HBO Readies Its ‘Big’ Push

Feb 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Much has changed among the television landscape in the two years since HBO’s hit mob drama “The Sopranos” was in originals on Sunday nights.

ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives” have become nearly impenetrable, bona fide hits on Sundays, and consumers have more ways than ever to view their favorite shows.

When the mob family last occupied Sunday night in early 2004, the show was paired with the similarly violent “Deadwood” and the only desperate housewife in sight was Marge Simpson. For the debut of “The Sopranos” penultimate sixth season, which kicks off March 12, “Deadwood” has been pushed back to July and the Tom Hanks-produced polygamy drama “Big Love” has stepped into the prime post-“Sopranos” slot.

To bring viewers back to HBO’s family of original programming on Sundays next month, the network devised unusual marketing efforts for both shows.

In addition to the usual barrage of television, radio, magazine and billboard ads to emphasize “Big Love’s” central premise of a man with three wives, the premium network will partner in a unique way with top-ranked online photo album site Webshots.com. The companies plan to insert “Big Love” wedding photos into users’ photo albums and print photo purchases. The photos will be of star Bill Paxton posed with each of his wives.

Similarly, HBO is taking out mock ads in the wedding announcements sections of major newspapers, buying three side-by-side announcements-one for each bride.

“The mission is to strike the right tone,” said Courteney Monroe, senior VP of advertising for the network. “We’re certainly not shying away from the polygamy, but if you look at the marketing plans, we’re trying to have some fun with it. We’ve taken these conventional wedding ideas and turned them on their head.”

Other “Big Love” strategies include sending direct-mail wedding invitations to subscribers of national magazines and partnering with popular bakeries to display wedding cake toppers featuring a husband and three wives.

For “The Sopranos,” the challenge was very different. The hit series markets itself, but it has also been on hiatus for two years, and fans might be fuzzy on where the characters left off.

“There’s no denying it’s been off-air for awhile. The challenge is to capitalize on the anticipation and remind them of plotlines in season five,” Ms. Monroe said.

To help viewers catch up, HBO is partnering with Google Maps for a “Sopranos”-themed interactive map of New Jersey (dubbed “the first geo-visual tour of a television series”). The points on the map highlight key events from the series, particularly from the last season, with photos and clips.

The network also has a sponsorship deal with NASCAR to have a “Sopranos”-themed car.

As for the housewives and doctors on the broadcast networks, Ms. Monroe said they are not a concern.

“The truth of the matter is we have so many different platforms now that we actively promote, there are so many other windows to view the show other than Sunday,” she said.