You know how the old psychological theory goes: Someone tells you not to think of a white bear, and then that's all you can think about.
To help promote its miniseries, Childhood's End, which premieres Monday night, Syfy is testing the phenomenon in the hopes it's all wrong. Using YouTube's TrueView skippable ad format—which allows viewers to clickthrough after five seconds—Syfy created three custom spots that implore viewers to watch the ads in full, telling them, "Don't skip the ad."
"We're getting somebody's attention because we're saying, 'I'm paying attention to you right now and what you're doing,'" Sara Moscowitz, Syfy's svp of brand and strategic marketing, told Adweek.
Based on Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 novel of the same name, Childhood's End centers on an ostensibly benevolent alien race that rules the earth. In one of the spots, Syfy incorporates that theme by telling viewers (within the first few seconds) they don't need to be afraid of the ad. In another, which you can see below, Syfy plays on viewers' familiarity with the actors by referencing their previous roles (Tywin Lannister, anyone?).
The third spot also plays on familiarity with the actors but in a more subtle way. It serves quick shots of all of them before showing footage from the new show. But the key, Moscowitz said, is that the ads aren't served to just anyone. Syfy worked with YouTube to ensure only a certain subset of viewers get to see the promos.
"We're targeting that very specifically to people who are fans of those other shows. ... They may not have ever considered Syfy before," Moscowitz said. Syfy went with the TrueView format because they only pay for users who actually watch the ads.
But isn't explicitly telling viewers not to skip ads only daring them to do just that and thus affirming the white bear problem?
No, argues Jen Duddy, Google's head of industry, media and entertainment. "It's actually helping people watch the ads. People are skipping it much less when you put a clever message in it," she said.
For Syfy, the custom spots are the result of the network's visit to Google's BrandLab a few months ago. Moscowitz joined more than a dozen of her colleagues for a one-day workshop. "We had some really interesting new perspectives that came out of it," she said.
One thing that helped Syfy come up with its campaign for Childhood's End was learning that viewers prefer watching different types of content surrounding a show as opposed to just a trailer. "It just allowed us to be more creative with the types of content we're serving," Moscowitz said.
Syfy will use Childhood's End as the first part of its next major campaign—for The Magicians, which premieres Jan. 25. The network said yesterday it would air a commercial-free version of the new series' first episode following the Childhood's End finale on Dec. 16.
"The landscape is incredibly competitve in television," Duddy said. "All of our clients are facing the same challenge of trying to drive tune-in and finding new audiences."