As TV channels face a daunting period of re-invention to accommodate a lack of live events, delays in location shoots and an absence of live studio audience shows, many broadcasters are turning to their archives to fill schedules, and to satisfy audiences who themselves are perhaps looking for something more familiar.
Some might add that, after years of spiraling numbers of new originations - remember that “have we reached peak TV?” question - this is a perfect moment for the viewer to catch up on missed gems.
For the entertainment marketing community this presents a new challenge, and one that perhaps many haven’t faced before: how do you market older material and still give it relevance and an urgency to tune in? At Red Bee we have worked extensively with broadcasters who rely heavily on re-run content, and have created whole brands like Dave and Gold that have owned second window material with a hugely distinctive voice. So, we thought we would share 12 ways in which we have tackled this particular promotional challenge.
1. SHOWCASE RANGE AND SCALE
To launch 20 seasons of Top Gear in the U.S. market with Discovery’s Motor Trend network, we found multiple ways of showing thematic links throughout hundreds of hours of content. We went from creating the world’s greatest road trip to celebrations of everything from sport in cars to blowing things up.
2. CREATE CONTEXT WITH ADDITIONAL MATERiAL
Several months after our global launch campaign for Netflix’s The Crown, we found new ways to engage audiences with the layered storytelling of the show by creating longer-form promotional content on social, using real-world archival footage and stills to give greater depth and context to the fictional characters and plots.
3. UMBRELLA PACKAGING
A clever way of getting an audience to reappraise disparate archive shows is to create an umbrella branding device: a thematic signpost that binds together a variety of genres into a coherent and memorable whole, like these examples for CBBC’s Shocktober and UKTV’s Christmas on Drama.
4. STOCK FOOTAGE AS A CONTEXTUAL DEVICE
Just because it is impossible to film any extra material to give a new contemporary context to an archival event, it shouldn’t hamper your creativity. For Gold, we launched a celebration of Monty Python’s final live appearances using stock footage to give scale and mock gravitas.
5. TAKE SOMETHING AWAY
Perhaps the best way to promote sporting archive right now is through a reminder of what the audience is missing. For Dave’s coverage of Red Bull’s X Fighters, we memorably removed one of the key elements of the sport to present it in a whole new light.
6. ENGAGE WITH THE CONTEMPORARY CULTURAL CONTEXT
Even if a show is from your archive, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a strong contemporary cultural hook to hang it on. For example, while most of the world is using the lockdown to devour Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, it might be the perfect moment to re-surface a dramatic take on the first of the trilogy.
7. APPLY YOUR DISTINCTIVE BRAND VOICE
Here, we’re delving into our own archive to unearth a Red Bee favorite. Most marketers have had the challenge of promoting a series that doesn’t feel entirely on brand, but sometimes the very act of celebrating the unusual fit can lead to something as wildly and joyously engaging as a season of Arnold Schwarzenegger films on the home of much-loved family comedy. (Political correctness warning: the puppies were deemed inoffensive back then).
8. REFRAME WITH A NEW CONTEXT
Sometimes a new message about a collection of seemingly disparate content could be enough to give a new context for viewers to reappraise your shows. While the following spots for BBC Drama were created as part of the marketing to launch a new year of titles, the act of headlining where the shows were created geographically—the North and Britain—gives a highly original take on a more traditional seasonal launch spot.
9. MUSIC HOLDS THE KEY
Music is often the first tool in the creative box for devising ways to cause reappraisal of content. When tasked with promoting hugely familiar imagery of African wildlife for the latest natural history series on the BBC, seeding the thought of imagining what it would be like actually to see these extraordinary creatures for the first time is a much bigger thought than just a beautiful soundtrack.
10. REFRAME WITH MESSAGE
Turner’s excellent but, sadly, short-lived FilmStruck was passionate about high-quality, influential films. Every film on the site was hand-picked for having made a genuine impact on an audience, society or culture. We developed our launch campaign strategy around those impactful moments in film with the brand line “Only great films leave you FilmStruck.” To turn that into an audience benefit we leant into the increasingly time-poor nature of viewers bombarded by rival OTT messages.
11. THE POWER OF THE WRITTEN WORD
As theaters and arts centers around the world uncover new ways to share their performance art through live streaming, it seems fitting to look back at this spot for Macbeth, which employs the written word, not just through the expertly-selected soundbites but with eye-catching typography that demands the viewer’s engagement.
12. CREATE A TREASURE HUNT
An engaging way of expanding audience engagement with established material is to turn every scene into a treasure hunt. Familiar moments need to be scrutinized with new focus when hidden hotspots will unlock additional material, as in this award-winning case-story for Sherlock.
While none of us can wait for a rapid return to the heady days of marketing box-fresh new TV shows, series, seasons and events, there’s still a huge range of creative opportunities to promote archive content until production workflows get back to something approaching pre-lockdown levels, as I hope these 12 examples show.
Charlie Mawer is executive creative director of London-based Red Bee Creative.