By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
In its first year on the air ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” was a hit, but was that owing to the show itself or to the strong lead-in provided by “Desperate Housewives”?
That was the question facing ABC marketing and programming pros-Senior VP of Marketing Mike Benson, Senior VP of Marketing Marla Provencio and VP of Drama, Movies and Miniseries Lisa Solana-as they considered how to promote the show in its sophomore season. They found an answer on the biggest Sunday of the TV year.
“We had the Super Bowl, and obviously that’s a big opportunity,” said Mr. Benson, who is senior VP of marketing for the network. “It’s not just the number of people who’ll watch the game. It’s big from a scheduling point of view. Do you put something new? Do you put something that is tested and true? Do you put something that hopefully has some potential to become a big hit?”
Mr. Benson and his team pitched “Grey’s” for the coveted post-Super Bowl spot, and ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson agreed. “When he read the script for ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ it sealed the deal for him,” Mr. Benson said. “Once the decision was made, then we really had to step back and think how are we going to use the Super Bowl and the programming surrounding the Super Bowl to get people to stick around and watch the show.”
The Super Bowl campaign, they decided, would set a new tone. “We started out by not focusing on it being a hospital show. It’s a relationship show. It’s about young professionals who are trying to figure out their lives,” Mr. Benson said. “We thought that there’s a lot of potential for growth simply because the stories are strong and the characters are even stronger.”
The promotion commenced 10 days before Super Bowl Sunday. “We really took advantage of not only the game but all the programming leading up to kickoff. We wanted to build anticipation not only for Super Bowl Sunday but also the show that was on afterward, and it was going to be just as good as the game,” Mr. Benson said.
Being on during the Super Bowl presented a unique challenge to Mr. Benson and his cohorts. “It’s not like a regular Monday night game. There’s a level of creative within the Super Bowl that you have to reach. You’re playing ball with the likes of Budweiser and Coca-Cola, so we really had to creatively stand out. I think what we achieved was great storytelling in the midst of a lot of other advertising that just felt different.”