The CMO Interview

NBC Breaks Beyond TV to Reach New Viewers

Marketing Exec Stotsky Says Network Will Do (Nearly) Everything to Drive Sampling

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- What do a can of Coke and a package of Pampers have in common with an episode of "Heroes" or "30 Rock"? More than you might think.

Adam Stotsky, president-NBC Entertainment Marketing
Adam Stotsky, president-NBC Entertainment Marketing
All are products that need to be marketed and sold. Indeed, the people who produce, package and promote TV programming have a tougher job, in some respects, than others -- their product airs only at a certain time or for a specified duration. So they have to amass as large a viewing population as possible, or miss out on a great chance to have people sample their wares.

There was a time when TV networks accomplished this by running "promos" on their own airwaves. And they still do. But with viewing populations breaking up and coalescing around a broader range of opportunities to watch video entertainment, they're more open to experimentation.

One of the more daring members of the practice is Adam Stotsky, 41, president-NBC Entertainment Marketing. Reporting to John Miller, chief marketing officer of NBC Universal, he took the role in July 2008 after a stint at the NBC Universal cable outlet formerly known as Sci-Fi, where he was instrumental in promoting "Battlestar Galactica."

Before that, Mr. Stotsky served as senior VP-entertainment practice at J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, a joint venture between the agency and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment. He developed branded-entertainment initiatives for clients including Ford Motor Co., DeBeers and Miller Brewing Co.

Overseeing brand strategy, marketing and creative, Mr. Stotsky has gained some notoriety for his edgy antics in non-TV venues. Last year, for example, he sparked a furor by agreeing to run an ad for cop drama "Southland" on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. The trouble? The ad looked much like a traditional newspaper article. And as more marketers try to use social media and cause marketing to spark conversation among potential consumers, so, too, is Mr. Stotsky. In February, he linked NBC's new family drama "Parenthood" to a website in which celebrities and TV producers could interact with viewers on parenting topics.

NBC spent about $85 million in measured media in 2009, according to WPP's Kantar Media. NBC's creative is developed in-house, but it uses Fallon for media planning, Horizon for media buying, Ignited for digital and Pitch for promotions.

One can make the argument that NBC needs to try different tactics. The network in recent years has had to deal with ratings shortfalls, as well as a barrage of unwelcome publicity resulting from its effort to move Jay Leno to 10 p.m., then restore the comedian to his original "Tonight Show" roost, losing new host Conan O'Brien in the process.

In a recent interview with Ad Age, Mr. Stotsky talked about the challenges facing traditional TV-show marketing and looked to how techniques will evolve in the not-too-distant future.

Ad Age: The standard formula for marketing TV programs has largely been to run promos on a network's own air. In this era of fragmented audiences , how much are you shaking up this practice?

Mr. Stotsky: Broadcast TV is still the most efficient media to reach a mass, wide, broad audience, and given that it is a media asset we have readily available, the value is still significant, and the effect is still quite profound. We don't reach as many people as we once did as often as we once did, but as you've seen from the power of the Olympics' performance or in CBS's performance this year with the Super Bowl, it's still an incredibly powerful driver.

1. Go after "hand- raisers"

2. Build buzz through digital media

3. Give consumers an incentive to spread the word

4. Tie everything back into a larger campaign

It's incumbent on us to reach beyond our own assets -- it's figuring out different targets and technologies to connect with an audience and to insert our NBC brand and our show brands into the pop-culture zeitgeist. For us, a key driver above and beyond on-air promotion has really been our social-media strategy. The opinions of online thought leaders and the discovery around different shows and different network brands within consumers' own social circles play an increased role in the implementation and design of our marketing strategy.

Ad Age: In some cases, you've tried some stuff that has been controversial, such as the ad for "Southland." In hindsight, do you think that execution crossed a line?

Mr. Stotsky: You have to innovate or die. There is a proliferation of consumer media choices, and as a media marketer, we've got to do everything we can, obviously within reason, to stand out and make consumers take notice. We thought this was a really innovative idea, that, actually, the L.A. Times brought to us, and for a show that was based in Los Angeles and that was about the Los Angeles Police Department, to have the hometown paper collaborate with us on an innovative idea, we thought, was a good way to reach audiences, and it certainly contributed to a strong premiere of the show on NBC. I didn't think it crossed the line.

Ad Age: Last year saw the launch of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" and "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m. Tell us about the techniques you used.

Mr. Stotsky: Ultimately, our principal challenge in marketing a TV product is to drive initial sampling of the show. Each of those comedians has his own specific brand of comedy and, certainly, his own unique audience to whom he'll be appealing. We had to create three different campaigns for the different brands and audiences.

Jimmy Fallon was targeted to a young consumer. We did a lot of college-campus initiatives. We did some in-bar activity, some on-premise promotion.

Conan was a well-established late-night talk-show host. For us, it was not only moving Conan an hour earlier, but also moving Conan to the mantle of "The Tonight Show," which is this storied franchise, one synonymous with the pinnacle of entertainment. One strategy we developed was positioning not just Conan but "The Tonight Show" generically as sort of synonymous with all things relevant to entertainment and pop culture. We had a really unique partnership with Entertainment Weekly, where for 10 weeks, Conan O'Brien and "The Tonight Show" sort of hosted TV reviews and more importantly, the Entertainment Weekly "Must List."

With Jay, the challenges were self-evident. We were replacing five hours of scripted entertainment with five hours of freshly made topical comedy, and doing it with a beloved TV personality. The key call here was disrupting consumer behavior and actually playing into one unique aspect of the format. We had seen the DVR ravaging the performance of most 10 o'clock shows. What we set out to do strategically with Jay Leno at 10 is remind people that this is fresh comedy, comedy about the day's events, that if you DVR it, you wouldn't be up to speed with what's happening in the world.

Ad Age: Is there a line that shouldn't be crossed when using "snipes," those graphic elements at the bottom of the screen? Or as viewers grow accustomed to crowded screens thanks to websites, can you be more aggressive?

Mr. Stotsky: If you watch NBC with any frequency, during prime time, you'll see branded presentations of our on-screen snipes. We're very considerate of not disrupting the consumer experience. What we have heard from our consumers is that there is a benefit to knowing what's coming on next, but once those graphics impede or intrude on their viewing experience, you're stepping over the line. So we keep a constant monitor in our qualitative consumer focus-group research on how we're doing. Some networks have intensive animated or live-action lower-third graphics. We choose not to do that.

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