Cross-Promoting True Blood – Blog Assignment #5

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The hit television series True Blood is a quirky, seductive vampire fantasy—ideal for a unique cross-promotion campaign. Such a campaign already exists to some degree: the most interesting approach is undoubtedly a real “Tru Blood” beverage modeled after the synthetic blood shake imbibed by the vamps on the show. But the unusual and expansive True Blood universe could allow for an even more immersive and impressive multi-media promotional campaign.

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According to IMDB, True Blood is produced by HBO and Your Face Goes Here Entertainment. The show airs in the US on the HBO pay-cable channel.

Your Face Goes Here Entertainment is the production company owned by the show’s Executive Producer and Creator Alan Ball. So the company in charge of marketing and distributing the show to US audiences is HBO.

HBO is owned by the massive media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Time Warner Inc. owns over 250 media companies, including cable television channels HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, and TCM, film and television production and distribution companies under the Warner Bros., Picturehouse, New Line, and HBO Films labels, magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Life & Style, In Style, and Entertainment Weekly, online services such as AOL, Netscape, and part of Amazon.com, and even a baseball team with the Atlanta Braves.

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Because HBO is a subscription cable service, a marketing campaign for True Blood cannot focus solely on enticing more viewers. Even if interest spikes, those without HBO will still be unable to see the show. Therefore, the campaign must convince people to subscribe to HBO in order to watch True Blood.

This seems like a hefty task indeed. How can a show’s buzz and popularity grow to such heights that consumers will cough up a sizable monthly fee just to see it? How can Time Warner spin True Blood as something that cannot be substituted by anything offered via the major broadcast networks or even basic cable?

My campaign would take a four step approach:

  1. Heavy Promotion
  2. The Bait
  3. The Power Play
  4. The Switch

A “bait and switch” technique is typically regarded as a scam, but rest assured—in this campaign, all of the cards are on the table.


1. Heavy Promotion

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During this phase, True Blood is heavily promoted across the entire spectrum of Time Warner media holdings in order to generate massive interest and curiosity.

People tune in to True Blood for its supernatural escapism, boundary-pushing explicitness, sweeping Gothic romanticism, and provocative Vampire lore. The show crosses into tacky, campy, and tasteless territory, so a promotional effort with the same spirit would be appropriate.

The show is promoted using both classic and covert methods.

CLASSIC…

Commercials for the show play on Time Warner’s various TV holdings. On CNN, commercials are shown that would appeal to a more educated, culturally aware audience, emphasizing a liberal mindset, high intellect, and provocative intrigue. On TNT, the show’s dramatic intensity, supernatural suspense, action, and sweeping romantic overtones are highlighted. On TBS, emphasis is placed on the show’s streak of dark humor and abundance of quirk. TCM (Turner Classic Movies) runs commercials that portray a timeless Gothic romance, noir dramatics, and a sweeping epic Civil War-styled deep South setting and artistry. The trashier, explicit, party-animal wild side of the show is presented on the younger-skewing CW broadcast network.

Previews for the show run before Warner Bros., New Line, and Picturehouse feature films. The previews take on a cinematic tone, focusing on the expansiveness and grandeur of the True Blood universe, creating a trailer indistinguishable from that of a movie.

Print ads are specifically tailored to appeal to the readers of each subsidiary publication. In Time, ads are more artistic and poetically designed with appealing imagery and the allurement of the unknown. Sports Illustrated focuses on the sexual appeal of the show’s female characters, especially the petite and dainty Anna Paquin in nearly-naked form—plus the insinuation of total exposure for those who tune in. The show’s decadent artistic palette, gorgeous set designs, and seductive sense of fashion are played up for In Style.

COVERT…

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Covert advertising is accomplished by manufacturing news and stories that shine a light on the show without directly promoting it.

Drum up some controversy– perhaps that espoused co-stars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are on the rocks, or that Anna Paquin is cheating with her other co-star Alexander Skarsgård. Who doesn’t love a good “showmance” love-triangle?

The rumors get front cover placement in subsidiary gossip magazines People and Life & Style.

Now for some more controversy. CNN runs a feature on conservative and religious groups opposing and protesting the series’ values. Word “leaks” that the new season will feature even more contentious topics– maybe a team of vampires offer abortion services to women and then feast on the unborn fetuses. Panels on CNN debate the right to free speech versus the values of censorship in relation to these topics.

