Desperate Measures

Unsuspecting patrons in New York and L.A. got a little something extra with their dry cleaning this summer: four beautiful women.

Slyly gazing out from clear dry-cleaning bags were the four lead actresses from ABC's Desperate Housewives, bolstered by the catchphrase: "Everybody has some dirty laundry."

Of the estimated $15 million ABC earmarked to promote its fall season, $8 million-$9 million was lavished on Housewives' cross-media marketing campaign.

The network, which has languished in the ratings for several years, pulled out all the stops to target a female audience; the dry-cleaning promo accompanied sassy ads in health clubs, women's magazines and Web sites, along with outdoor, TV and radio spots.

Steve McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment, cites the network's marketing as integral to the show's early success. "There is a lot of clutter out there, and people are savvy. It targeted the right audience, and it was fun," he says. "The intent was to generate buzz, and it delivered."

Unlike ABC's $5 million campaign for its other fall smash, Lost, which aimed for an air of mystery, the Housewives
effort gave the show a distinctly fun, sexy vibe. Mike Benson, senior vice president of marketing for ABC, says the idea was to get people thinking, "This would be a good time on a Sunday night."

That's why the marketing for Housewives
didn't forget men. To lure them, a spot that ran on various sports shows was set to the song "Slow Ride" and used footage of Nicolette Sheridan's character squeezing a sponge over her shirt while washing her car.

The campaign paid off: Desperate Housewives
scored 21.3 million viewers overall for its Oct. 3 premiere, making it ABC's highest-rated series premiere since Spin City
in 1996. And 37% of the debut's 18-49 audience was male.

Jim Chabin, CEO of Promax, a trade group for broadcast design and marketing professionals, credits the large audience to ABC's broad marketing approach. "They could not have had the strong launch they did if they relied on their own airtime," he says. "They had to look beyond, to create a critical mass. It was an ingenious use of other media to launch a premiere."

ABC's next challenge is to keep the Housewives
audience tuned in. By leveraging the show's ratings, it hopes to draw viewers to others on its roster, such as Boston Legal
and Wife Swap.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," says Benson. "And we're at mile one. The goal is to sustain efforts in marketing to keep bringing people back."