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Bourbon, Cheap Gas and TikTok Trailers: Network Marketers Haven’t Given Up on Fall TV As They Promote New Shows

Quantum Leap Day NBC
Val Dostalek

The concept of a fall TV season may seem a bit outdated in this streaming age. Yet, broadcasters know that this is their moment in the spotlight. And the marketers at the major networks hope to embrace autumn as one of the best times to break through the noise and introduce their new and returning series.

“Some people may feel that fall is irrelevant, that you just launch shows all year round, and we understand that that’s happening, but we have a different approach,” says CBS chief marketing officer Mike Benson. “We actually have made a statement that we love fall. We love not only the change of seasons and warm sweaters and the pumpkin spice lattes, but we love all the new shows coming back.”

Observes Fox Entertainment marketing president Darren Schillace: “Even the streamers are pushing out some of their big products at this time of year. People’s attentions get rediverted to television in September out of habit and it still works.”

NBC, CBS and Fox all have NFL football to help promote their fall wares, and they’re absolutely doing that. “For example, we aired a promo for ‘Quantum Leap’ during Sunday Night Football that shows the main character, Dr. Ben Song, leap back in time to 1984 where he transforms into NFL legend Joe Montana heading into a football game,” says Margaret Walker, SVP, NBC Brand Strategy and Audience Growth.

But they’re also hoping to get eyeballs back to their returning franchises by continuing to market even established shows. At CBS, the network is premiering its shows in waves, launching new seasons of its core “NCIS,” “FBI,” comedy and reality franchises before piggybacking on those shows to launch newbies like “East New York,” “Fire Country,” “So Help Me Todd” and “The Real Love Boat.”

Benson says he’s also focused on keeping the heat on breakout hit “Ghosts” as it enters its sophomore year. “I have not stopped marketing that show,” he says. “We have gone right through the season into the summer and now we will go into Season 2 just like it was a new show.”

Trailers have also become a big part of campaigns. Where TV once used to rely only on 30-second promos, full-length, theatrical-style trailers are now a part of campaigns on social media in particular. But Benson is even experimenting with airing longer ones on CBS’ air: “We want to have bigger, deeper sells for what we are putting out to the audience,” he says. “We’re not only putting them out in digital, we’re finding time to run them on air. The other night we ran a 90 second spot for ‘60 Minutes.’ And I asked the team, ‘When was the last time we did something like that? And the team said, ‘We’ve never done anything like that!’”

NBC is pushing the message that its shows are available the next day exclusively on Peacock for the first time. The network is also heavily promoting returning brands “Law & Order” (and its three-hour crossover premiere event), “One Chicago,” and “The Voice” – especially with new coach Camila Cabello. And on Sept. 15, consumers were able to gas up their tanks for 91 cents a gallon as part of a stunt promoting new drama “Quantum Leap, which travels to 1985 for its pilot episode.

At Fox, the network’s priorities included new country music drama “Monarch,” which premiered out of an NFL doubleheader on Sept. 11. “The unfortunate delay in COVID actually was a benefit for marketing. We had all the episodes we got to see all the storytelling and we had all this content to build a campaign,” Schillace says.

Fox aired the “ACM Honors” as a showcase to promote “Monarch” and also looked outside of the coasts to promote the show (and all of its lineup). “We’re looking at markets like Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, places where Fox has some muscle,” he says.

Fox also partnered with People magazine to promote “Monarch” via custom content, and even opened up a pop-up shop in New York, where viewers could visit and sample “Monarch” merch — including the show’s branded jewelry and bourbon. Other priorities for Fox include Season 2 of “The Cleaning Lady” and a newly revamped format on “The Masked Singer.”

ABC’s priorities include the return of Emmy-winning comedy hit “Abbott Elementary,” which included a presence at San Diego Comic-Con and a partnership with Scholastic that includes sponsoring local book fairs, giving away teacher shopping sprees via Lakeshow Learning, partnering with S’well on an in-school hydration program, donating school uniforms and working with NY & Co. in giving away teaching uniforms. A version of the Comic-Con activation also recently appeared at the Century City mall.

“It’s infinitely quotable and shareable,” Erin Weir, the exec VP of marketing at ABC and Disney General Entertainment, says of the show’s social presence. “We are launching custom executions including a TikTok branded effect, Snap selfie view lens, a Meta soundboard, and Twitter audio countdowns.  

Also getting big pushes are new ABC dramas “Alaska Daily,” which has attracted 27 million views for its trailer in less than a week, according to the network. ABC is promoting the show on cable and streaming, as well as on true crime and news podcasts. And as for newcomer “The Rookie: Feds,” starring Niecy Nash-Betts, “Our creative is leading with Niecy and we’re also taking the learnings from The Rookie launch in the themes we’re pulling forward—the notion of second acts a key, relatable element,” Weir says.

The CW is focusing its efforts on the fact that both of its new fall shows come with built-in awareness: “Walker Independence” as a spinoff of “Walker,” and “The Winchesters,” a prequel to “Supernatural.”

“We will utilize social media heavily and let that passionate ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Walker’ fanbase be our workhorse. ‘The Winchesters’ marketing is a big valentine to ‘Supernatural,’ so bringing those fans in will be fun for them to reminisce about and re-enter that world that they love,” says Rick Haskins, president, streaming & chief branding officer, The CW. “Jensen Ackles, who is our executive producer and narrator on the show, will be a part of the marketing, as well.”

As for “Walker Independence,” the network partnered with the Autry Museum to sponsor a movie series, and also created a presence at Knott’s Berry Farm. “And later this month at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, we are sponsoring a cooling station in their daytime village that will be ‘All American: Homecoming’ branded,’” Haskins added. “We have a big baseball stadium but instead of fans in the stands, we will have actual fans for people to keep cool in the Las Vegas heat.”