July 26th, 2011
04:31 PM ET
It might still be summer, but a lot of people are already looking forward to the fall… and not just because we know there will be an NFL season now.
TV junkies are eagerly anticipating a different season: the lineup of new shows set to premiere over the next several months. Networks are trying to get a head start on building audiences, and it seems you can’t escape trailers or promos that tell you Show X is the one you don’t want to miss.
What keeps standing out to me is HOW these promotions are being run. Advertisers often have, at best, 30 seconds to present a new show in a way that will intrigue people enough to watch it. But it might take less than five seconds for us to decide a show isn’t worth our time.
That’s a pretty tough hurdle to get over for a marketing campaign, and it seems like lots of show promotions are trying to get around it by designing their campaigns around connections to already popular shows.
Basically, it’s the old standby: If you like X, you’ll love Y! In the past, voiceovers would use that exact phrase. Now, advertisers are a little more subtle about it. (Note that I said a "little" more subtle.)
If you’ve seen a promo for the upcoming “The Playboy Club” (and if you’ve watched more than 10 continuous minutes of NBC, you have), you likely have no idea what the show is really about. But what you DO know is that it’s set in the 1960s, and the same goes for ABC’s “Pan Am.”
You know what other show is set in the ‘60s? AMC’s critically acclaimed, constantly buzzed about and multiple award-winning series “Mad Men.” Make no mistake about it, the promoters for “Playboy Club” and “Pan Am” want you to make that connection: Everyone loves THIS show set in the ‘60s, so you won’t want to miss OUR show set in the ‘60s!
Will either of these shows be the next “Mad Men”? Who knows? Who cares? The point is, the promoters are hoping to sucker you into watching based strictly on the programs all being set in the same time period.
NBC’s upcoming season is apparently rife with this thinking. For example, the midseason show “Smash” - count the number of sentences it takes before it’s referred to as the next “Glee.”
And at the most basic level, this is how audiences are pulled into multi-series procedurals without even thinking about it. “CSI” and “CSI: Miami” share similar titles, so people who enjoy one are ingrained to assume they’ll like the other, even if the casts and tones of the shows are significantly different.
But there’s an inherent problem to this marketing approach. If you convince an audience to watch a show by comparing it to an existing, beloved series, and then the new show doesn’t live up to expectations, the backlash can be even worse.
I’ve seen the “Pan Am” pilot. It has some kinks it needs to work out, but it’s not a bad show. Is it the next “Mad Men”? No, probably not. But neither is virtually anything that’s going to premiere this fall. And setting that as the bar in an effort to get viewers does a disservice to the show that’s trying to be promoted.
Yes, it’s difficult to get people to watch something new. It’s even harder to do that without resorting to trickery, surface-level connections or outright misdirection. But shows deserve to be promoted based on their own merits and their own identities. You might not get as many viewers, but the ones you do get are likely to be a lot more satisfied with what they’re watching.
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