Web Campaigns Rev Viewers for HBO Shows

Water-cooler television begins with buzz-worthy Web campaigns for HBO. Two online campaigns ready audiences for both a new series and a returning one, both set to air on March 12.

The new series, “Big Love,” centers around a polygamist and his three wives in Utah. It lent itself to a photo album theme. HBO’s agency Deep Focus created a campaign that includes photos of lead actor Bill Paxton with each of his three wives at the end of each photo album on CNet’s Webshots. Customers who order prints from the site also get photos promoting the program.

“What we love about this promotion is that it’s never been done before in terms of integrating advertising in a consumer photo experience,” HBO SVP of Advertising Courteney Monroe told ClickZ News.

It was important to capture the show’s feeling in a compelling way. “What we are really trying to do is strike the right tone and find somewhat playful ways to promote a show about a polygamist,” said Monroe.

The program’s story allowed Deep Focus to walk the line between controversy and curiosity. “When you’re working with a series that’s as interesting as one about polygamy, you want to make sure it raises people’s curiosity,” said Ian Schafer, CEO and founder of Deep Focus.

Photos are seamlessly placed at the end of each slideshow on the photo-sharing site. The album name is replaced by the title “Big Love” and “by HBO.” A label also states “Advertisement” above each image to respect the integrity of the products, said Webshots Director of Product Marketing Russ Novy.

While Webshots works with advertisers to create front door roadblocks, site skins and themes, the custom-built campaign is a first of its kind for the site. “I’m proud that it’s with a big brand name like HBO,” said Novy. “We appreciate that they understand the power of the online community and how it builds a brand.”

Webshots said the campaign launched on Velentine’s day with circulation of the photos on the site. As the air date nears, the campaign will expand to front door takeovers and site skins, common practice for the launch of movies and TV shows. “When you do a front door roadblock or site skin, it times nicely for a movie launch or event,” said Novy.

In addition to the Webshots activities, HBO will run search and display ads to support the campaign. Offline, a campaign includes mock wedding announcements in local newspapers, and a direct mailing of authentic wedding invitations.

The campaign will pique viewer interest, but a certain follow-on audience is expected from “The Sopranos,” which airs immediately prior to “Big Love.” With an almost two-year gap between seasons, HBO marketers recognized a need to build buzz, and provide a refresher to remind viewers of last season’s events.

The concept is a map identifying 15 locations from the show’s fifth season. To create the campaign, Deep Focus leveraged Google Maps technology, creating a tour for visitors. “By setting it up as a tour, people can spend 10 to 15 minutes with the application if they want,” said Schafer. “There are 15 scenes covered from the last season and they can experience it in a variety of ways.”

HBO was supportive of the campaign’s direction, both for the promotion and how it addresses the HBO’s views on marketing its content. “It’s the first time that a TV series has ever used [Google Maps] technology as a marketing vehicle,” said Monroe. “We pride ourselves on innovative ways to market our shows and leveraging interaction in the marketplace.”

“The Sopranos” microsite goes live on Monday with a presentation at Search Engine Strategies. “Perfect timing, considering it’s done in conjunction with the biggest search engine there is,” said Schafer.

The site is yet to be launched, however it received what Schafer called a “proportionate media frenzy” when news traveled from trade papers to mainstream press. Schafer isn’t concerned the attention prior to launch will subside before the show’s initial airing. “The full potential of the popularity of that campaign hasn’t even been realized yet.”

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