“You took my children and I want them back.”
That was the cryptic message on a billboard along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles last month that was part of a multi-million dollar marketing push for the online revival beginning Monday of soap operas One Life To Live and All My Children.
Both had been staples of broadcast TV for more than four decades before they were canceled by ABC in 2011. Now the marketing challenge is not only to bring back their mostly female audience and attract new, younger viewers, but also to convince them to watch the programs on Hulu or buy them in iTunes.
The billboard was a tease intended to build buzz and signal this soap opera revival was different. And it did just that, says executive producer Jeff Kwatinetz, who with partner Rich Frank runs Prospect Park, the privately held management and production company that licensed the shows from ABC and has reinvented them as four times a week half hours (on ABC they each ran for one hour).
“The billboard didn’t provide an immediate connection to All My Children but we think it was fun and it showed some attitude,” says Kwatinetz. “And people began to immediately tweet pictures of the billboard and began writing about it.”
The effort to make these soaps pioneers in the switch from old to new media has been innovative not just in the distribution model but also in how they have been selling it using a robust mix of old and new media.
The traditional part of the plan has included the purchase of print ads in Parade, TV Guide, US Weekly, Soap Opera Digest and Soaps In Depth. There has also been a national campaign of radio advertising along with on-air promotions and contests on pop stations like Z100 in New York City with prizes including a walk-on role in one of the soap operas, set visits, and trips to New York for a screening of the soaps by I Heart Radio and a red carpet premiere on the NYU campus held earlier this week.
They have also bought time on cable TV and digital channels. In addition, they have generated publicity by sending stars from the soaps (many of whom were on the ABC version) to appear on Entertainment Tonight, Wendy Williams, Access Hollywood and elsewhere. The marketing plan has also seen ad time bought on TV networks although they ran into resistance from some.
The real innovations have gone beyond the traditional however. The show's makreting has expanded into new media, social networking and grassroots marketing, which has included in person visits to night clubs, college coffee shops, book stores, Laundromats, restaurants, beauty parlors and elsewhere, where randed t-shirts, post cards and other materials have been handed out.
“I believe we’re the first premium television launching online in an ad-supported way,” says Kwatinetz. “HBO, Showtime and Netflix have done it but we believe we’re the first mainstream content that is advertiser based and online to do this.”
“[The shows are] innovative conceptually and overall,” adds Kwatinetz, “and a lot of our advertising is innovative as well. Until now no one has really done what were doing.”
Digital and social media have been integral to the re-launch. Cast members have been encouraged to post on their Facebook pages and to tweet. The marketing has incorporated an aggressive plan involving Instragram, Tumblr, Get Glue, Google and YouTube -- where Prospect Park has posted promotional and behind the scenes videos from the production.
From the first day of production in Connecticut, crews shot background footage and did interviews, which were edited and presented.
“Our plan was to go viral,” says Kwatinetz. “We’ve done that by constantly putting up good content, whether its stories about what’s going on or lots of pictures from the set. We have created a number of special pieces just for social media.”
The All My Children Facebook page went up February 6 and now has almost 8 million users a week. All My Children and OLTL have about half a million “likes” each on Facebook.
The cast has also made numerous visits to Google Hangouts, answering questions from fans and sharing stories. They have also created original videos meant to be comedic such as “Goats Screaming Like Humans For The Return of One Life To Live” and “Suzy F****n Homemaker: How To Use Hulu Tutorial.”
Members of the cast also flew to Dallas in March to attend a conference of “mommy bloggers” as part of outreach to a range of lifestyle bloggers, mostly female.
To give the marketing materials a high-end gloss, Prospect Park hired fashion photographers for cast shoots, and engaged celebrity stylist George Kotsiopolous (a regular on E!’s Fashion Police) to modernize the look and set the tone.
Hulu is the official online distributor of the shows, and has also been doing a month-long promotion for the shows leading up to the premiere, as has ITunes, which is the exclusive retailer. Most of the video clips released on Hulu have made it onto their “most popular” clips chart, alongside those from Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon.
The marketing plan has also included stunt casting. There are cameo appearances by Jersey Shore’s J-Woww (playing a bartender in OLTL), rapper Riff Raff (who tweeted about it to his 367,134 followers), punk rock boy band Hot Chelle Rae, Cover Girl models, Nervo (a music source with about 200,000 Twitter followers) and most visibly, Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg), who wrote the new theme song for OLTL (which he tweeted about to his 10.7 million followers).
Riff Raff in his cameo played a shady art dealer from Florida whose name was Jamie Franko, playing up a recent controversy with the actor James Franco over his portrayal of a shady rapper in the recent movie Spring Breakers (a character Riff Raff claims was based on him, a claim Franco has denied). That garnered unpaid press coverage in Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Pitchfork and hip hop magazines XXL and Complex.
“We are marketing to the television watching audience many of which already watch online as well,” says Kwatinetz. “Many don’t however. So we are doing TV and radio ads and billboards and not just relying on social media and online networks because we’re trying to reach the television viewer overall. I think that is innovatiive.”