Twitter's effectiveness as a marketing tool is still up for debate -- but don't tell that to Homer Simpson or Jay Leno. Along with dozens of other TV characters and personalities on a variety of networks, their shows are being actively promoted on the short-form chat network, part of a drive by the major broadcasters to generate awareness and buzz for their new fall schedules.
According to network execs, word of mouth is the second most-effective driver of program sampling (the first is the on-air promotional spot). So, this year, they've stepped up their use of online advertising, grassroots events, and out-of-home venues and stunts.
Michael Benson, co-evp, marketing at ABC Entertainment Group, noted, "The way word of mouth spreads is evolving. ... We're trying to utilize all sorts of digital platforms [to] find the audiences that will watch specific programs. And there's no cookie-cutter formula; every show is different."
NBC is using Facebook as the platform to stream a full episode, pre-launch, of its upcoming new comedy Community, about the quirky characters at a community college. The catch: To view it, Facebook users have to send NBC promotional clips to 10 of their friends on the social network.
"Fans have to do a little recruiting for us," said John Miller, CMO of the NBC Universal Television Group. "This is sort of our own 'forced' word-of-mouth activity."
CBS is tapping nail salons in major markets, among other stunts, to promote Accidentally on Purpose with Jenna Elfman, who plays a film critic who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand. The salons are equipped with nail dryers embedded with video screens playing a clip of the show, and branded nail files.
This is the same network that, a few years back, stamped promo messages on eggs. "My attitude is, everything helps," said George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group. "We're in a mass business and we try to maximize reach and create word of mouth."
Three of the four major nets have each chosen one of its fall programs for an exceptionally hefty promotional push. NBC is pulling out all the stops for The Jay Leno Show, Fox is giving a huge push to Glee and ABC is focusing on its new drama, Flash Forward.
Benson said the new ABC sci-fi show was presented last month at Comic-Con, the convention for comic book enthusiasts. While the net won't stream shows before their broadcast debut for fear of diluting ratings, Benson hinted that there would be selective "community screenings. It's a balance of reaching the right people with a show that makes them want to go back for more."
For Leno's move to prime time on weeknights, the main promotional task, said Miller, is to remind viewers that his new show is at 10 p.m., and that it's a comedy alternative in a time period dominated by dramas.
While digital and other promotional platforms are growing in importance, network executives noted that their own airtime still accounts for between 85-90 percent of their fall campaign impressions. Each of the networks spends an additional $25-35 million on outside media to round out their campaigns, executives said.
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