long-term relationships and advocacy.
In this content-driven era, [fans] are always looking for what’s next.
But this means that their creativity has to be up to scratch.
Fans for the memories
Edmund Blackadder wanted to be remembered when he died. He wanted books written about him, songs sung about him and television episodes about his life. And, fictional character or not, none of this would have been possible without a passionate fanbase that bought into the series.