'Zeroes' takes in 1.5 million views online

Like most marketing mavens, Vince Manze has never been afraid of taking credit for good work. But recently, NBC’s promo guru has had to keep his mouth shut about one project about which he’s particularly proud.

Dubbed “Zeroes,” it’s a roughly two-minute send-up of the Peacock’s hugely popular Monday night drama “Heroes.” The spoof has been widely passed around via the Internet, racking up more than 1.5 million views over several platforms, including YouTube and Break.com.

But unlike most other network-created viral videos, “Zeroes” contained not a trace of evidence that it came from NBC.

No Peacock logo. No “Tune in Mondays at 9″ message at the end. No credits whatsoever.

“It was an experiment,” Manze says. “We wanted to see how far we could go, and we wondered if (auds) knowing we did it would be a detriment.”

Project, made for about $17,000, was so clandestine that Manze says he didn’t even tell “Heroes” creator Tim Kring about “Zeroes.” Keeping the clip’s origins a secret was a means of building up its credibility with potential viewers.

The “Zeroes” clip is just one of dozens, if not hundreds, of NBC-created viral videos the network has unleashed over the past year.

Even as Peacock lawyers threaten YouTube with lawsuits, the net’s marketing department has been actively looking for ways to get the attention of younger viewers — the auds who, more and more, are abandoning primetime in favor of sites like YouTube.

Unlike the “Zeroes” clip, most of NBC’s viral ventures are identified as promotional materials, albeit much more subtlety than the standard on-air promos that scream at viewers to tune in at a certain time.

“People don’t want to feel as if they’re being intruded upon,” Manze says. “When they find out it’s from us, it’s like, ‘They fooled us.'”

And so NBC has focused its energies on creating viral promos that feel more like mini-programs rather than advertisements. Indeed, NBC’s online promos often look to ape the sort of user-generated clips consumers create to pay homage to their favorite shows.

Manze has even started stunting to make the promos feel like events. During February, NBC launched a “Laugh of the Day” campaign on YouTube, premiering a new one-to-three minute comedic spot focused on a Peacock program.

Some of the promos were elaborate musicvideos, such as an “Office”-themed clip that turned Dwight Schrute into something of a superhero or “That’s What She Said,” which combined an NBC-penned song with a series of double entendres from NBC shows.

Net also gave its casts and producers a chance to create content for the “Laugh of the Day” campaign, enlisting stars of “30 Rock” and “My Name Is Earl.”

Overall cost to generate the two-dozen plus clips was about $150,000, Manze estimates — a pittance by network standards. Spots have now found a permanent home on nbc-owned dotcomedy.com.

Many of the online promos push the envelope of network-level standards, using slightly saltier language or tackling more adult themes.

“We can do things a little more cutting edge, and that’s in our brand,” Manze says. “We could never air ‘That’s What She Said’ on the air.”

All the broadcast nets have embraced the Internet and YouTube to market their wares, from ABC’s elaborate faux Web sites linked to “Lost” to CBS and 20th Century Fox TV’s buzz-generating “Robin Sparkles” musicvideo tied to “How I Met Your Mother.”

Manze, however, believes NBC is in front when it comes to generating viral promos.

“We feel like we’re ahead of the game in terms of what works and how to do it,” he says. “It’s fine to put up clips from Letterman on CBS.com. I’m trying to get people to watch ’30 Rock’ without cramming it down their throats.”

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