Networks start marketing fall early

Summer-long ad campaigns get creative

The nets are discovering that it’s never too early to tubthump.

Fox’s fall marketing campaign began even before last season ended: It ran the pilot of its hot dramedy-tuner prospect “Glee” after the penultimate installment of “American Idol” last month.

ABC began promoing its futuristic drama “Flash Forward” even before it had formally announced the show’s pickup, while NBC cranked up the blurbs for “The Jay Leno Show” the very next night after the host signed off from the “Tonight Show” for the last time.

These early efforts are examples of the shift in recent years toward round-the-clock marketing during the summer months as nets gear up to launch their big new shows in the early fall. There’s no more waiting until four or five weeks before the launch for the promo spots to land. Network image burnishing and show-specific campaigns are fired up right after the schedules are presented during the mid-May upfronts.

“We launched all of our campaigns the day we announced our pickups,” says NBC Entertainment marketing prexy Adam Stotsky.

Marketing mavens are under pressure to be ever-more creative with their campaigns — and to stretch marketing dollars further since on-air summer ratings are at record lows for the broadcasters. This year in particular, execs say, budgets are tighter than ever given the general cost-consciousness at every level of operations.

“This year we are really doing the unusual and the atypical all summer long,” says Joe Earley, Fox’s exec veep of marketing and communications. “You have to find unconventional ways to reach people… It’s the busiest summer we’ve ever had in terms of all the things we’re doing.”

With TV viewers devouring every little tidbit of news about new and returning shows via Facebook, Twitter and blogs, Stotsky says campaigns must now be mapped out from the moment a script is purchased — especially on genre shows like “Flash Forward” or NBC’s “Day One.”

“That’s an audience that looks at every piece of communication that exists online,” Stotsky says. “It becomes part of the lore of the idea and part of the marketing campaign.”

As a result, the nets must start activating social media for a show — and put in place search-word optimization on sites like Google — to maximize that moment when news of a series first emerges.

At Fox, “Glee” is getting every kind of push that Earley and his team can devise — from pricey in-theater promo spots running before summer tentpoles to the kind of viral marketing that requires more creativity than coin. “Fringe” is also getting in-theater spots to tout its sophomore season.

“Glee’s” fictional high school students all have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. The hunky Finn Hudson, played by Cory Monteith, has 2,625 fans on his month-old Facebook page; Rachel Berry, the overachiever thrush played by Lea Michele, has nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter.

Fox has a “Glee” contest running at present on the Photobucket website inviting users to submit their best singing vids. The net’s tech whizzes are in the process of developing a “Glee” karaoke application that will allow fans to sing along with songs featured in the show and to create mashups of their own warbling with that of the characters.

Beyond the virtual realm, Fox is mounting screenings and giveaways of “Glee” merchandise at drama and cheerleading summer camps and at heavily trafficked beach locales. Fox’s “street teams” will be hitting various cities to pass out T-shirts and tchotskes in the hopes that recipients will pay attention to the “Tune in Sept. 16!” message imprinted on them.

The annual summer auditions for “American Idol” offers a golden marketing platform for Fox. This year’s tour kicked off June 14 in Boston and will wind through Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando, Denver, Chicago and Dallas through late July. All of the network’s new shows and returning priorities, like “Lie to Me,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Fringe” and “House,” will be tubthumped to the crowds with signage and freebies.

“It’s a nice concentration of TV-friendly people who can then become ambassadors for us,” Earley says.

For its on-air look, Fox is sticking with the “So Fox” campaign that bowed last summer and has been a success for affils because it’s easily adaptable to non-network fare.

ABC has the most ambitious network image campaign going this summer with its cheeky “ABC House” series of spots portraying actors from various new and returning shows as if they lived together in one big house, with the tagline “Your favorite shows live here.” Think Patrick Dempsey of “Grey’s Anatomy” playing foosball with “Lost” alum Dominic Monaghan, Courteney Cox of new sitcom “Cougar Town” and Ed O’Neill of frosh laffer “Modern Family.” CBS is chest-beating on air with its new “Only CBS” campaign touting its status as the nation’s most-watched network and as the only Big Four net to post ratings gains last season.

Among the Eye’s priorities for the fall will undoubtedly be the sophomore year of last season’s success story “The Mentalist.” CBS is looking to take the Simon Baker starrer to the next level with its move to the post-“CSI” Thursday 10 p.m. slot.

At CW, all guns are trained on heralding the revival of “Melrose Place” in the hopes that its combo with the sophomore year of “90210” will fortify the net.

The focus at NBC is squarely “The Jay Leno Show” given that it reps five hours of primetime for the Peacock.

“We have to love all of our children, but Jay is a particularly big child, as he occupies five nights a week,” Stotsky says.

NBC has already been airing special promos for the Leno gabber every night at 10 o’clock in order to get viewers used to the host’s new timeslot. Leno promotions outside of the network will find their way into elevators, taxis and grocery store lines — mundane locations, Stotsky says, “that could use a bit more laughs.”

Given the scope of the “Leno” show, the weeknight strip may get a bigger marketing push than your average new series. But at the same time, NBC won’t be spending the equivalent of promoting five new shows.

“It’s one franchise, so it doesn’t demand five times the marketing budget,” Stotsky says. “But it creates an opportunity for us to focus on some of the other new product.”

That includes freeing up some dollars up to promote frosh entries “Community,” “Trauma” and “Parenthood.” NBC will also focus some efforts on relaunching midseason entries “Southland” and “Parks and Recreation.”