Guest Commentary: ‘ET’ and Its Brethren Have Mastered Promo Basics

Jun 15, 2008  •  Post A Comment

As the television industry’s top marketing and promotion managers gather this week in New York for Promax/BDA, they will soak up the latest information on groundbreaking strategies, tactics and creative.
But the basics of promotion still matter the most. In my view, few have perfected the art better than the nightly entertainment magazine shows.
My business partners and I should know. We all cut our teeth in this frenzied world, where countering the notoriously short attention spans of viewers requires promoting multiple stories at the top of each program. If you can get those distracted by dinner intrigued enough to stick around, you’ve done your job.
And if not, no doubt you will hear about it. With Nielsen looking over your shoulder each night, a dip in ratings from one quarter-hour to the next almost certainly means the next day’s show will be dissected and disemboweled, to be put together again like some Franken-show whose reason for living is to win back viewers.
“Entertainment Tonight,” the magazine show where during my 13-plus years I produced and wrote for the syndicated, network and cable versions, and the others have succeeded by borrowing the most noteworthy promotional elements of People and US Weekly, which rack up big sales based on the famous heads teased on their covers.
Open up the TV magazines and you’ll see a well-paced hit formula of succinct, compelling and attention-grabbing content and teases, extending from the scriptwriting and marketing messages to virtually every other facet of the show: interview questions, talent stand-ups, shooting and production.
Promo managers should consider taking each one of these proven magazine-show principles and weaving them into every promo, interstitial sales campaign and electronic press kit they produce.
We look at every promo through the promotional prism of the entertainment magazine shows. For instance, as a sports junkie, I often see promo spots featuring a bikini-clad woman climbing out of a pool, usually in slow motion. Not that I’m complaining, but I know from my days at “ET” that the perfect promotional tease is about much more than just delivering eye candy; the copy has to be written sharply so that men not only want to sleep with her but spend time with her. In other words, it’s all about the pillow talk.
Sadly, most promos today emphasize style over substance for fear of alienating the audience. Rather than follow the often-ridiculed but successful approach of the magazine shows, which dare to offer provocative material in a format that keeps viewers glued, they choose to play it safe and risk missing their marks.
To break out of this mindset, marketing and promotion managers should take the time to get to know their target audience, in much the same way that TV magazines have with their laser-like focus on core demos: middle-American women in the 25-to-54 age bracket.
People like to complain about the magazine brigade that includes “ET” and “Access Hollywood.” But if you ask me, the very reason they consistently remain a part of the most stable genre in syndication is their unabashed attachment to provoking promotional techniques.
I have probably written more than 100,000 promo teases in my life. If I’ve learned nothing else from my magazine years, I’ve learned it’s best to stick to the basics of promotion when you are trying to sell something.
This premise applies particularly to kids and tweens, who are wise beyond their years and intrinsically understand when they are being sold a bill of goods.
So when it came to promoting one of the biggest tween acts in years, we knew the campaign had to be as straightforward as possible while simply selling the star.
We believe that by grasping a big-picture understanding of the promotional tactics of the entertainment magazines, it can help sell everything from the latest Hollywood blockbuster to “Hannah Montana’s” 4 million-unit selling CD. And it does.
I’m not suggesting that numbers are the only indicator of whether a promo campaign is successful. We all know external factors can occasionally get in the way, like competition from an NBA playoff game hurting the ratings.
But from a long-term standpoint, when a promotion-dependent format such as entertainment magazines delivers solid results night after night, year after year, decade after decade, I think one can safely assume that the merciless teases running throughout the shows are indeed working.
To begin reversing the ratings decline plaguing broadcast TV, marketing and promo managers must be willing to start walking the same fine line that entertainment magazines have expertly navigated for decades.
Andy Meyers is president of TV and movie production company M3 Television.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)