Since 2013, FX has spent the beginning of each year launching a new season of its drama The Americans, which stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as Russian spies masquerading as a suburban D.C. family in the 1980s. But tonight’s Season 5 premiere of TV’s best series comes as the topic of U.S.-Russian relations and espionage has become astonishingly relevant again.
However, FX’s marketing team didn’t consider leaning into current events with this season’s Americans campaign. “It didn’t influence us, because it was more like two things set out on a road, and you had no idea that those roads would cross years in the future,” said Stephanie Gibbons, president, marketing, digital media marketing and on-air promotions for FX Networks. “They did, but it was more a happenstance of the landscape versus an engineering feat. It felt random, and we decided we were just going to stick with the plan and let the series be our guide.”
That’s the same approach showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields took in crafting the new season of their suddenly prescient series. “We’ve been practicing this for years in all areas. Anytime anything felt too self-conscious that the writer from the future was coming back into the ’80s, we became excellent at blocking that out. In a way, that was like training for this because this was the ultimate temptation, and we had become black belts in stopping that,” said Weisberg of the incessant U.S.-Russia headlines. “So it was just reflexive—keep it out, 100 percent.”
Gibbons’ Season 5 marketing campaign for The Americans is a continuation of what she started four years ago—which is shaped and inspired by the drama’s Russian roots—and one that has evolved with each season of show. “Like most things in life, you can start out with a very black-and-white notion of right and wrong. But once you begin living, then experience and reality play an equal, if not larger, role in the decisions you make and your life starts forming itself and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said. “So we wanted to start out earlier with that black-and-white literalism, but after they began actually doing what they were supposed to do, the rules get a little grayer and the lines get a little more blurred.”
When designing the key art, which forms the marketing centerpiece, for each season of The Americans, Gibbons and her team “go through hundreds of iterations,” said Fields. “They work on those creations with the obsession that we work on the show, and that’s really important.”
Gibbons spoke to Adweek about all five seasons of Americans key art and her team’s use of Russian influences in each year’s design:
Season 1 (2013)
To sell the show’s premise in the first season, two spies assigned to live as husband and wife who slowly begin to fall for one another even as Rhys is seduced by U.S. culture, Gibbons was influenced by constructivism, which originated in Russia a century ago.
“We really liked this idea of these two people who have been thrown together at the beginning, where there’s less of an emotional connection and there’s more of the connection of duty and cause,” said Gibbons. “We wanted to use that constructivist approach. It calls you to attention, but it’s also very constrained and rigid. You have the machine aesthetic.”
In the key art, she said, “we liked the idea of these two people being vessels.”
“They were in service to a greater good, and them joining together was a means to a greater end,” she said. “They’re overlapping, but you notice they’re not touching in an emotional way. And the guns are over their heart for a reason, saying that they’re pledging allegiance of every part of them–their minds, their bodies, their souls—to this ideal. It’s very structured, very propagandist, very geometric and very literal.”
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