Over the next few weeks, consumers scouring the baggage-claim area for their limo pickup or looking at birthday messages on stadium Jumbotrons will come across an unusual name: “John from Cincinnati.”
It belongs to neither an airplane passenger nor a baseball fan (nor a real person). Instead, it’s part of an HBO marketing campaign that may be one of the strangest in TV history.
The new David Milch show with the radio call-in title is one of HBO’s biggest hopes for its packed summer season, so big that the net has scheduled its debut after “The Sopranos” series finale June 10.
“John” is a meditation on spirituality, surfing, addiction and faded glory, among other things, a kind of “Twin Peaks” by way of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
But how does the net market a show that’s so enigmatic even its creator has said he’s still figuring it out?
The answer, apparently, is: Enigmatically.
HBO is intentionally explaining as little as possible as it spreads the word. It has created posters and TV spots with oblique taglines like “The tide is about to turn,” and, in what could be an ad for anything from an allergy medication to a new romantic comedy, “Something is in the air.”
The net is also engaging in stealth marketing tactics like fake birthday messages at baseball stadiums and handwritten signs carried by limo drivers. Toss in, too, other random, unexplained references, such as radio D.J. call-outs to “John from Cincinnati,” clues on Web site Johnmonad.com and street teams wandering landlocked urban areas wearing wetsuits.
“One of our primary goals was not to give too much away,” says Courteney Monroe, HBO’s senior VP of consumer marketing.
But is the net worried so much abstraction may wash over viewers instead of enticing them?
“We have a fairly large-scale traditional ad campaign in place as well,” Monroe quickly assures, adding that “we want to tease people, not mass distribute.”
Perhaps most juicy is that the title character is likely not named John and he is most certainly not from Ohio, which means that DJs and limo drivers will be shouting out to someone who only exists on TV, and doesn’t really exist there either.
Feeling wiped out yet?