New Ad Twists From NBC
Revelations Marketing Banks on Cryptic Messages
By Jim Finkle -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/13/2005 7:00:00 PM
The Latin language doesn't usually pop up in New York City subway stations or appear on outdoor wall projections in other big cities. But “Omnium finis imminet,” a Latin phrase loosely translated as “The end is near,” is cropping up everywhere—even in cryptic five-second TV messages that fade in and out. Who is responsible? NBC. The network is in the early stages of an unusual marketing campaign for Revelations, a tough show to sum up in a 30-second spot.
Revelations, which premieres April 13, is a six-hour limited series that mixes elements from The X-Files, The Omen, Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code.
The series stars Bill Pullman as a brilliant scientist/atheist and Natascha McElhone as a devoutly religious nun who is convinced that the end of the world is fast approaching. Together, they get caught in an adventure around the world, fighting to stave off Armageddon.
“The subject matter is polarizing, but interesting to people at both ends of the spectrum,” says Vivi Zigler, an SVP with The NBC Agency.
The show's ad blitz began in mid February, when NBC marketing guerillas wrote the ominous phrase in chalk graffiti along riverbanks, trash cans, outside buildings and on sidewalks in cities nationwide. They took photos of their handiwork, then posted those images on the Internet.
NBC won't say how much it is spending on the campaign, but Chief Marketing Officer John Miller says it is comparable to the budget for a typical new series. According to industry estimates, that is anywhere from $5 million to $10 million. Revelations' price tag was higher than the average drama which costs $2 million an hour to produce.
ADS GETTING NOTICED
Although it is early in the promo cycle, people are noticing. NBC's viral campaign is strategically akin to ABC's Lost and Desperate Housewives.
These oblique promos have spawned tens of thousands of Internet postings, as well as two mentions in The New York Times. Bloggers posted the photos on hundreds of Web sites, prompting vigorous debates over their significance.
While many online users suspected that the phrases must be part of a big marketing campaign, few were able to connect the dots to NBC or Revelations. On ChristianForums.com, there has been an extensive discussion on how to translate the text into English.
After a failed attempt to get clues from the company that sells ad space for the New York subway system, a blogger on DeadProgrammer.com commented, “This is probably a 'guessing game' ad for the new War of the Worlds movie or some stupid Sci Fi Channel movie or series.”
The New York Times weighed in with a March 5 article about subway ads that mentioned the Latin phrases in passing, noting they were for Steven Spielberg's upcoming film, War of the Worlds. (On March 9, the paper issued a correction, noting that they were for Revelations.)
NBC is hoping the media will start covering the marketing effort after March 14, when the network ratchets up its intensity. “It will feel like you're pretty much surrounded in the subway,” says Zigler. “Once people figure out what 'the end is near' means, they're a little curious, perhaps a bit alarmed.”
ATTRACTING VIEWERS WHO IGNORE ADS
Ultimately, the carefully orchestrated effort is designed to attract viewers who usually ignore ads. Traditional spots have become less effective as they've become more ubiquitous, creating brand clutter in the minds of consumers, says Jim Chabin, CEO of Promax, a group that advises media companies on how to market their products. NBC's promotion for Revelations may represent the biggest unbranded campaign of its type to date, he says.
“People are so overloaded with messages,” says Chabin. “The truth is that, when you speak to them, you shouldn't even be talking about what you are selling. You've got to open a dialogue first.”
BUILDING AN AUDIENCE
Here are some key steps in the campaign to promote Revelations. It kicked off in February, when NBC started spreading the phrase “Omnium finis imminet.”
There will be a dramatic increase in the number of ads on the New York subway system. They'll provide a little more information than the first round, adding ambiguous photos from the show to keep the public mentally engaged.
NBC will screen the pilot in New York and nine other cities to audiences mostly recruited from college campuses, with a heavy concentration of students interested in theology, philosophy, film and TV.
Promos will go up on NBC.com.
Promos will go up at Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood.
Regal theatres will start running Revelations clips in ads that run before their films.
Ads will start running in niche magazines, including Scientific American and Paranoia—The Conspiracy Reader. They will also appear on Web sites, such as Belief.net and AintItCool.com.
The print-ad campaign will expand to mass-market publications like People and Rolling Stone. Frequent TV spots will run on NBC, USA, Sci Fi Channel and Bravo.
The series will be advertised prominently on the Yahoo! home page, inviting people to return to the site on April 13 to watch a six-minute clip from the pilot.
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