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How Australia’s SBS targeted millennials for its crime drama ‘Deep Water’

Many of the 88 gay hate murders that occurred in Sydney during the 80s and 90s remain unsolved today. In 2016, Australian TV network SBS chose to base their crime drama ‘Deep Water’ on gay hate murders.


SBS tasked Zenith to leverage Deep Water as an addictive hook to attract new audiences of crime drama lovers aged 25-54 who did not typically watch SBS content.

The agency was challenged with facing a declining TV market and fierce competition. With acquisition as the target, the team knew that pre-promote formats would not suffice and while traditional OOH and digital are important for reach, they are not enough to drive intrigue.

Furthermore, SBS’ millennial target audience typically do not watch Free to Air TV and were too young to associate today’s thriving LGBTQ-friendly capital Sydney with such heinous crimes of the past. The power of the drama was lost unless there was a contemporary way of emotionally connecting the story to this young audience.


Zenith looked to draw in the audience by taking a Bondi photographer Aquabumps’ iconic image of Bondi Beach and turn it into a never-been-seen before, much darker representation, signifying the underbelly of events from its past and hinting that a deeper, darker secret side to Bondi is about to be revealed.

In a press statement to Digital Market Asia, the agency highlighted it’s thought process, “We knew we needed to be Simple, Social, and Powerful. Now, close your eyes and think of Bondi Beach. Go On……Are you thinking of sunbathers on white sands and rolling waves over turquoise waters? As one of the most photographed beaches in the world, our key insight was that; everyone is familiar with the picture perfect Bondi landscape. Our strategy? Completely flipping over all mental perceptions of Bondi Beach.”

Completely unbranded by SBS, Aquabumps took his usual photograph of Bondi but depicted it differently: a body submerged under the water’s surface – alluding to dark secrets and gay hate murders of the past.

He blasted his portrait photo (formatted perfectly for mobile) to his network of: 115,000 Facebook fans, 105,000 Instagram followers, and 43,000 eDM subscribers. Subsequently, SBS launched that very same photo on their digital and social sites along with complementary digital media to encourage audiences’ intrigue towards the puzzling and chilling portrait.

The immediate result was hundreds of thousands of fans questioning what the provocative image was about.

The campaign’s social posts reached over 1,131,000 people with 9,600 reactions, 614 comments, 479 shares and 1,037 new page likes for SBS Australia, and resulted in a CTR of 14.67 per cent. The campaign also helped extend the interest for the program beyond the social channels, generating 56 per cent more search interest than the top drama of 2015 as well as incremental earned media coverage, with millennial website Pedestrian puzzling over the image and interviewing Aquabumps himself.

The show had a projected target of 480,000 in audience reach, but the campaign helped it reach over 622,000 in the first episode, a +130 per cent delivery. As a local production, Deep Water became the most watched SBS drama of 2016, and second highest rated of all time.

The campaign also shone a light on gay hate crime in Australia. In keeping with the SBS brand, the final Aquabumps artwork was auctioned off and its proceeds (AUD 5500) donated to ACON, a foundation to build a memorial for victims of gay hate crimes.

In 2017, these kind of crimes are no longer submerged under the surface.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.