The evolving art of the promo

The evolving art of the promo

Love them or hate them, one thing’s for sure – you can’t escape them. The TV promo is everywhere. It’s simple advertising and it works wonders. But with the speed that everything is evolving in the digital age, Kate Cowling asks whether the humble TV promo can keep up

Like the fisherman’s lure, the sparkly TV promo is often our first glimpse of something we want to bite into. It introduces us to characters we’ll come to love – or love to hate – and plot lines we will devour in successive weeks and months.

But as promos continue to roll through prime time, less of us are switching on to catch them. Increasingly, we’re finding other means of viewing our favourite shows and, in turn, missing out on those tempting teasers.

A recent OzTAM, Nielson and Regional TAM survey showed while the vast majority still prefer traditional TV, as a many as 45% of us are watching some video content online.

On the findings, OzTAM CEO Doug Peiffer said: “Australians love television and are increasingly using new devices to stay in touch with their favourite programs and enjoy video whenever and wherever they wish”.

This stealthy ‘on-demand’ transition could mean missed opportunities and lost audiences for stations if they fail to adapt. But it also means new ways of promoting shows through sharing and online interaction.

As Australian television stations try to respond with savvier shorts and cross-media promotion, the big question is whether they’ve done enough to reclaim the promo’s heyday.

The big picture

Promo producers have certainly become savvier as they face the prospect of digital audience losses, but that doesn’t mean the promo has lost currency, according to SBS’s newly-appointed marketing director Helen Kellie.

In a world where TV still dominates in the entertainment stakes, it’s still the way people plan their evenings, she adds.

“If I’m a TV network and I don’t tell people what’s on, how are they going to know to tune in?”

Indeed, Nine’s creative director Andrew Peace says added formatting options make the promo more important than ever. “People will always have to be educated, it doesn’t matter what the format,” he says. “In the past people were just fed a schedule, but in this more fluid, choice-driven environment, people still want to be informed and enticed.”

Peace believes “strong programs still command huge audiences” and says the battle for viewers is still between competing channels, not mediums.

 Andrew Peace, Creative director, Nine

Media analyst and Fusion Strategy managing director Steve Allen agrees there’s no reason for burgeoning digital options to change the saliency of the TV promo.

“TV promos are after all a ‘mini story’ of the contents of a whole program, series or episode. They are the greatest distillation of a whole storyline. To me it does not matter whether these are placed within Station/Network or appear within the digital space, practical limitations of length and consumer tolerance of digital interruption aside.”

But Hard Hat Digital’s director of strategy Daniel Monheit disagrees with Allen’s assessment.

 “The best message in the world is useless if nobody sees it, and less people are watching TV commercials than ever before,” Monheit says. “Yes, the networks can get more aggressive, more invasive and more annoying by doing things like pushing promos inside of actual content, but at some point brute force needs to give way to smarter ways of doing things.”

SBS’s Helen Kellie says it’s more a matter of acknowledging online potential, while improving the traditional promo. “There’s no doubt we have to engage audiences in new ways,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean changing the formula entirely”.

A subtle art

So what, exactly, are the ingredients of a successful, multi-platform promo?

Nine’s Peace says it comes down to two things – to ability to inform and the ability to create an emotional connection. The network’s recently-launched House Husbands, which was promo-ed a couple of months before its debut, sought to connect demographics to individual characters by profiling a different ‘husband’ in each promo.

“We knew that different people would identify with different characters, so we scheduled the profile promos according to when that demographic would be most likely to tune in,” Peace says.

SBS’s second season of Go Back to Where You Came From took a similar approach, producing short, 10 second profiles to rouse intrigue.

“Our Go Back to Where You Came From teaser campaign started eight weeks out and was critically timed during the Tour de France,” SBS marketing manager Katherine Raskob says.

The second series was more heavily promoted than the first, she says, because the station “wanted to build confidence in (the show’s) core audience”.

“Our content is so different to other networks, we have no long running series, so our promos have to do the heavier lifting,” she says.

 Katherine Raskob, Marketing manager, SBS

SBS’s Kellie and Raskob say the promos have to be synchronised and tell a story about a show in a short period of time. “It’s no good having a number of disconnected promos, there has to be a cumulative story-telling effect,” Kellie says.

Ten’s on-air promotions manager David Sandy adds: “We all want to belong, be loved, share experiences, be clever, solve the riddle, be informed, be in the know, be entertained.

“A good promo will appeal to all these human desires. It will engage on an emotional, human level. A good promo is written as though it were a one on one conversation,” he adds.

Likewise, Fusion Strategy’s Allen says the ‘art’ of an engaging promo cannot be underestimated; it’s a mesh of several story-telling components and an understanding of human psychology.

“They have to be attractive, appealing, interesting, arresting, intriguing, stimulating and informative.

“And they have to know their core target audience, and be placed/scheduled to attract their audience…That in my view and experience is the art, the secret of great TV promos. It is a rare communication skill,” he says.

