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In a Flyover State: Don’t Believe the Hype

One of the big takeaways from this fall TV season is that it stinks to be the marketing chief of a broadcast network.

Well, hang on. It doesn’t stink all the time. You do get paid a boatload of money and you get to go on photo shoots with really hot actors and actresses. Neither of those things remotely stinks even a little bit.

But network marketers get paid to ramp up hype before a show launches. And ironically, that hype can break a show as often as it can make it.

This fall, as happens all the time in television, certain new shows built up expectations that were unlikely—if not impossible—to be reached. And I don’t care if you’re a TV show or a new hamburger that ain’t worth the six bucks: The under-delivery of a promise is the worst crime any brand can commit. Much like networks have to meet the ratings they guarantee to advertisers, they also have to honor what they guarantee to viewers in the same way.

So, while certain rookies had decent ratings for a freshman, the fact that they were measured both by ratings and against lofty expectations is why they were called disappointments by some.

Obviously Example A within the industry is Fox’s The X Factor. Between the long ramp-up and the fact that there was no possible way it wasn’t going to be compared to ratings behemoth American Idol, this thing never stood a chance from a perception standpoint. I fell for it and was the first to admit I was way off in my prediction for the rating, figuring it would open to Idol esque numbers.

If I told any network they could be guaranteed four hours per week at a 4 rating in the 18-49 demo for a new show with a chance it could grow down the road, they’d take it in a heartbeat. But because of huge X Factor expectations, the industry as a whole considered the ratings disappointing, as opposed to focusing on its solid-in-the-grand-scheme numbers.

And expectations can be about more than ratings. Sometimes, a show has to deal with the expectations by viewers of what it will deliver. ABC’s Charlie’s Angels and NBC’s The Playboy Club are perfect examples. The former lacked the kitsch and irony gene that Angels fans probably expected. The Playboy Club became the most famous bunny to be cooked since Fatal Attraction because—among other things—it frankly lacked the T&A with which the Playboy brand is associated. Neither of these pilots was very good, but the fact that they had massive brands to live up to that were easy to hype pushed the bar even higher.

Of course, fixing this is easier said than done. There is no such thing as a soft launch these days in television; it’s not possible to break through the clutter without shouting from the rooftops. And to say network marketing chiefs shouldn’t build up hype is ridiculous, and not my point.

They should, however, remember this: Before you go screaming your message at the top of your lungs, you’d better make sure the show delivers it, or your marketing will actually end up being part of the problem.

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