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NBC Plays the ‘Kings’-maker

Upscale Eyeballs Key to Promo Push

All hail NBC’s “Kings”—especially if you’re an upscale viewer with a $100,000-plus income who has a fondness for arthouse movies, voted for Barack Obama and likes to read the New York Times Magazine.

Those are the kinds of folks NBC has been targeting for months as part of what might be called a trickle-down marketing campaign on behalf of its ambitious new political soap opera, which premieres March 15 at 8 p.m. While NBC is hoping to lure viewers of all kinds to the retelling of the King David tale that imagines a modern-day monarchy, it’s been going out of its way since November to market “Kings” to so-called cultural tastemakers, hoping they’ll help spread the word to the masses.

“These are the kinds of viewers who are first in line at movie premieres, first in line at Best Buy for the latest technology, the first to hear about shows in development,” said Adam Stotsky, president of marketing for NBC Entertainment. “The idea was to spark some conversation among the chattering classes. … We’re trying to engage an audience that might not historically view that much television but that has the ability to shape trends.”



Riding the Wave

NBC also isn’t hiding the fact that it’s trying to piggyback on Obama-mania, betting that the feel-good message of heroics in “Kings” will appeal to voters who bought into President Obama’s campaign themes of hope and change.

“We saw an opportunity,” Mr. Stotsky said. “Everything in his campaign and in the transition and the first 100 days has been about hope and optimism and a new view. Those are themes we can build on.”

Along with the John Wells drama “Southland” and the Amy Poehler comedy “Parks and Recreation,” “Kings” is part of a concerted effort by NBC to close out the season with some sense of momentum. Having struggled to find viewers with popcorn fare such as “Knight Rider” and “My Own Worst Enemy,” the fourth-place network is hoping to reconnect with the affluent audiences that once turned to NBC for high-class shows such as “The West Wing” and “Seinfeld.”

Of course, the problem with wooing upscale audiences is that they tend to consume media differently from the average viewer. That meant NBC had to adjust both its on-air and off-network promotional strategies.

With a normal series premiere, for example, NBC typically places extended trailers in movie theaters via NCM, a company that specializes in producing pre-show entertainment for big chains such as Regal. The network used NCM to market “Kings” as well, but it also contracted with smaller theater circuits such as Laemmle in order to get its message in front of moviegoers who prefer “Milk” over “Madea Goes to Jail.”

On the print side, instead of focusing on showbiz-centric publications such as People or Entertainment Weekly, NBC began its marketing campaign for “Kings” in the likes of Time and the New York Times Magazine.

In the New York Times Magazine’s “Obama’s People” issue, NBC devoted three pages to telling the story of the rise of its King David, treating the fictional character as if he were a real figure. In Time’s Man of the Year edition, which featured President Obama on the cover, NBC’s advertising was designed to look like it could have been part of the magazine’s editorial content, touting the show’s David as “Hero of the Year.”

NBC also targeted upscale urban audiences with street postings of flyers in Los Angeles and New York. The posters urged citizens to “Keep Your Kingdom Clean. Recycle” or “Keep Your Kingdom Moving. Carpool”—but never made mention of “Kings.”

Three ‘Kings’

Mr. Stotsky, working with NBC Universal Chief Marketing Officer John Miller, executed a three-part campaign for “Kings.” Early efforts were designed to “create some intrigue,” Mr. Stotsky said, by teasing audiences with the idea of living in the show’s kingdom of Gilboa.

In addition to the posters and on-air ads that directed viewers to the Web site of the show’s fictional all-news network, UNN, the first phase had NBC subtly infiltrating the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Gilboan flags were planted along the parade route, and since the network broadcasts the event, home viewers were treated to several shots of the flag.

By the start of the new year, NBC moved into what it called the “Hero Rising” portion of the campaign. Subtle messages from previous months were connected to direct pitches to begin watching a show called “Kings” in March.

The network’s efforts now are in phase three, dubbed “Destiny Begins.” NBC recently held an advance screening of “Kings” for a couple dozen bloggers; it also has stepped up more traditional advertising, including billboards and bus shelters.

“Kings” is the first series-premiere campaign to be fully overseen by Mr. Stotsky, who joined NBC from Sci Fi late last summer. Mr. Miller said Mr. Stotsky’s skills at the cable network have been evident in the campaign, particularly when it has come to using all of the various assets in the NBC Universal empire.

“The campaign has been fleshed out wonderfully,” Mr. Miller said. “There’s been so much cross-channel promotion, and Adam’s really led the way.”

Despite the targeted nature of the “Kings” campaign, Mr. Miller and Mr. Stotsky said NBC is always careful to avoid becoming too focused.

“We went to get the affluent audience because they can drive up (key demographics),” Mr. Miller said. “But to be successful overall, we need to go beyond that. We’re still a TV network. We have to reach a broad audience.”

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