Disney-ABC’s Freeform emerged out of ABC Family almost two years ago, but it’s launching two comedies in early January—Black-ish spin-off Grown-ish and Alone Together— that are the first to closely hew to the network’s new younger, edgier brand.
“These are the first two comedies that will have premiered under Freeform as Freeform. There have been other comedies on the air since the rebrand, but they were comedies that were developed under the ABC Family banner,” says Tricia Melton, senior vice president of marketing, creative and branding for Freeform. “These are the first true Freeform comedies to emerge.”
RELATED: Listen to Melton discuss the launch campaigns for both Grown-ish and Alone Together in this new episode of The Daily Brief Podcast.
Grown-ish, from Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, was created specifically for Freeform’s younger-skewing audience. The show stars Yara Shahidi as Dre and Rainbow Johnson’s oldest child, Zoey, who has headed off to college at California University.
“It was developed for our much younger audience, a millennial audience, a Gen Z audience,” says Melton. “So it looks different, it feels different. It’s edgier and it pushes boundaries.”
Because Grown-ish and Black-ish are from the same universe, it afforded Freeform some unique marketing opportunities for the new series, which debuts January 3.
“In virtually every piece of communication you’ll see ‘from the executive producer of Black-ish,’ which I think is important,” says Melton. “Strategically, we want to go after the Black-ish audience and convert them to come watch Grown-ish.”
Spots featuring Black-ish stars Anthony Anderson (Dre) and Tracie Ellis Ross (Rainbow), such as the one above, are airing both on ABC and on Freeform, but Freeform’s efforts extend well beyond on-air spots.
“Social is a very important part of any campaign we do at Freeform because it’s where our audience lives, breathes, plays and works,” says Melton.
Social media platforms being targeted the hardest are Facebook, for reach, and Instagram and Snapchat for engagement.
“Snapchat is so important to this audience, so we’re doing custom filters on 2,000 college campuses across the country,” Melton says. “For example, one is a filter that’s ‘Me, studying,’ and ‘Also me, studying’ to go with an image of you doing something that’s completely not studying—sleeping, eating pizza, whatever.”
Freeform also is capitalizing on social media influencers.
“We’re doing influencer partnerships,” Melton says. “We have 20 different influencers across different platforms—Instagram, YouTube, Facebook—that will be live-tweeting the premiere. They’ll be attending an exclusive screening event that we’re doing with Refinery29. We’ll have talent there, influencers, press, and Refinery29 will bring in some of their readers and followers.”
The appeal of the show’s young cast members—led by Shahidi —is not lost on Melton.
“Yara Shahidi is an amazing young woman with a robust social following, and we’ve really leaned into that. It’s a nice complement, creating content around the show and her character, Zoey, but also leveraging Yara and her own personal social brand. Two other actors on the show, Chloe and Halle [Bailey], were Beyonce’s protégées and actually created the Grown-ish title sequence and theme song. They have a tremendous social footprint, so we’re leaning into that as well.”
One of the first promos for the show was an homage to John Hughes’ paean to teenagehood: The Breakfast Club.
“Kenya called and said, ‘I have this crazy idea for a concept.’ He pitched it and we loved it. He actually has a reference to The Breakfast Club in the pilot,” Melton says. “What’s interesting is there’s a real resonance among this particular generation—Gen Z and Millenials—with The Breakfast Club. That’s what we were able to tap into for that spot. We had the music and choreography done with Fonzworth Bentley, who also did the choreography for the Black-ish musical episode they premiered with this year.”
An out-of-home campaign broke December 15 with billboards and bus benches in Los Angeles and New York, and a subway takeover in New York.
With such a broad ad mix, Melton notes one exception.
“I’ll tell you straight up, I don’t buy print anymore for any Freeform shows. When’s the last time that anyone under the age of 45 bought a magazine? But we do work with the editorial of brands like Refinery29 and Teen Vogue, and different media brands. We work with them, we just don’t buy print.”
Perhaps the most innovative part of the Grown-ish campaign is yet to come.
“We’re working on a social campaign that should launch once the show has started. It’s creating conversations between Zoey and her parents—basically texting with her mom and dad. It’s continuing the storyline in the social space,” Melton says, noting the exchanges will be written by writers from both series to ensure the conversations remain in character. “That’s something we can run across both the Grown-ish social platform and the Black-ish social platform. It’s continuing the storyline by taking it off the linear networks into the social space.”
The marketing for Alone Together also leans heavily into social and digital platforms to get the word out. The show’s two stars—Esther Povitsky and Benji Afalo—are both stand-up comics who bring along their own followings.
Alone Together is produced by the gang at Lonely Island, including Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. It’s about two average young adults who long to be part of Los Angeles’ culture of celebrity and beauty but don’t quite fit in. (Welcome to the club, Esther and Benji.)
In what’s turned into a sort of meta campaign, the two appear on social media—YouTube, Twitter, Insta, etc.—complaining about how Freeform won’t spend any money to market the show. If that situation had come up within the world of the show, the fictional network also would be unlikely to spend money on the duo, says Melton. So they start a crowd-funding campaign to buy themselves some marketing.
Along the way, they also sneakily provide some marketing for some of Freeform’s other shows. (We’re looking at you, Pretty Little Liars.)
They also took to Twitter. Melton promised the pair that if they could accrue 10,000 tweets, they could get a billboard in Hollywood.
“Esther and Benji came to me and said ‘we want to do this whole bit about how the network doesn’t like us enough to spend money on us,’” says Melton.
They managed to secure the tweets—and the billboard.
To kick off the show, Esther and Benji will host a New Year’s Day comedy movie marathon on Freeform tagged “Hungover Together.” During that event, they will tell the audience that the pilot episode of the show is available across all of Freeform’s streaming outlets for viewers who want to take a look, as well as riff on the movies.
Alone Together officially premieres on Freeform on Wednesday, Jan. 10, at 8:30 p.m.
PromaxBDA Editorial Director Paige Albiniak contributed to this story.
[Images courtesy of Disney-ABC]
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