TruTV 'Ruins' the TV Promo Playbook

Expansive Bridge Campaign Looks to Prop Up a Hit on Hiatus

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Even Adam Conover can't debunk Peak TV.

The star and creator of truTV's "Adam Ruins Everything" has made a cottage industry out of disabusing misinformed viewers of their most cherished illusions, smugly skewering the perceived worth of everything from breakfast to caskets in an effort to make America a marginally less ignorant place. But one common assertion Mr. Conover cannot upend is the aphorism that perhaps best describes why it's so hard to maintain a hit TV series: "Out of sight, out of mind."

If finding an audience in an era of hyper-accelerated fragmentation and sheer glut is no mean feat, the task of retaining that audience between seasons is nearly as tricky. At last count there were 1,415 series spread across the broadcast and cable primetime schedule -- a tally that doesn't take into account shows that are original to services like Netflix and Hulu -- and to one degree or another, each of these shows is competing for its share of your personal bandwidth.

"Adam Ruins Everything" ended its initial order of 12 half-hour episodes in December, and it will be at least nine months before the show returns this fall for its second season. With an average draw of 514,000 live-plus-same-day viewers and a 0.24 in the adults 18-49 demo, "Adam" is truTV's second highest-rated original series behind "Impractical Jokers"; as such, maintaining the show's profile during the downtime is a top priority for the network. To that end, truTV's marketing department this week began rolling out commercial-length infotainment spots in which Mr. Conover applies his signature wised-up wiseacre routine to such diverse topics as New York City's rat population, the regenerative powers of earthworms and how the rotgut served in Prohibition-era speakeasies gave rise to gender-normative cocktails.

Like most contrarians, Mr. Conover isn't exactly in the business of assuaging one's anxieties, but in at least one instance his demolition of a longstanding urban myth is a source of great comfort. In a spot that will air in upcoming episodes of "Impractical Jokers," the host exterminates the old saw about there being one rat for every New Yorker, a factoid that was made up out of whole cloth in 1909 by a lazy English guy who'd never stepped foot in Manhattan. Turns out there's really only one-quarter of a rat for every Gothamite, which is reassuring and, upon further review, even more disconcerting.

All told, the network and Big Breakfast (the production company behind "Adam Ruins Everything") have ginned up 20 different promotional spots, which truTV refers to internally as "Truth Bombs." Nine of the spots were written as direct tie-ins to truTV's "Impractical Jokers," "The Carbonaro Effect" and "Hack My Life," while others are designed to play off more generic topics like Mother's Day, fortune cookies and hospitals.

Later this summer, truTV will follow up with additional 30-second promos tied to Memorial Day, Independence Day and the Rio Olympics. In all, the spots will lay claim to 700 on-air units between now and when "Adam Ruins Everything" returns in the fall.

"The show has been a huge success for us, but the concern was that because it takes so much time to research each episode, there would necessarily be a long gap between the seasons," said Puja Vohra, exec-VP of marketing and digital, truTV. "So the idea was to develop a bridge strategy to keep the show alive and topical."

The effort to maintain a show's buzz during a hiatus runs counter to the standard TV playbook, where shows generally are marketed like movie openings. In most cases, the lion's share of the promotional effort is expended in the weeks leading up to the premiere, whereupon the budget is largely spent and the concentrated gush of airtime is reduced to a trickle.

"The strategy was you would spend the biggest chunk of your budget on the premiere, and then that was it. Inevitably, the show would fall off after the second episode and then you'd panic," Ms. Vohra said. "In the last year-and-a-half, I would say that while the majority of the budget is still dedicated to the premiere, it's just by a hair. A very significant amount of the promotional budget is now dedicated to the chase campaign."

Ms. Vohra said truTV is trying to schedule "as many of the spots as possible" in the A positions of its ad pods, or the first available slot after the network throws to commercials. A positions are particularly valued by marketers as they boast greater retention of viewers and higher recall rates when compared to ads that run later in a given pod. While broadcasters usually reserve those plumb slots for paying clients, cable nets tend to slot a lot of in-house promos in their A positions.

Mr. Conover will speak at Turner's upfront presentation on Wednesday, May 18. It is unlikely that he will attempt to "ruin" the efficacy of TV advertising for the assembled throng of media buyers, clients and press. (Besides, that's Jimmy Kimmel's shtick.)

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