Inside the marvelous marketing of 'Mrs. Maisel'
Each month, Ad Age creates and shares an exclusive case study with Ad Age Insider subscribers. Already an Insider? Instantly download the case study here. Or learn more about Ad Age membership levels and benefits here. This month, we’re taking a look at Amazon Prime Video's experiential campaign to promote the second season of its hit show "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
In the age of peak TV, wading through the seemingly endless choices on broadcast, cable and streaming platforms is an exhausting exercise.
Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amy Sherman-Palladino’s late-’50s comedy about an affluent New York housewife who discovers she’s the next big thing in stand-up, is one of the few shows to have broken through—at least as a critics’ and awards’ darling, picking up eight Emmys and three Golden Globes following its debut season in 2017. But without the right marketing strategy, it’s easy for quality programming to get lost in the crowd.
The marketing challenge
Despite the buzz surrounding “Mrs. Maisel,” Amazon Prime Video was faced with a significant obstacle: How do you get viewers interested in a series set 60 years ago and centered on a fast-talking Jewish woman whose picture-perfect life is straight out of a vintage issue of Town and Country?
“I like to bring people into a story and its characters as if it were real,” says Mike Benson, head of marketing at Amazon Studios. “A lot of our marketing involves bringing the show to customers in a way that is provocative and entertaining and makes you either want to experience the show more deeply—or ask, ‘What’s this show about?’”
To promote the second season of the show, Amazon partnered with Tool North America to create a “Maisel”-themed Carnegie Deli pop-up on Lafayette Street in New York. The restaurant, which operated in December of last year, featured in-character waitstaff in ’50s garb and offered signature sandwiches named after show characters.
Josh Jetson, creative director at Tool of North America, explains the inspiration for the pop-up: “If you, as a comedian, from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s had made it really big, a deli named a sandwich after you. So we thought that was a really strong way to tie a Jewish deli to this particular show.”
Although the Carnegie Deli shuttered its original Manhattan location in 2016, the company still operates through its Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden properties. The “Maisel”-specific menu included items that would not be amiss in Midge’s world, like black-and-white cookies, pickles and a pastrami sandwich called “The Maisel.”
“‘Mrs. Maisel’ being set in 1958 offers this rich era for us to transport people to,” says Adam Baskin, director of innovation at Tool. “So even a simple trip to the deli becomes an immersive experience for people to connect with the show.”
According to Tool’s website, the pop-up resulted in 3 billion overall media impressions, with 70.3 million in social reach—and 97.9 percent of the impressions were positive. “We opened up a reservation site a couple of days before the deli opened, and within the day, it was booked for the entire stretch,” says Baskin. “There was a line around the block.”
The activation was so successful, Amazon and Tool decided to bring back a version of the Carnegie Deli marketing strategy during the May TV upfronts, held in New York. This time around, it was in the form of a food truck parked outside various upfront locations while providing the same classic fare from the earlier restaurant activation. (Amazon did not have its own upfront presentation this year.) “There was so much buzz going on around the upfronts,” says Benson. “We wanted to be part of that conversation.”
A major goal of the food-truck activation was to increase visibility prior to the July 16 Emmy nominations. “Part of Amazon’s Emmy strategy is to bring humor into people’s lives,” says Baskin. “So, we thought, ‘What better way to do that than to make people smile during the upfronts when we know they’re hungry and tired, and to feed that with a touch of “Maisel” humor?’”
In this case, the message to Amazon and Tool’s audience was to “Consider It Marvelous,” playing on both the title of the show and the classic For Your Consideration awards slogan. The food-truck employees were in character, whether they were working inside the truck or as a 1950s-style delivery person interacting with people entering or exiting an upfront presentation.
The food truck also served another purpose: Get the show on the radar of Emmy voters while raising awareness about it in general. “I look at trade marketing in the entertainment business a little bit like consumer marketing,” says Benson, “and I think there’s a lot of things that we can do that will engage the Television Academy. But it can also be a consumer activity for us as well.”
Figuring out how this all translates into higher viewership is a challenge because streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon can be notoriously proprietary about viewership. Without citing specifics, Benson says that marketing campaigns like the Carnegie Deli pop-up and food truck have positively influenced the show’s numbers. “When the show wins awards, or it gets other notoriety, we see an uptick in customers,” he explains. “First streams, overall number of streams, or people who might’ve completed 30 percent of the episode—something like [the pop-up or food truck] will remind them to go back and finish. So we look at different metrics of both interest and engagement and awareness, and we measure all those so we can directly correlate activities like this to seeing people watch the show.”
Nielsen has recently begun to track streaming viewership. The ratings firm claims that the second season of “Maisel” averaged 1.9 million viewers during its first seven days on Amazon Prime Video, with the first episode averaging an audience of 3.3 million viewers during that week, according to a February 2019 article in The New York Times. Not too shabby, but this is far from a solid conclusion due to several factors: Nielsen measures only in the U.S., and, as an Amazon property, “Maisel” is available in more than 200 countries. As of 2018, Amazon Prime Video has more than 100 million global subscribers. Plus, the company doesn’t track out-of-home viewing, such as on a laptop, phone or tablet. The Times article pointed out that Amazon declined to comment, and that Netflix has previously dismissed Nielsen’s findings.
The marketing lessons
If Amazon and Tool’s aim was to raise the profile of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and galvanize interest in the show, then it’s safe to say they’ve succeeded. Season two of “Maisel” grabbed an impressive 20 Emmy nominations—up from last year’s 14, and second only to “Game of Thrones,” which scored a whopping 32 nods.
“A huge part of the success of this was tapping into culture in an authentic way,” says Jetson. “The idea started with, ‘Let’s name a sandwich after Midge Maisel.’ The execution evolved into, ‘What’s the smartest and most powerful version of that idea?’ And as we started looking, we found that the Carnegie Deli had closed, and we came up with using Amazon Prime and ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ as the heroes that bring back the Carnegie Deli. We started to tap into a really rich area where the marketing effort became the hero, and it was an authentic culture that people truly wanted to engage with. It didn’t feel like marketing.”
For Benson, ironically, the key was mining elements of the show that, upon first look, didn’t seem terribly relatable to a wide audience. “We found that we could actually turn something that might feel narrow into something that was broad and also differentiated,” Benson says. “The things that made it unique, on face value, might be hard to sell, but they actually became the things that helped to sell it.”