[vzaarthumb:839883]To promote the broadcast syndication launch of the Tina Fey sitcom, NBCU Domestic Television engaged DG Entertainment and 2C Media to help it create a promotion campaign that had a number of goals: to introduce the show to each station’s audience; to emphasize its sharp and funny inside view of the TV buiness; and develop special local appeal through a series of custom, personalized spots.
You’d think that promoting off-network sitcoms is an easier task than marketing original talk shows. Thanks to primetime exposure, the shows and their stars are already well known. The episodes are in the can, so there are few surprises and lots of great clips. But without a strong creative strategy, that same familiarity can breed contempt
“Stations have a lot invested in off-net sitcoms and they expect a big return,” says Donna Mills, SVP of marketing, communications and affiliate relations for NBCU Domestic Television. “The promotions can get stale if you don’t provide them with tons of spots.”
That’s just what NBCU did for 30 Rock, which launched last week in more than 99% of the country. But the on-air promotion began back in June, with a pair of thematic :30s that announced the show’s local debut and aimed to broaden its appeal by reminding viewers about its sharp and funny inside view of the TV biz.
By the end of August, local viewers had seen a wide range of promos that emphasized the warm-but-wacky relationships among the show’s lead characters and popular supporting players — for example Jane Krakowski’s crazed aging ingénue, Jenna Maroni. “We wanted to present them as relatable everyday people, but also showcase their insanity,” says Mills.
These spots were also available on the consumer website, 30rock5nightsaweek.com, along with a where-to-watch guide and an entry form viewers can fill out to enter a watch-to-win contest.
“We over-deliver,” says Mills. “Our strategy is to provide a wide array of tools and creative angles.” Some of that promotional punch is placed directly by NBCU, such as extensive radio, cable and outdoor ad buys in top 10 markets. Part of the campaign is a joint effort, such as this week’s launch of a “Live Like Jack Donaghy Sweepstakes.” Participating markets include Boston, Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore.
But one of the promotional goals is also the most elusive: creating special local appeal for an off-net sitcom. To help achieve this, NBCU has enlisted some outside specialists. DG Entertainment parsed every shot and soundbite from every 30 Rock episode into computer-indexed content management system, which lets stations build their own custom spots and sales promos. (More on this in a future column.)
Stations will receive several turnkey custom promos throughout the year, the first of these created by Miami-based 2C Media, which also produced many of the campaign launch spots. To make it easy for stations to countdown to 30 Rock’s debut, 2C customized a sequence wherein Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy blows take after take of a promo shoot. Standing next to an easel, Baldwin interacts with an off-screen announcer.
“Stations can replace the announcer with their own local voice,” says 2C president and creative director Chris Sloan. “They can also replace the graphics on the easel by using After Effects to add their station logo.”
In Tampa, Hearst indie WMOV took quick advantage of this flexible format. “Alec Baldwin’s comedic skills play just right in the spot,” says WMOV creative services director David Lawrence. “You end up with an effective spot with a great character and two distinct opportunities for customization.”
While syndicators usually take pains to avoid the appearance of favoritism, 30 Rock’s eponymous setting demanded at least one promo celebrating its many Manhattan locations for Fox’s WNYW New York. “There were so many New York-centric storylines to choose from,” says Sloan, but we didn’t want to rely only on sound bites and clips.” Instead, they created a graphic device instantly familiar to New Yorkers: an animated, three-dimensional subway map. “The spot airs only in New York,” says Sloan, although it’s a safe bet that the subway setting will also play in Philly, Boston and Washington.
If the 30 Rock campaign feels a little light on its Emmy-winning creator and star, Tina Fey, there’s a good reason — and it further highlights the special challenges of promoting off-net sitcoms. “We shot our scripted lines and custom tags before the show wrapped production last February — before most stations had locked in time periods for the show Since then, Fey was already at work on scripts for the 2011-12 primetime season of 30 Rock and, oh yes, giving birth to a second daughter. (Fey and her husband, 30 Rock theme composer Jeffrey Richmond, welcomed Penelope Athena on Aug. 13.) “Now that the show’s back in production we expect to shoot more promo lines and tags in October,” says Mills.
Meanwhile, co-star Baldwin has been available to stations for live satellite interviews, and NBCU has already prepared special combo promos for 30 Rock stations that also carry NBCU’s The Office, as well as for Fox affiliates broadcasting their network’s World Series coverage.
But 30 Rock presents NBCU with one final promotional challenge that’s both an obstacle and an asset: The show features some of the sharpest, smartest and fastest-paced dialog on TV. Not a problem, says Mills. “A cookie-cutter approach won’t work here. We wanted to sell it as unique and smart. But we were careful that the spots really explain what the show is all about.”