Exclusive: Nat Geo’s Puzzling Promos Push ‘Brain Games’

National Geographic Channel wants even people not smart enough to complete the New York Times crossword to tune in to season two of its series Brain Games.

The cable network is putting a lot of its promotional power into media where people who are fascinated by games—like the Times’ crossword web page, where a custom made Brain Games version of the puzzle will be posted—because it has a cerebral component. Even the Brain Games banner ad is a puzzle, requiring viewers to put the pieces together in order to view a clip.

But Hayes Tauber, senior VP of consumer marketing for National Geographic Channels, adds that Brain Games, which focuses on showing how the brand connects with the world around it, is one of the channel’s most widely appealing shows. It skews close to 50% male and 50% female, has a broad ranges in terms of age and incomes of its viewers. “Sure we’re aiming it at smart people. It’s definitely a show that’s got that element to it,” Tauber said, adding, “I wouldn’t want to see us as painting the show to that small of a target. I think there’s a common denominator that makes it so appealing to such a wide swath. The subject matter that’s being discussed is appealing to everybody.”

Hosted by Jason Silva, Brain Games last year was Nat Geo’s most watched show with an average of 1.2 million viewers and a 0.7 rating among adults 25-54 for episode premieres. As such, its second season launch on Jan. 13 is getting a big push. “It’s definitely one of our highest spend levels,” said Tauber, who declined to disclose a dollar amount. “It’s a show that we are fully invested in and greatly believe in and have put the resources behind it to really create a very full and robust integrated marketing campaign.”

To create a sense of the show in person, Nat Geo is setting up a series of live experiences where people can take part in mind-bending illusions—such was standing in an upside down room, levitating or serving up one’s head on a table—and share images with friends via social networks. 

“It’s an opportunity for us to really bring Brain Games to life and give fans who are either familiar with the show or have not yet experienced the show an opportunity to see what it’s all about and see how fun it is,” Tauber said.

The travelling Illusion Gallery will be set up in Los Angeles on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4, in New York’s Grand Central Station on Jan. 9th and in Washington, D.C., at Tyson’s Corner on Jan 11.

To create a media campaign, Tauber says that the network used data about who watched the show last year to target fans and potential viewers. On TV, Brain Games has bought spots in TBS’s off-net reruns of Big Bang Theory, the comedy about brainy misfits. Nat Geo will also be the sole sponsor of episodes of Big Bang streamed on CBS.com.

Billboards for the show have gone up in Times Square.

Nat Geo has also formed a content marketing partnership with the website Mental Floss, promotional partnerships with retailer The Brain Store and the UFC, some of whose athletes appear in an episode of the show this season.

And in a first for the network, Brain Games has filmed a unique card trick that will be shown in 6,500 New York City cabs via Taxi TV.

“It puts our brand and our product in front of some people at a time when they’re yearning for that entertainment and looking for an opportunity to exercise their mind,” Tauber said. “I think it will be very impactful as a marketing vehicle.”

Even Brain Games' ads are a puzzle. For an interactive version, click here.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.