NBC’s Marlon may have aired its first season finale, but that doesn’t mean people are done watching, thanks in part to the success of NBC’s YouTube-based digital marketing campaign.

“People are still discovering the show, and we were able to lay the foundation for that,” said Jared Goldsmith, senior vice president, marketing strategy and digital, NBCUniversal.

With its Wednesday-night broadcasts this summer, Marlon scored as NBC’s second highest-rated new comedy of the 2016-2017 season.

Loosely inspired by the real life of star Marlon Wayans (In Living Color, Scary Movie), the family comedy centers on a loving but immature father committed to co-parenting his two kids with his very-together ex-wife. Wayans plays a rising YouTube influencer on the show, so marketers leaned into the platform to produce digital content that extended the on-air story of his character to ignite pre-premiere buzz that still continues to grow viewership.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to go deeper with our relationship with YouTube,” Goldsmith said.

NBC worked with Wayans to produce 10 custom vignettes for The Marlon Way that highlight the themes of each episode, and also partnered with three YouTube creators to microtarget demographics within the African American audience.

In The Marlon Way custom clips, Wayans addresses such topics that range from the importance of traditions and setting boundaries; to promoting his black noise machine meant to “urbanize the sleeping experience” with all the soothing sounds of the ghetto (sometimes waves and wind chimes just don’t cut it); and tips on mastering the sexy R&B voice (which makes anything sound better).

NBC also worked with three YouTube creators to help micro-target its African American audience.

Jay Versace, a young comedian with an active millennial following, dressed up as his grandma for a funny awkward interview of Wayans.

Shameless Maya, a beauty and fashion vlogger with a highlight engage female audience, filmed a hilarious version of a Hip Hop Whisper Challenge with Wayans that featured anxiety-filled answers and on-screen chemistry with the star.

And major YouTube comedian DeStorm, who’s in-your-face content and male following was seen as a good fit for Marlon, engaged in a discussion with Wayans about the pressures and challenges of being a movie-and-television star versus a social-media star.

“It was clear the content we were putting out there was resonating with our fan base,” Goldsmith said. “It led to both live tune-in as well as delayed viewership, which we’re still driving.”

While the campaign was successful in its goal of reaching younger viewers, the content was first and foremost driven by the desire to “create something that felt native and organic to the platform, and highlighted what’s great about Marlon,” Goldsmith said.

When it came to YouTube collaborators, NBC considered its target demographic, but focused primarily on working with influencers that would connect well with Wayans and honestly enjoy the show.

“Jay Versace was a big fan,” Goldsmith said. “You love to see that initial enthusiasm. You want that authenticity, and something that’s going to feel genuine and not forced.”

In this way, NBC was able to connect more directly with fans and display the comedic style and point of view of Marlon in a way that created an accessible entry point into the show for a relevant audience.

The content also rolled out in tailored forms for multiple platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“Ultimately we’re trying to drive viewership of the show, but we’re also looking at all the digital metrics: the views, the interactions, the likes, the comments, the enthusiasm, and the people who are sharing the content, and just trying to see if we connected with the audience and created some interest and passion.”

NBC is also paying close attention to the quantifiable and quantitative measurements and real-time data from different touch points including social analytics, ratings performance and creative testing.

“Anything we can learn about the audience and messaging is absolutely coming back into the process,” Goldsmith said of the Marlon marketing strategy.

NBC worked with YouTube Space LA for the production of The Marlon Way and YouTube collaboration videos, and that partnership helped in gathering audience data, allowing NBC to drill down beyond traditional metrics and retarget those who showed genuine interest in the show or have liked or watched similar content.

Since then, Goldsmith has been focused on what people are really responding to about the show.

“Marlon is funny, but there’s also real heart to this show,” he said. It’s been encouraging and rewarding to see a new comedy get off the ground the way Marlon has in terms of performance, he said, and the success lies in delivering what viewers want to watch.

“You always have to be listening,” Goldsmith said. “You can go in with preconceived notions, but we have a lot of tools for the audience to give you feedback, and you should always be open to seeing what they’re responding to.”


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