Thursday, February 09, 2006

Marketing Desperate Housewives – a tale of focus, strategy and luck

The show "Desperate Housewives" presented a complex marketing challenge to ABC.
Launching a new show is always a high-wire act - at least 50% of new shows typically fail within a year.
The show was facing stiff competition NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and WB network’s "Jack & Bobby."

As with all new products, correct positioning was the first step to take.
Initially ABC started to sell the show as being dark and mysterious, since a suicide happens in the first five minutes.
However, they quickly realized that this positioning would not appeal to the target audience (housewives). It would not connect with the target audience.
Instead, ABC decided to focus on the name of the show and go from there.
After a market research, they decided to sell the show as a fun, sexy soap.

As a marketing strategy, it was decided not to spoon feed the audience, but keep details of the show secret.
If too many details were already shown, viewers might decide not to tune it at all.
The challenge was to put together clips that embodied the spirit of the show without spoiling the surprise.
For PR, ABC used the media planning agency OMD (part of the Omnicom Group) that created a promotion mix of the usual on-air and online mechanisms.
They also capitalized on the show’s tagline "Everybody has a little dirty laundry".

As a marketing gimmick, they put this tagline on the sides of laundry bags at various laundry mats and got greater buzz than the on-air and online ads.
About a million such bags were distributed (by Ambient Planet) in Los Angeles and New York.
Next to the slogan, the bags also bore photographs of four principal cast members of the series.
The marketing campaign also included (apart from the normal promotional spots) ads on billboards and buses and "screening parties" at health clubs.

The TV viewers embraced the show as a popular, twisted soap-comedy-drama-mystery.
Once it became a hit, merchandizing took off as well.
Apart from the ABC online store, entrepreneurs big and small are capitalizing on the new show's strong following.
TV-inspired garb was being snapped up such as T-shirts flaunting "I love Susan" to cherry red aprons saying "Honey, the marriage counseling might not work. You need to get used to bad cooking."
While sales numbers were not provided by ABC representatives, sold about 500 "Desperate Housewives"-inspired shirts in less than two months.
ABC did confirm that T-shirts were among the hottest-selling products during the show’s first Christmas season on the store.

The show does some clever in-house marketing as well.
In one episode, one of the desperate housewives (Lynnette Scavo, played by Felicity Huffman) is trying to help her husband Tom (played by Doug Savant) by suggesting to improve his sales campaign for his client’s product "Spotless Scrub" aimed at women.
Her idea: advertise on dry-cleaning bags.

For the second season, the show boasted the slogan "New season, new dirty laundry."
ABC entertainment President Steven McPherson is a strong believer in marketing and wanted to optimize on the success of the multi-award-winning show that finished its first run as the fourth most watched program on television.
With their show ranking at the top of the Nielsens and up for a whopping 15 Emmy Awards, the stars of ABC's Desperate Housewives are also riding the merchansize wave - everything from soda pop to satellite radio.
Nicollette Sheridan and Marcia Cross hawk 7-Up Plus in a spot called "Shopping Showdown." Sheridan also endorses Di Modolo jewelry.
Eva Longoria, who appeared with Diddy in the "Truck" Super Bowl ad for Diet Pepsi, has new deals with L'Oréal and Sirius Satellite Radio.
Teri Hatcher, a veteran of Radio Shack spots, has recently appeared in ads for Variety, wearing nothing but a copy of the Hollywood trade paper.
The Desperate Men are equally in demand.
Ricardo Antonio Chavira and James Denton have been cast in a print campaign for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation sponsored by Lee Jeans.

Due to the show’s racy image, there are advertisers that steer away from it.
Mary Kay, Lowe's, Tyson Foods and Kellogg's pulled their ad dollars from "Desperate Housewives" after receiving negative reactions from their customer groups.
This didn’t greatly impact the show - Advertising Age reports that the asking price for a 30-second spot on Desperate Housewives jumped from an initial $150,000 to $300,000 once the show became a runaway hit.

What made "Desperate Housewives" a success in a market were half of the new shows fail within a year?

  • Market research – ABC did its homework and identified its target audience
    Positioning – the show was correctly positioned and received as a fun, sexy, soap-comedy-drama-mystery
  • Promotion – ABC created a perfect promotion mix
  • Branding – ABC build a strong show brand, using catching taglines
  • Marketing - ABC, the cast and the marketing company are marketing the show and themselves, including merchandizing

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