How CBS’s Racy Campaign Got Bull Off to a Big Start and Huge Ratings

Network’s double entendre slogan titillated viewers

CBS' provocative campaign for Bull even got the attention of rival networks' late-night hosts.
CBS

In New York and Los Angeles, it was impossible to escape the billboards for that high-profile new entertainment project featuring an attractive, successful entrepreneur and the suggestive slogan, “He’ll get you off.”

No, it wasn’t the campaign for this weekend’s Fifty Shades Darker, but a far less likely program: Bull, CBS’s freshman procedural drama starring Michael Weatherly as a psychologist who runs a trial consulting firm that helps influence the jurors on his client’s cases. (The character is based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s early work in the field.)

The TV season’s most provocative campaign so far, which successfully launched the most-watched freshman series in terms of total viewers, was much racier than one would have expected from a CBS show. “And that worked in our favor,” said George Schweitzer, president of CBS Marketing Group.

“We look at hundreds of ideas for any new show, and I’ve seen a lot of bad ones and a lot of good ones,” said Schweitzer. “When it was presented to me by our group, it just jumped out. How can you not respond to that?”

But even Schweitzer wasn’t sure at first that he would be able to use the slogan.

"When your marketing becomes content, that is the jackpot."
George Schweitzer, president of CBS Marketing Group

“There was the moment of, hmm, do we think we can get away with this?” said Schweitzer. While CBS higher-ups keep a close eye on the network’s messaging, Schweitzer said he “never heard a word” of concern about the Bull campaign. “Everyone saw it, and everyone had the same reaction,” he said. The show’s producers gave their approval as well.

While the outdoor campaign ran only in New York and Los Angeles, the images and slogan were also a prominent part of Bull’s social-media campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “And then it took on a life of its own,” said Schweitzer.

When McGraw visited Jimmy Kimmel Live in September, Kimmel displayed one of the Bull billboards and talked with him about the slogan. He asked McGraw, “Is that based on a real-life event? Did Steven Spielberg [one of the show’s executive producers] approve this catch phrase?” McGraw’s reply: “Pretty clever, don’t you think?”

“When your marketing becomes content, that is the jackpot,” said Schweitzer. “The fact that it went viral, that it was on our competitors’ late-night shows, that it took on a life of it’s own—that’s pure!”

The campaign helped drive 15.6 million viewers to the show’s premiere, which increased to 20.5 million in live-plus-7. Halfway through the season, Bull continues to be the most-watched new show in total viewers (and No. 5 in total viewers among all broadcast shows), averaging 16.2 million per episode in Nielsen’s most current ratings. In the 18-49 demo, however, its 2.4 season average is dwarfed by This Is Us’ robust 4.4.

As Bull’s marketing campaign evolves, CBS is no longer featuring the “He’ll get you off” slogan. And don’t expect the network to suddenly incorporate racier messaging in its future marketing. “We will continue to look for things that will get attention. That does not mean we widen the parameters of good taste,” said Schweitzer.

“We are not now in this mad hunt for provocative [marketing]: ‘Let’s find things we can say that are double entendres!’ We’re looking for stuff that is going to get attention, no matter what it is, because we have to. The field is so horizontal now; it’s so spread out,” he said. “Our advantage is voice. We have a loud voice on CBS. But creatively, we’re just looking for what will make a difference.”