Show Shifts Marketing Strategy as Ratings Continue to Slip

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Like a political candidate seeking a party nomination, Bravo is playing to its base. The latest tactic to market the fifth season of Queer Eye -- formerly known as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy -- is through the W Hotels’ gay- and lesbian-targeted Pride365 travel packages.

As its ratings continue to slip, 'Queer Eye' is trying new promotional strategies.
The promotion, which began early October and runs through March 2006, features "Queer Eye"-branded goodies, such as a two-disc DVD set from the show’s “Best of” series, a "Queer Eye" hip tips travel guide co-developed by Bravo and W Hotels, a pair of tickets good for “Fab Five” martinis at the hotel bar and a recipe from Ted Allen, the show’s food and wine expert.

Starwood, which owns W Hotels, will market the co-branded packages on gay.com, outtraveler.com, in the PlanetOut e-mail newsletter and with ads in Out magazine. The package is available in hotels in Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Silicon Valley; in mid-November Bravo will host screenings of the wedding-themed season in Chicago and San Francisco.

Crossover appeal
The marketing effort is an interesting tack for a show that appealed to gays and lesbians (despite some grumbling about its stereotyping gays) but whose surging popularity had also been largely fueled by its crossover appeal to a straight audience. When the series debuted in 2003 on Bravo it was, along with NBC’s Will & Grace, credited with bringing gay main characters into mainstream popularity.

But, said Jason Klarman, senior VP-marketing at the NBC Universal cable network, the gay audience has proven to be one of the show’s most important audiences. “We’ve had a consistent message to the gay community and the reason we continue to do it because of the enormous response we’ve gotten,” he said. Mr. Klarman cites the demand on show merchandise at gay bars and the enthusiasm for the show when its characters make appearances at gay pride events.

“It’s all anecdotal, but it’s very powerful,” he said.

Ratings slide
And now might be the most important time for Bravo to fire up its most hard-core fans. While it was a breakout hit for Bravo, Queer Eye has grown into a mature show -- and with that, ratings have petered out. The first season of the show averaged 1.3 million viewers 18-to 49-years-old, a advertiser-coveted demographic, but viewership declined steadily until it leveled off at 518,000 viewers 18-49 over the summer, its fourth season. While its season four debut, in which it made over members of the Boston Red Sox snared a 751,000 viewers 18-49, the demographic was averaging only 427,000 viewers during the last four weeks of the season. Still, among viewers 18-49 the show was 93% above Bravo's summer prime average of 268,000.

The first four episodes of the show’s fifth season feature weddings, a topic the network hopes will “reach the loyal Queer Eye viewer and to get the female viewer who hasn’t watched Queer Eye in a while,” Mr. Klarman said.

'Party Party'
In addition to the W Hotel packages, the network is marketing the show in conjunction with a new Tuesday-airing series, Party Party, about the preparations for high-profile parties (two of which are weddings), with double-page spreads in Entertainment Weekly, Star, and a host of newspapers in top 10 markets. Bravo’s also doing a wedding dress giveaway with a yet-to-be-determined retailer and is in talks with The Knot and Weddingchannel.com on promotions.

“They’re amazing, strong episodes, and we thought creating a specific campaign to promote them we’re making the new season an event,” Mr. Klarman said.

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