Campaign case study: Youngsters wowed by C4's Utopia series

Channel 4 wanted to raise awareness and support on social media from TV journalists and cultural commentators for its thriller series Utopia, driving viewers to the launch episode.

Utopia: Jessica Hyde was a main character
Utopia: Jessica Hyde was a main character

Campaign   Utopia
Client          Channel 4
PR team      In-house
Timescale   January 2013
Budget        £3,500


  • To create a campaign with social media viral potential that fitted with off-air marketing
  • To reinforce themes from the series
  • To target key influencers and cultural commentators with personalisedmessaging to get their support for Utopia
  • To drive viewers to the first episode by creating buzz on Twitter.

Strategy and plan

Channel 4 Press asked in-house creative agency 4Creative to design and script 30 personalised videos for a selection of journalists, as well as influential cultural commentators.

The team had selected the recipients by monitoring their online presence, assessing whether they were likely to be interested in Utopia, and held a strong appeal for the target 16- to 34-year-old demographic.

The team asked one of the programme’s actors, Adeel Akhtar, to star in the project. Akhtar plays conspiracy fanatic Wilson Wilson in the series. 4Creative shot the series of videos in the style of a lo-fi web cam, featuring Wilson Wilson, who personally addressed each recipient and issued a warning on camera about murderous organisation The Network, the threat it posed and the information it held about the journalist.

Each warning featured personal nuggets of information gleaned from research of social media profiles, and in some cases, extremely open Twitter and Instagram streams. This included where they had been and with whom during the past fortnight, and what they had been doing.

Channel 4 Press arranged for each video to be housed on a private personalised YouTube channel.

On the morning of the first transmission, the ‘This is a Warning’  links were then emailed directly to each journalist or commentator, who also received follow-up tweets from @C4Utopia using the hashtag #utopia. They could then choose whether or not to share the bespoke content with their followers in a much more public fashion on Twitter. 

Measurement and evaluation

The videos were tweeted by 16 of those who received them. This included The Independent’s Grace Dent, who has about 160,000 Twitter followers. It was retweeted eight times from her initial tweet.

Others inc­luded E4 presenter Rick Edwards, who has 227,737 followers. The #utopia hashtag began trending around the transmission at 10pm and continued until well after 11.30pm that night. There were 24,000 tweets mentioning the word ‘Utopia’, and 14,000 of these were around the time of the broadcast. 


The launch episode pulled in an average audience of 1.1 million viewers, which was above C4’s slot average (10pm-11.25pm). It also attracted more of the key target audience than the slot average. Utopia also attracted a much younger and larger male audience than the average for a C4 drama.

Second Opinion

Gene Chui, head of consumer brand, EdenCancan

Given Utopia’s subject matter and the target audience, social media were definitely the right approach. The creative idea and execution turned out extremely well, especially given the turnaround time of one week.

I liked this campaign and believe the media and influencers’ reactions only further emphasised the impact it had.

Given all the fear surrounding social media privacy, Channel 4 and the team deserve a lot of credit for pursuing such a bold idea in a manner that some may have deemed too invasive.

Although the information shared was in the public domain and the content initially hosted on a private YouTube channel, this still could have backfired and upset some people.

The videos themselves did well to encourage intrigue within a few seconds, but it would have been interesting to see the click-through rate of the public to the link attached to find more information.

Finally, I would be keen to know if any of the recipients’ approach to tweeting has changed since.

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