Actor John Stamos is about to woo thousands of New York women with daisies. They'll be handed to commuters, along with a note. All are invited to join Stamos on a date to watch the March 13 premiere of Jake in Progress, his new ABC series about the adventures of a single man looking for love in New York City.
After all, Stamos, who just returned to the dating scene after his breakup with supermodel wife Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, is available: on- and off-screen.
ABC hopes the stunt's buzz ripples across the country, boosting interest within the show's target market: 18- to 49-year-old women. This season's ratings battle has been fierce. CBS won the sweeps race in November, on the success of its CSI, Survivor and Amazing Race. Fox is poised to take that title during the current sweeps, now that American Idol is back. ABC and NBC are tied for third in the February sweeps.
In such a tight race, the performance of midseason shows is critical. So with a little more than three months left in the current TV season, the Big Four networks are going all out to promote them.
As the campaigns get under way, viewers can expect more nontraditional marketing efforts. ABC has been particularly successful at it, scoring big with a similar strategy in the fall: Messages in bottles to promote Lost and dry-cleaning bags to sell Desperate Housewives grabbed media attention and spread the word to millions who hadn't seen either.
“We got more publicity from our dry-cleaning bags and bottles on the beach than I could have ever imagined,” says ABC Entertainment SVP for Marketing Mike Benson. The stunts, which integrated themes central to the shows, prompted a wave of media coverage, giving the programs extra exposure in the press.
Similarly, the Jake in Progress daisy giveaway draws a connection between the show's main character, New York publicist Jake Phillips, and its star, John Stamos, who recently told journalists he is having a tough time adjusting to single life.
“This is a show about a guy trying to find true love in his life. He's looking for the right person,” says Benson. “In a very strange way, the program parallels John's life.
While alternative advertising looks like the right recipe for Jake, Benson says it's not appropriate for every show. For example, Steven Bochco's new drama Blind Justice is being marketed with a traditional campaign, using broadcast, print and outdoor media. Other networks are mixing traditional and nontraditional efforts to generate interest. Here are some of the highlights:
Law & Order: Trial by Jury: Several early episodes feature actor Jerry Orbach, the longtime star of the original Law & Order series who passed away late last year. “We are respectfully saying in some instances that it is an opportunity to see Jerry Orbach in some of his final performances,” says John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Universal Television Group. (The series begins March 3.)
The Contender: NBC is targeting women in its promotions for this reality series about a boxing competition, which kicks off March 13. “It's really a human drama,” says Miller. “It's not a boxing show.” But NBC is looking for some support from health clubs, where it distributed water bottles promoting the show. Contender will respectfully note the death of Philadelphia boxer Najai Turpin, who committed suicide (see story, page 10).
The Office: Only 20% of NBC's marketing budget for this comedy, starting March 24 and adapted from a popular British series, will go toward traditional advertising. The rest of the budget will be spent on other media, including an opportunity for viewers to watch the show's pilot on-demand over the Web.
Revelations: NBC isn't saying much about its plans for promoting this series, debuting April 13. This action drama is about a race to prevent the end of the world as described in the New Testament. The promotion effort has already begun through a non-branded ad campaign that will eventually become apparent to consumers. “At some point, you will know what it is,” says Miller. “And you will go, 'Aha.'”
March Madness: CBS hired film star Samuel L. Jackson to promote its coverage of the annual NCAA basketball tournament. He walks through a magic land of TV screens with footage from classic college games.
Elvis Week: CBS will run a miniseries and a separate documentary on the life of Elvis Presley the week of May 8. Besides a massive traditional ad campaign, the network is collaborating on promotions with many of its Viacom family cousins, including MTV, VH1, Nick at Nite and Infinity radio stations.
Spring Break Shark Attack: This March 20 made-for-TV movie will get plenty of hype during MTV's annual coverage of spring break.
Everybody Loves Raymond: For the May 16 finale, CBS wants affiliates to promote the series through contests, such as an “Everybody Loves a Mother and Daughter-in-law” cooking contest. It has also had viewers vote on their five all-time favorite episodes, which will air for five weeks starting Feb. 28. CBS is running an extensive ad campaign on more than 200 affiliates, as well as Viacom radio stations and cable networks.
American Idol: Fox launched the bulk of its midseason shows last month, so it is focusing its marketing efforts on mega-hit American Idol, which the network uses to promote everything else.
Life on a Stick: This comedy debuts March 23 immediately after Idol. Given its enviable timeslot, coupled with the promotions Fox will run during Idol, Life should have a large audience for at least its first episode.
Family Guy and American Dad: These two animated series will run as a one-hour block starting May 1, following the 350th episode of The Simpsons. A big marketing effort is being planned. Says Fox EVP Preston Beckman, “We're treating the return of Family Guy as a significant event for the network.”