Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I guess the train didn't help

On Monday, I talked about using social media and search to track the value of an event, focusing on a vintage subway train promotion by HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”  Today, I read that the premiere actually had a disappointing rating--2.9 million viewers, down 8% from an average rating of 3.2 million viewers per episode in season one.  Perhaps even more discouragingly, 40% fewer people watched this year’s season premiere than last year’s series premiere.  No word on whether the train helped or not.

What’s a marketer to do?

I happen to enjoy the show, which depicts the lives and loves of crooked politicians, gangsters and bootleggers in Prohibition-era Atlantic City.  Thus I have a personal interest in seeing it do well.  If I were promoting the show, here’s what I’d think about:

  • Speakeasies.  Why doesn’t HBO run pop-up speakeasies in key markets?  New York had a fine speak of it’s own, Chumley’s, until the building that housed it suffered structural problems.  With the holidays coming, we’ll see no end of pop-up stores.  Wouldn’t you rather have a drink?

    As with the train promotion, HBO would have to find alternate means for measuring success.  However, unlike the train, it would be easier to distribute flyers and such that could point visitors to online resources that enable tracking (sweepstakes, video previews, etc.).

  • Cross-promotion idea #1: booze.  Mainstream liquor marketers, the Guinesses and Bacardis of the world, steer very clear of Prohibition, despite the fact that many businesses of the time participated in bootlegging (disclosure: my grandmother kept the books for Schenley Liquors, who kept detailed records through Prohibition).  Still, at least one brash liquor marketer must see the value in tying into the era that made liquor look glamorous.

  • Cross-promotion idea #2: social gaming.  You know how fantasy football players tend to watch the games more closely than other fans?  I wonder if people who play gangster-type games, such as Zynga’s Mafia Wars, might prove to be a fertile audience.  Why doesn’t HBO sponsor the game and offer gamers exclusive content?

What would you do if you were a marketer at HBO?  Put something in the comments if you have an idea.


  1. Ben,

    Long time listener, first time caller. I like the ideas (what else is new?) but I think you walk a dicey line, even for premium cable channels like HBO, when you start looking towards speakeasies and booze. There's a reason tv shows watch the connection they draw as it leads to liability, nervousness, PR disaster potential if someone DUIs, is a life-long drunk, or generally does something stupid after interacting with the (admittedly right-on) show tie-in.

    One of the things that's great about the show is the rampant politics, backstabbing, and "game" that is the scramble for power and money. I love the of the Mafia Wars-style casual game, great extension, and you can deliver timed events concurrently with developments on the show - hence a draw to tune in and capitalize on your knowledge in-game.

    Here's my pitch for the network in supporting the show/season:
    1. Mock Prohibition protests (event-based marketing) - get a little history learn on by suffragettes picketing to ban the "liquid devil" - period costumes and actors are great to drum a little press up.
    2. Publish fake Visitors guides to Prohibition-era Atlantic City, as depicted on the show. Distribute in bars or via vagrants in the streets.
    3. Get Buscemi to visit every talk show host in the country, ignore the interview, throw those crazy eyes at the camera for 90 seconds straight, get up, leave. I'd be haunted by that enough to tune in.

    Aside from number three, the idea is to continue the story, and extend into people's lives in a manner that pleases, but doesn't get overly cheesy - the protests get close, but perhaps the visitors guides are a usable piece of collateral.

    We could do this all day - what do you like for:
    1. Game
    2. Campaign
    3. Wacky Idea?


  2. Thanks, Nick. I love the fake visitor's guide, especially if you can get the Governor to tell people "Get the hell of the Atlantic City Beach!"