Feature stories and programs run on other media outlets. TNT plays a half-hour “behind-the-scenes” look at the making of the True Blood world. TCM finds connections between the show’s central romance and Golden-Age Hollywood film pairings. Also on TCM, a history of the vampire in film and television and how True Blood compares.

New social networking technologies are used to spread celebrity endorsements. Famous figures looking for publicity for their own projects can “tweet” on Twitter or post a Facebook update about their enthusiasm and excitement for the show. In exchange, they get a well-placed mention in People magazine.

The stars of True Blood also make recognizable cameo appearances in Warner Bros. films. In these cameo moments, the present film characters allude to the fact that they appear on True Blood. For example, a character might ask Stephen Moyer if he should be standing in the sun. Moyer would wonder if the character thinks he’s a vampire and might catch on fire or something along those lines. The character then responds awkwardly with a warning about UV damage and the importance of sunscreen.

2. The Bait

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Now that the show is garnering buzz on many fronts, it’s time to entice consumers to sign up for the HBO service. This is “the bait”– five weeks of full HBO service (one week before the premiere of True Blood‘s next season, plus four weeks into the season) at a ridiculously low price: $4.99, or less than $1.00 per week.

Those who show their support for True Blood elsewhere are offered the same package at only $.99. This discounted offer is available with the purchase of the “Tru Blood” beverage. “Fans” of the show’s Facebook page may submit entries into True Blood-themed contests (short stories, digital collages, teleplay segments, drawings, slogans, etc.), and the winners also nab the discounted rate.

One hundred HBO subscribers (new or old, as to not alienate longtime HBO supporters) will receive the chance to appear on an actual episode of True Blood. Winners will spend a day on the set and receive hair and makeup treatment to appear in a zombie mosh-pit. Travel arrangements will not be provided, though discounted rates from partnered airline and hotel companies will be available.

The $4.99 package and the various interactive opportunities are heavily promoted across all media fronts, integrated into advertisements already circulating. CNN runs a story on the unprecedented promotion and the anticipated growing resistance from conservative and religious demonstrators.

Celebrities who tweet or talk about the HBO subscription deal continue to receive favorable coverage in People and Life & Style magazines.

Two weeks before the service is set to be offered, the price of the package is increased to $6.99 to instill urgency and regret in those who did not take advantage of the cheaper initial price.

A few days before the show’s season premiere, rave reviews are printed in subsidiary publications: typical reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Life & Style, and People, a longer review examining the social implications of the series in Time, a more sexually-focused review in Sports Illustrated, and a spotlight on the fashion and artistic design for In Style.

CNN airs a negative review, and word “gets out” that the Time Warner brass are “furious” that their own subsidiary would turn on its parent company. The negative review places heavy focus on the explicitness and even depravity of the show and its themes. Other commentators more casually suggest that they saw it and quite liked it.

3. The Power Play

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After HBO service is activated for new subscribers, the $6.99 price offer remains in effect (for increasingly fewer days of service) until the end of the promotion.

During the True Blood season premiere, repeat programming runs on CNN, TNT, TBS, TCM, the CW, and other Time Warner-owned and controlled networks to reduce competition.

Advertising now shifts focus from True Blood to HBO as an entire network. All HBO original programming receives massive exposure on Time Warner television channels, publications, and films. New subscribers are urged to take advantage of the entire HBO experience– original shows, exclusive movies, online content, behind-the-scenes looks at upcoming theatrical releases, and half-priced tickets to HBO, Warner Bros., Picturehouse, and New Line films released in theaters.

4. The Switch

In accordance with the terms of the original offer, after five weeks, all new subscribers are converted to regular HBO subscribers. The price of the service increases to regularly reduced prices, and service is maintained for all who subscribed during the True Blood promotion. Unless the consumer calls to specifically cancel HBO service, they are now full HBO subscribers.

Advertising efforts are reduced to more typical levels, while HBO continues to offer a slate of original programming opportunities (and, not to mention, the remainder of the new season of True Blood) to convince consumers to continue their subscriptions.


With this campaign, not only does True Blood become “must-see” television, but the entire HBO network becomes a “must-have” service.

And all of this under the umbrella of the massive Time Warner Inc. media conglomerate.

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~ by Adam Mehring on October 21, 2009.

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