Once upon a time, people watched TV on one of three, then four, and then many networks and came to work the next day and talked about what they watched around the water cooler, where apparently everyone was constantly gathering to chat and shirk off work.
Today, people barely go into an office much less gather at a proverbial water cooler. Today’s analog is the always-on virtual space – whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Substack and so forth – where individuals can connect, exchange ideas and build relationships without being in the same physical location. This is why entertainment marketing campaigns must go beyond the assigned target demo and engage with fans using a solid strategy that leverages data, technology and top-notch creative in the same way that well-made network promos once did.
Such a diversity of content platforms requires a diversity of strategies as well as multiple pieces of bespoke content tailored to reach specific audiences on their preferred platforms. One kick-ass trailer airing on network TV is just not going to attract the wide and robust audience it once did. Some viewers only have cable, some only stream, some are cable stackers who have both, and all of them are seeing an extensive range of ads in each respective place. In addition, millions of viewers never see an ad at all if it doesn’t live on a social media platform – either as trending content or as part of a paid marketing campaign.
So how do entertainment marketers let those viewers know that their next favorite show is ready for them to watch?
In order to catch as many potential fans as possible, entertainment marketers not only need to utilize a variety of platforms, but we also have to create work that is specific and targeted to the audience across their niche taste clusters. The same technology that allows audiences to have so many content options is the same technology that allows marketers to reach exactly who we want by crafting the right marketing campaign and serving it to audiences as they initiate searches, starting with precise thumbnails. As a result, the new hyper-fragmented environment is both a blessing and a curse for today’s entertainment marketers.
With all of these options out there, many incredible shows go undiscovered or get lost in the mix, simply because marketers didn’t use a targeted approach and thus these shows went unnoticed by potential viewers. Marketers must seek out and find those who aren’t flipping through channels and let them know, “We have a great show! And you must watch, because this show is just for you.”
Case in point, some of the best shows that I’ve watched recently didn’t catch my attention with a trailer. I heard about them from friends; from social media, which is already heavily targeted to me; and from in-platform discovery powered by algorithms. If I had seen a generic promo, trailer or teaser for any one of these shows, I’m not so sure I would have actually given them a chance! It was the specific and unique aspects of each that grabbed my attention and I’m so glad they did.
Here is a peek at my own consumer journey focusing on my current top three favorite shows:
FX’s The Bear
I first learned about The Bear, about a young and tormented fine-dining chef who returns to run his late brother’s Chicago Italian beef sandwich joint, as I was clicking through FX options on Hulu, a brand I can always rely on for quality content. I didn’t watch right away, but I started to hear more about it. Maybe frequency illusion kicked in, or it was Google tracking all my moves, but all of a sudden, I started to find its promos; all were raw, realistic and engaging, just like the show. So, I gave it a try and loved it.
The marketing campaign seemed limited at first, but as the great reviews started pouring in across mainstream media I kept noticing more spots and star Jeremy Allen White (Showtime’s Shameless) was everywhere – including every meme page. Ultimately, when Allen won the Golden Globe for best TV actor, The Bear became the talk of the town. Does it deserve the praise? Yes, chef.
I am really looking forward to season two this summer and hope FX goes for a more robust and targeted marketing campaign to catch the attention of a larger audience.
HBO’s The White Lotus
Social media is the main reason I started watching The White Lotus. With all the posts I saw flying around, I didn’t want to be left out! I had to find out what all the buzz was about. I’m so glad I did. It’s brilliant, hilarious, scary, sad, dramatic and beautifully shot – it’s a difficult show to describe without a multitude of adjectives. It’s got so much for so many different viewers, and a targeted campaign would serve this show well. I think they did a great job of harnessing the momentum of the season with a few clever marketing partnerships weeks after the finale.
First, we saw Jennnifer Coolidge, whose career is hotter than ever, partner with e.l.f., the affordable makeup brand, and take on Super Bowl LVII with the show’s creator, Mike White. Then, pop-culture phenom Kim Kardashian featured Simona Tabasco (Lucia) and Beatrice Grannò (Mia) in a social media campaign for Kim’s shapewear brand Skims. These two brands acted fast and were able to drive immense traffic by riding on the success of the show for targeted and specific audiences.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for season three – but I’m even more excited to see how they tweak the theme song to fit the show’s new location in Thailand.
Apple TV Plus’ For All Mankind
Apple TV Plus has surprised me more than I could have imagined. Ted Lasso was my gateway drug – and now, I consider Apple TV Plus the FX of streamers. We don’t have time to discuss my issues with their interface, but one thing they’ve done really well is catch my attention with personalized thumbnails. They’re always well curated and, as a sci-fi nerd, I couldn’t resist clicking on For All Mankind on the featured series window demonstrating that sometimes that algorithm really does know you well.
This critically acclaimed series is one of my favorite shows out there right now. It’s from Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) and has one of the most interesting premises I’ve seen in a show in a long time. The visuals are stunning and the characters are compelling.
The marketing campaign across all seasons offered a good mix of unique experiences. “Time Capsule,” the first Emmy award-winning AR experience launched by Apple, allowed fans to unbox memories and connect with objects from the show, from an Apple II computer to an old projector with family photos to answering machines. Season two brought fans a new mission patch set autographed by Moore with 19 imaginary missions. In addition to bespoke social content, teasers, trailers and striking billboards, the series also has its own podcast, where real astronauts and space experts share their stories.
Yet, despite all the innovative marketing efforts, it feels like there are still many more potential viewers out there for a series that’s so much more than just “another space show.” Hopefully, the campaign for season four is able to reach those people, and attract the hype and attention it deserves.
Figuring out which audiences are most likely to tune into shows is both art and science and so is creating content that manages to draw those audiences in. Today’s marketers have to be so much more than just promo producers – they need to be data analysts, social media gurus and idea-generating machines. The opportunity for creativity and innovation is endless, but that’s also the challenge. The reward is helping viewers like me find their next favorite show.
Rich Rosario is a creative director focusing on entertainment marketing at Definition 6, an award-winning customer experience agency based in Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.