When FX Networks secured the off-net rights to The Simpsons, it was far and away the largest investment in an acquired property in the history of television. When the decision was then made to commemorate the occasion by airing every single Simpsons episode ever made on FXX, back to back, over one sustained 12-day stint that would break the Guinness World Record for longest televised marathon, one marketing objective materialized that was far and away more important than all the rest.
“Our first goal was to just do everything we could do to not screw it up,” said Sally Daws, SVP of marketing and digital media marketing for FX Networks. Speaking Thursday at PromaxBDA: The Conference 2015, Daws was joined by her fellow executives on the network’s in-house marketing team for a comprehensive breakdown on how they not only avoided not screwing it up, but launched one of the biggest TV events of 2014 while offering a “multi-generational fan base new ways of experiencing one of the world’s most iconic brands,” said John Varvi, SVP of on-air promotions at FX Networks.
In planning the elements of what we now know as “Every. Simpsons. Ever.” the FX team was determined “to celebrate, not duplicate everything that had come before,” said Daws. A tall order considering what had come before encompassed, at the time, 526 episodes, a legacy of its own amazing marketing, and more than 25 years of game-changing comedy. And, whatever they came up with, it “had to match up with the youthful brand for FX and FXX that we’d already created,” said Todd Heughens, SVP of print design for FX Networks
The way FX Networks could see to recast something so permanently emblazoned on the American collective consciousness involved a literal deconstruction of it, followed by a reconstruction into something new. And because the brand has become more than an entertainment but a kind of pop culture art form unto itself, Heughens’ department took a fine art approach itself as it pursued the stated objective.
With the printed effort, deconstruction was joined by abstraction to be the “cornerstones of the campaign,” said Steve Viola, SVP of broadcast design for FX Networks. To that end, the on-air effort became a “push toward potential polar opposites… toward either absolute minimalism or complete bombardment.” To that end, FX sent out a call to its external creative partners to “built animated graphic IDs that would serve as foundation of the on-air graphics campaign,” said Viola.
Going even further down the road of abstraction, the team produced a series of FXX character IDs that “literally merged deconstructed the Simpsons brand with FXX branding,” said Viola.
Interestingly, much of this was developed before Simpsons creators Matt Groehning and James L. Brooks at Gracie Films had signed off on FX’s marketing vision. In a strange role reversal, FX became an agency of sorts, and spent 16 weeks preparing to pitch their ideas to their “client,” the masterminds behind The Simpsons. The pitch included three ideas for large-scale promos that could serve as anthem spots for the marathon, including one titled “We’re All Gonna Die” that Varvi described as a “risky spot” i.e. one that had little chance of being accepted. Of course this spot, fueled by an apocalyptic vision of what a Simpsons marathon could do to humanity, was the one that Grohening and Brooks loved:
That promo was the launching point for what Ethan Adelman, VP of on-air promotions, referred to technically as a “shit-storm of spots” that played during the 12 days of the marathon. The marathon also served as a deep jumping-off point for a variety of other platforms, including a San Diego Comic Con installation that occurred in and around a 26-foot-tall dome of Homer’s head, and a wonderfully weird Labor Day promotion that saw the three-eyed fish Blinky wash up on beaches around the country.
And then there was Simpsons World, FXX’s digital destination for all things Simpsons. With an episode constantly playing at the entrance, the offering is like a Simpsons marathon that never ends, but one that is interactive, with curated episodic playlists, a feed of Simpsons-related news and activity, recommendations for other episodes based on what you’ve watched, and a randomizer button starring Mr. Teeny.
Looking back during the session, it was clear that “Every. Simpsons. Ever.” was an overwhelming marketing endeavor for all involved, but one that was knocked out of the park, and that resulted in the launch of an event that changed the game for the struggling, fledgling FXX. “Today,” concluded Varvi, “FXX more than doubles its year-ago delivery.”