High on a New Season

Weeds, the critically acclaimed pot-selling comedy on Showtime, is heading into its second season with an unprecedented marketing push designed to sniff out younger viewers.

The network has partnered with Rolling Stone magazine in that effort, placing an innovative ad: a scent strip. The ad form, usually used by fragrance companies to tout new perfumes, will this time bear a distinctive herby aroma.

The ad, which began appearing in editions for sale Aug. 11, was the suggestion of Showtime’s New York media strategy agency, Initiatives. Advertisers have done ads that pop up, employ a sound chip or include DVDs, but Showtime vice president of media George DeBolt said he couldn’t recall a programmer doing a scent ad. The magazine was selected for the placement for its demographic (a reader base averaging 32 years old, according to DeBolt) and the fact that it doesn’t carry fashion ads that might detract from the Weeds display.

The ad will appear in no other magazine. An estimated 12 million people read Rolling Stone each month. Other magazines, including People, US Weekly, Star and Entertainment Weekly, ran conventional tune-in ads.

The effort is to support what has become the highest-rated original series in Showtime’s history. (DeBolt wouldn’t state the rating, citing company policy. The network also relies on consumer feedback and critical acclaim to determine what qualifies as a premium service “hit.”)

The key demographic for the show is adults 35 to 49, which matches that of the network, but Showtime officials would like to draw more young viewers.

Though he declined to state the exact expenditure amount, DeBolt said the network will be spending as much on promotion of Weeds’ sophomore season as it does for a programming debut. That includes tripling its spending on online advertising for Weeds, compared to Season 1, to reach younger potential viewers. The series is also available as a paid download on Apple Computer Corp.’s iTunes music and video service. “You fish where the fish are,” DeBolt quipped.

In support of the show’s Season 2 premiere on Aug. 14, Showtime dispatched its Weeds Brownie Blitz this past weekend. Munchies, with labels bearing tune-in information and the slogan “The Buzz is Back,” were distributed at transportation and high-traffic areas in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston. “Suburbanite mom-types” doling out the brownies wore aprons bearing the Weeds logo. At other locations, street vendors served free coffee in Weeds mugs, playing off the “buzz” in the slogan.

“Munchie Mobiles” were also dispatched to concerts and sporting events in various cities. The redesigned ice cream trucks passed out a variety of logo merchandise, including treats provided by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Frito-Lay Inc.

Explaining the sophomore push, DeBolt said, “This show defines what premium is about,” and Showtime believes it has momentum, demonstrated by its recent five Emmy nominations.