20 Lessons from the TV Brand Builders (Part Two)


In our last post we summarized the first 6 of 20 key points from our new book The TV Brand Builders: How to win audiences and influence viewers, based on interviews with 50 leading practitioners of TV marketing, promotion and design across 8 countries. In part two we’ll look at highlights from chapters covering the marketing of TV comedy, entertainment, children’s programmes, factual and sport.

Based on our research and experience, comedy is the hardest of all genres to promote, but we were struck by some new trends emerging in comedy promotion, where the talent themselves are freed from the constraints of their show and allowed out into the real world to showcase themselves…to Be Funny.  So, for example, the team at Showtime’s House of Lies realised that they had a whole cast of genuinely funny people, so they put together a live tour of improv comedy as a promotional vehicle.  

Similarly, for NBC’s Undateable, Bill Lawrence the showrunner thought it would be a great ratings booster to go on a grass roots comedy promotional tour. This is something we hadn’t seen before in 20 years as a way of launching comedies and so lesson 7 is to take comedy on the road.

Lesson 8 is also inspired by the comedy genre:  sell shows with snackable content.  Last autumn, when there was a massive shuffling of the guard within the late night line-up in the US networks, the job of replacing the extremely popular Craig Ferguson on CBS’s The Late Late Show was given to someone largely unknown in the USA: British comedian James Corden. Corden and fellow exec producer Ben Winston are super smart: really the first generation of TV execs to get the power of social video as a marketing tool. And they realised that their audience was not an audience that would stay up to watch their show – between midnight 30 and one - it was an audience that consumed their TV in snack size over lunch the next day. So they formatted the entire show around sections that would be desirable in a YouTube environment. Content as marketing collateral.  Not just random clips of shows…properly thought through for a millennial audience.  Adele and Corden in Carpool Karaoke has a viewing audience as we write of over 90 million.

A natural follow-on point from the role that YouTube and video search must play in any marketing organisation is to talk about the particular challenge facing children’s brands and this leads to our 9th lesson:  go where kids go.  Children’s channels have to rethink marketing to reach their audience, and our work with brands like DreamWorks and CBBC over the last year has been a lot to do with strategic consultancy about commissioning and scheduling in the on demand, searchable, externally hosted free for all that is YouTube.  Subscriber numbers for well known brands’ YouTube channels (Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, even Disney) are currently dwarfed by sites like FunToyzCollector, stampylonghead and LittleBabyBum, so it’s time for kids’ TV brands to get on the front foot, both with marketing and distribution. 

Talking about getting on the front foot, it’s clear from our book research that marketing is taking a bigger and bigger role at the heart of TV organisations and the logical end point is lesson 10: the opportunity to refresh shows with marketing-led ideas.  An area that we talk about in the book being a particular promotional challenge is big glossy entertainment shows. Every year they come back and, give or take a new judge, there is nothing new to say. Well, in the US, they are starting to let marketing in on the formatting of shows, and nowhere is this more clear cut than in ABC’s blockbuster Dancing with the Stars. Every year the public get to vote off one couple per week by choosing their favourite dancers, so ABC thought…what if half way through the show we let the viewers decide on something more structural - who dances with who…and completely throw things up in the air.  Another great example is CBS’s Survivor, which successfully handed over the selection of the entire cast of one season to fans.  Programme making driven by marketing thinking.

Our next lesson is to work with the best collaborators.  We were struck by a presentation at the PromaxBDA conference in LA last year, when the superb FX Networks team talked about their extraordinary campaign or Every. Simpsons. Ever.  This was a massive stunt on FX’s sister channel FXX where, for the first time, every single Simpsons episode and film would be shown back to back…a mind blowing 552 shows continuously.  On one slide the FX team thanked the numerous external suppliers they worked with to deliver the campaign. They are unquestionably the best in-house marketing team there is, but it’s a sign of strength that they are confident enough to go outside for the best specialist thinking on any given brief.

Moving from comedy to factual, lesson 12 is to harness the power of ‘day and date’.  One of the biggest trends in global TV marketing over the past year or so, driven by the twin demands of global access to social networks and combatting piracy, has been the growth of so called ‘day and date’ launches, in which programmes air across the world on the same day, date, and in some cases at the same time.  In the factual world, where it is increasingly difficult to land ‘must see moments’ compared with sports or entertainment, for example, the sense that the world is watching is still a powerful one.  We talked to Liz Dolan, CMO of Fox International Channels, about the launch of Cosmos - A Spacetime Odyssey – which not only aired globally on the same day and date, it aired across the whole Fox and National Geographic family, simultaneously.  So, a huge positive in terms of giving an event status and grandeur, but that has to be weighed up against the fact that often local scheduling might see Skywire Live or T Rex Autopsy Live airing in some parts of the world in the middle of the night. 

Let’s end part two of this ’20 Lessons…’ blog post with what we consider to be the greatest campaign in the history of our industry:  EPSN’s This Is SportsCenter.  Created by the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy and now running for over 20 years  with over 400 spots, it illustrates perfectly our 13th lesson:  think like a sports fan.  The basic principle is a spoof observational documentary series set in the channel’s Connecticut headquarters, where sports stars work in mostly menial roles alongside the channel’s genuine presenters and backroom staff. Born out of a superbly simple manifesto pledge - ESPN isn’t a large network, it’s a huge sports fan - the campaign is structured to allow for constant refreshment and endless topicality. Furthermore, its speed and flexibility to respond allows scope to deal with the mood swings of those irrational and emotional fans.  
Here’s just one example.  Immediately after the 2015 Super Bowl social media exploded with reaction to one weird and particular thing - the dancing performance of one of Katy Perry’s backline from her half time show.  One of two dancers, dressed as sharks, was hopelessly out of time and living in their own happy space. Katy Perry’s ‘left shark’ quickly became a massive meme, so within a couple of days ESPN had a promo on air featuring two of their top SportsCenter anchors, dressed in the authentic costumes.  We won’t spoil the punchline for you.

In part three we’ll look at highlights from the final chapters of The TV Brand Builders covering social media and the future of TV marketing, including two final lessons drawn from the recent PromaxBDA Europe conference in Barcelona. 

Andy Bryant (Managing Director, Red Bee) and Charlie Mawer (Executive Creative Director, Red Bee)

The TV Brand Builders: How to win audiences and influence viewers by Andy Bryant and Charlie Mawer was published by Kogan Page on 3rd April 2016.  Buy a copy.