Fox's New Promo Tactic: Blink And You'll Miss It

by , Aug 22, 2006, 8:01 AM
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As Fox begins its campaign for another year atop the 18-to-49 ratings race, the network is pulling out all the promotional stops. Tactics range from a new Clear Channel Radio initiative to targeting Amazon.com customers to capitalizing on "American Idol"--four months before the blockbuster returns.

To drive viewers to the premieres of "Prison Break" (last night), "House" (Sept. 5), and "The Simpsons" (Sept. 10), Fox is the first marketer to test Clear Channel's new super-snappy one- to three-second spots, known as "blinks." The network will run two-second spots every hour from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the day of the shows' respective premieres. Clear Channel's 1,100 stations nationwide will be used, allowing for 45,000 spots over the three days.

Clear Channel bills the "blinks" as the shortest spots in radio, and has been pitching them to Madison Avenue since June. The spots are an outgrowth of the company's 2-year-old "less is more" strategy to improve the listener experience by limiting the number of spots each hour--and allowing Clear Channel to charge more for them.

In the Fox case and others likely to come, the "blinks" will run in conjunction with a longer 60-second spot in the same hour, giving the network the opportunity to promote its programming in a more traditional fashion. Fox will use these to plug the lineup for the coming evening. For example, on Sept. 5, the spot will tout the series premiere of new drama "Standoff" and return of emerging hit "House."

Kaye Bentley, senior vice president at Fox, says the network was excited by the Clear Channel opportunity to experiment with the new "blink" format, particularly with "The Simpsons." "It just works so well," she says. "You can use the music and 'Doh!' You have so many options creatively."

Bentley said the flash spots have some natural limitations, and are best used for returning shows with established brands.

As a network, Fox has momentum. It ended last season as the leader in the coveted 18-to-49 demo in regularly scheduled programming--on the backs of a 13 percent increase over 2004-05. But the network faces a unique challenge in launching its fall season. The network must build loyal viewership in late August and September that won't stray once its prime-time lineup is dominated by the baseball playoffs in October.

Another second strategy to outfox competitors in building buzz for the new season: a multi-tiered initiative with Amazon.com. One marketing tool is identifying a series of crime novels that might appeal to the prospective audience for new drama "Vanished"--which focuses on the search for the missing wife of a Georgia senator--then sending them a DVD of the premiere episode along with their purchase. Those individuals will also receive a targeted email hoping to drive tune-in. (60,000 DVDs will be sent out.)

Similarly, Amazon customers ordering the first season DVD for "Prison Break" will receive a free copy of the season opener.

"They've got an untapped audience, and can communicate in a targeted way with entertainment consumers," Bentley says.

Another Amazon tie-in: on the day when shows premiere, Fox is running banner ads on the home page with links to preview videos. It is essentially buying out the ad inventory on IMDB.com, the entertainment site owned by Amazon. Bentley calls it a "mini-takeover."

But hands-down, Fox' biggest promotional platform is cultural phenomenon "American Idol." On-air promos during the show hit 30 million viewers a night, no doubt helping to build interest in "House" and "24." Fox is dialing up its calling card to plug shows this fall, months before "Idol" returns.

As tens of thousands would-be Clarksons and Underwoods line up to audition for the show nationwide, Fox is handing out items they can use to prep for the stage--which also carry a plug for two of its new dramas. Compact mirrors tout "Vanished" and breath mints publicize "Standoff," a show about two members of the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit who are sleeping together.

Other Fox efforts to promote its new season include an eight-page custom-published "TV Guide" fall preview sent to radio DJs, "Wanted," wild postings in nine of the top-10 DMAs for "Prison Break," and billboards in mall kiosks.

The billboards, as well as other out-of-home ads, will focus on programs on two nights: Tuesday with "Standoff" and House," and Thursday with new comedy "'Til Death" starring Brad Garrett. Garrett's name and face recognition from his "Everybody Loves Raymond" tenure helps drive effectiveness, Bentley says. "He's a known property--just by looking at him, you know it's a comedy."

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