In Depth

ABC Hopes ‘Mole’ Isn’t Just a Blip

‘Flash Teases’ Get Stations, Viewers Talking About Show

If you blinked, you might have missed some of ABC’s recent marketing efforts on behalf of returning reality show “The Mole.”

And we’re not speaking metaphorically, either.

With little fanfare, ABC in March began hyping “The Mole” with on-air ads that might just be among the shortest in TV history—as in, three frames and out.

Indeed, the spots were so short—basically no more than the show’s fingerprint logo—ABC’s marketing executives had to work with the network’s Standards & Practices department to make sure the ads weren’t confused with subliminal advertising (a big no-no in TV land).

“I was amazed at what you can register (with viewers) in three frames,” said ABC Executive VP for Marketing Mike Benson, explaining that the microspots—or “flash teases,” as he calls them—were designed with DVR viewers in mind. The thinking: Viewers who were fast-forwarding through commercials would be intrigued by the super-short spot and hit the rewind button to check out what they thought they just saw.

“We wanted people to say, ‘What’s this?’,” Mr. Benson said. “It’s about getting people to realize there’s a message there.”

The initial “flash teases” were so short, some affiliates actually called ABC to figure out what was going on.

“We got complaints from stations saying, ‘What was that? Was it a mistake?’” Mr. Benson said.

The campaign also got attention in the blogosphere, with viewers debating whether the ads were a legit campaign or just a mistake by an ABC engineer. “I thought maybe I was having a flashback stroke or something,” wrote one person commenting on a Gawker.com item about the spots.

Since launching the mini-ads in late March, ABC has expanded the marketing campaign for “The Mole” to include more traditional 30-second ads—as well as more subversive efforts.
The micro-ads have been expanded to movie theaters, with audiences now seeing one-second “Mole” flashes during the pre-show entertainment.

Online, ABC created a fake ad campaign for a bogus perfume called Deception that transforms into a pitch for “The Mole.”

Overall, the network doesn’t want to take any chances with its relaunch of the show, an in-house favorite that’s getting a rare second chance to find an audience after being canceled in 2004.

“We’re treating it as a brand-new show, and we’re educating people as to what the game is all about,” said Marla Provencio, who is co-head of ABC marketing with Mr. Benson. “We can’t assume anyone is going to be there.”