While ABC boasts some of television's most buzz-worthy dramas, such as Lost and Grey's Anatomy, the network also has challenges: It will bring back only one new show from last season, and not a single returning comedy made the fall schedule. Trying to convince viewers of its allure, the network has launched an image campaign featuring clips of its top shows set to the voice of Mary J. Blige singing a cover of the U2 hit “One.” ABC marketing chief Mike Benson spoke to B&C's Ben Grossman about the campaign, marketing plans for the fall and how to bring male viewers back to Desperate Housewives.
Where did the idea for the network-branding campaign come from?
It actually came from [ABC Entertainment President] Steve [McPherson]. He had heard the song, and it was something that he just fell in love with. We tried to relate the emotion of the song to some of our big franchises like Lost and Grey's and Desperate Housewives. The idea is that our shows bring people together, so the network brings people together. It's the first time in years we have done an image campaign for ABC Entertainment.
Last September, you told me that network branding is “pretty low on the totem pole.” So why a network-image campaign now?
I still think branding is low on the totem pole. The way we used this spot is all about the shows. What's changed is that, a few years ago, we didn't have the big hit shows on the network.We're not spending a lot of time creating a look or a “cheer” for the network; it really is about developing a lot of sub-brands right now, which are the shows we have and the new shows that are coming.
With nine shows set to launch in the fall, do you need to go away from your recent strategy of heavily backing only a few of them?
It will look different than years past. Our paid media budget is what it was last year, so we want to be smart about how we use our resources. Every show will get a campaign; it's how we utilize our resources in the most effective way. We're looking at every night of the week and coming up with individual strategies that make the most sense.
With the high-profile move of Grey's Anatomy to Thursdays, do you need to reposition the show?
It's going to be a very competitive slot. But I don't think we will need a repositioning; it's about just making sure fans of the show know it's there. Plus, I still believe there is growth in that program. We kind of live by a motto of “invite new viewers.” With that show, people come not for the medical aspects of it; they come for the characters and their stories.
Desperate Housewives, by many accounts, had a less-than-stellar sophomore season. Does the show need a promotional lift for the fall?
It's going to be our job to remind people how good this show is. It still does great ratings, by the way. It still has amazingly strong female numbers, but the audience that has left the show more than anything is men, and they are a fickle audience. We're looking at how to bring some men back to the show.
What does the loss of Monday Night Football mean for the network from a promotional standpoint?
Football is great for ratings, but it's not the greatest promotional platform for entertainment television. It's great if you're selling beer, but it isn't necessarily the best platform to try and get people to watch Men in Trees. A very high percentage would come in for football and then not come back again.
Promoting in football was a very low return on a very high investment. Not that it makes our job any easier, because our overall numbers are now less, but the type of audience across our schedule is now a little more consistent.