Fox's Bold 'New Girl' Launch Proves Sampling Can Lead to Ratings Success


Thinking outside the box: taking a gamble on a non-traditional approach to TV marketing can have a huge payback.

Nothing gladdens my heart on an autumnal day like a freebie. Oh, the joy of a complimentary thimble of fruit smoothie! The unexpected treat of a gratis muesli bar! I must either be the kind of admirable person who takes pleasure in small things, or a proper cheapskate. As I merrily picked up some dog biscuits recently, I fear it’s the latter (I don’t have a dog).

Even for consumers less enthused than me, sampling remains one of the most effective ways of getting people to consider buying your product. It’s high up on FMCG marketers’ list of tactics, usually in conjunction with big ticket ad campaigns.

But it’s not something we usually see in TV. In a world where newness is key and pirating rife, channels keep fresh content highly-guarded, releasing it to only a chosen few critics and opinion formers. The mere idea of “giving it out” early seems to go against everything we know and trust.

Yet that’s exactly what Fox just did in the US with a pilot for their new comedy New Girl, mentioned in last week’s blog (What Burberry Can Teach Broadcasters). They decided to combat lagging awareness by placing the show on iTunes, VOD, aeroplanes, Hulu and hotels for two weeks ahead of the premiere, accompanied by marketing on those channels. It worked well – way too well, it seemed, as more than 2 million people watched ahead of the premiere. The marketing team braced themselves for a short term drop in predicted first-night ratings, in exchange for a better series average. In fact, the show did extraordinarily well, beating the likes of Glee and X-Factor on its first night.

This “Freemiere” screening (see what I did there?) worked in myriad ways – winning awareness, creating buzz, building series loyalty and making Fox look open and generous. It does require a certain set of circumstances – the right talent, a long series and a show worth watching again. Not to mention guts: you need to be sure the show itself will be the best way of getting people to watch again. As planning pioneer Bill Bernbach said “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

If it’s good, however, payback can be huge. New Girl got 10 million viewers. And I may not have bought any dog biscuits yet but I’m a sucker for those smoothies.

Susie Braun, Strategic Planner