When ABC president of entertainment Steve McPherson made the decision to move “Grey’s Anatomy” from Sunday to Thursday night, the network’s marketing team knew it faced a daunting task.
“We wanted to get as many people as possible who watched it on Sunday to come to Thursday,” said Marla Provencio, executive VP of marketing. “But we knew we wouldn’t get all of them, so we also had to get new audiences.”
“The other challenge was that ABC on Thursdays wasn’t a huge gathering place for audiences,” said Michael Benson, executive VP, marketing. “CBS and NBC had that locked up for years. That was the night for ‘CSI,’ and the battle was set.”
On their side was the fact that “Grey’s Anatomy” was a big hit, with a hot cast and high production values.
The idea for the campaign was simple. Reinforce the roller-coaster of emotions the audience feels while watching “Grey’s Anatomy.” That copy—Feel Thursday. Laugh Thursday, Cry Thursday—was paired with simple, stylistic visuals.
“In the print media, we utilized a primary black background with nice photos of the talent and big words that communicated what you’d get,” said Ms. Provencio. “We also had a lot of executions of this in bus wraps and outdoors.”
Music was another important hook. The team used Rob Thompson’s “Street Car Symphony,” with the lyric, “Come on over.”
“It attaches the audience to this one experience,” said Mr. Benson. “The song is a shortcut to people’s emotions and puts them in a certain mood. We don’t have to say it; they can feel it. We wanted to create a very inviting campaign, to come watch what we have.”
They also took “How to Save a Life,” by the band Fray, and created a music video that debuted the same night as the show.
In addition to the music video, the first Thursday night show was preceded by an hourlong refresher episode of the show, so newcomers could catch up and devoted fans could relive the important moments.
One fun marketing idea grew out of the line “Grey Is the New Thursday.”
“We used that to inspire us from a creative standpoint and do things that articulated themselves in different creative media,” said Mr. Benson. “We did a whole affiliate campaign that allowed weathercasters to customize their promotions … that a ‘Grey’ front was moving in on Thursday. This created an event that local weathercasters and affiliates could embrace. So it was a broad national campaign with a very local flavor.”
Though Mr. Benson and Ms. Provencio anticipated the Thursday night debut would be neck-and-neck with “CSI,” the outcome was better than they could have dreamed: an 11.0 rating in adults 18 to 49, compared with “CSI’s” 7.7 rating.
“What made us most excited was how many new people came and watched,” said Mr. Benson. “It was a very bold, brave and wise move … and one of the most successful moves in TV in recent history.”