From promo to ratings hit

Peace thinks Nine did a particularly effective job on the audience connection front with its 2012 Big Brother campaign, which was heavily promo-ed during the London Olympics and towards the end of The Voice.

“We wanted to capture The Voice’s audience and introduce them to Big Brother,” Peace says.

“We also noted Big Brother’s brand had become slightly more adult and that was something we set out to change… In the 7pm timeslot, it was important to reintroduce families.”

Set to LMFAO’s ‘Party Rockers’, which market research revealed was a favourite among the targeted age-group, the premise of the rebranded Big Brother ad was ‘anyone could be in the Big Brother house’, Peace says.

“We casted it so it felt like people came from every part of life and people really did connect with that idea,” he says.

The follow-up series of ads featuring a Julia Gillard look-a-like were created to capitalise on the success of the first set of promos.

“We thought ‘who’s the most ridiculous person you can imagine going into the house’… and from there it was cleverly crafted to create that comedic moment.”

Peace says audiences found the ad memorable, which is unusual in the promo world.

“Most people don’t even realise the promos are there, so if you find something that sticks.. well, you’re onto a winner,” he says.

Ten’s Sandy said his network had a similar experience with the Underground: The Julian Assange Story campaign, which he said created hype for the telemovie over its two month teaser period and “set social media abuzz”.

Digital to die?

But while Thinktank Social’s director of social media Sam Mutimer admits promos have been a television staple for generations, she believes they need to evolve slightly to meet the changing media landscape.

Online offers boundless opportunities, she says, “and gives advertisers and producers the opportunity to extend their story and collect important data to better understand their viewers.”

She says shows like the ABC’s Q&A and Fox Footy’s On The Couch are particularly good examples of shows that have encouraged engagement through social media driven polls, comments and Twitter #hashtags.

“It makes the experience of watching TV more relevant to viewers,” she says, adding it’s a form of engagement “you can’t buy”.


Channel Ten made a bid for digitalised audiences with its Zeebox app, Mutimer says, to which she expects other stations will respond with similar releases.

SBS’s Rasbosk said Australia’s main multicultural broadcaster is similarly trying to capture digital audiences via targeted social media campaigns.

“It’s something we especially saw take off with Eurovision,” she said, with teaser clips shared on Facebook and across YouTube channels and the song contest trending on Twitter. 

Colleague Kellie added: “Social media is very important to our audiences, it’s something we can’t ignore. A recent survey showed something like 20% of the US population had watched a video and shared their opinions online.”

Hard Hat Digital’s Monheit said this rapid proliferation means promo producers need to work harder to ground themselves in the digital world.

“In 2012, no self respecting, mass market brand is solely focused on TV advertising, and the promoters of new TV shows should be no different,” he said.

“Marketers need to fish where the fish are, meaning digital, mobile and social channels cannot be ignored. And why would they be when these mediums allow good ideas to spread like wildfire, launching careers, causing multinationals to change the way they operate and overthrowing governments.”

Thinktank Social’s Mutimer said the tide is starting to turn in favour of digital, with a reversal of the regular programming food chain.

“What we’re starting to see is piloting through social media before traditional mediums, which is revolutionary,” she said. “Then after that picks up traction, it goes traditional.”

She said social media “generally” offers a more authentic viewing experience for audiences – and participants – which is why programmers are starting to see it as a viable launching pad for new initiatives. But it is possible for advertisers to “push too far” and lose their key demographics.

“It’s clear people are becoming annoyed with Facebook and its advertising focus. In the digital world, as soon as the focus moves away from what audiences want, you lose your viewers,” she said. “So it’s really a fine balancing act.”

She said “opportunities are up for grabs” but also there to be lost if network’s don’t adapt to demand. 

  Sam Mutimer, Director of social media, Thinktank Social


Standout promos from 2012

SBS: Go Back to Where You Came From

The package: A series of 10-second participant profiles highlighting the fears of celebrity characters, run during the Tour De France.

How long did it run: Eight weeks, social media 10 weeks.

What made it different: Building on the momentum of the first series of Go Back to Where You Came From, the very brief teasers hinted at the personal transformations, but left many unanswered questions.

Ten: Underground: The Julian Assange Story

The package: A series of typed sentences with background information on Julian Assange over the musical backdrop Gary Jules’s Mad World.

How long: More than eight weeks before the telemovie’s debut.

What made it different: The element of intrigue. Launched at the height of the Assange’s plea for asylum, there was little indication of the angle the telemovie would take.

Nine: The Voice

The package: The 30 second+ teasers honed in on the star voices and previewed celebrity judges’ reactions.

How long: Eight weeks.

What made it different: Five hyper-targeted campaigns ran simultaneously, focusing on different geographic and demographic groups. Such targeting made the participants, and judges, more relatable to viewers. 

Nine: Big Brother

The package: Surgeons, businesspeople, mailmen, kids and mothers doing ‘the shuffle’ to LMFAO’s 'Party Rockers'.

How long: Eight weeks.

What made it different: The comedic element. Audiences loved the absurdity of the PM ‘doing the shuffle’, Nine’s Andrew Peace said.  

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