How ‘Bull’ Got CBS Viewers Off

Daniel Holloway

Michael Weatherly is not a bad-looking man. So a 48-foot-wide billboard featuring a close-up of his face overlaid with big, red letters reading “He’ll get you off” sends an unsubtle message — also an effective one.

Bull,” the freshman CBS drama on which Weatherly stars, is one of the early success stories of the new fall season. It premiered Sept. 20 to 15.6 million total viewers in Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers — the most for any new scripted series premiere so far this season — and saw little ratings erosion in its second week. After being preempted by the vice-presidential debate last week, “Bull” returns Tuesday night, looking to continue a fast start propelled in part by an eye-catching marketing campaign, the highlight of which were those ads featuring Weatherly.

In “Bull,” Weatherly plays Dr. Jason Bull, a psychologist and jury consultant loosely based on Phil McGraw of “Dr. Phil” fame. In classic case-of-the-week style, Bull is hired by clients accused of wrongdoing to, well, get them off.

“It’s a double entendre,” CBS marketing group president George Schweitzer says of the “He’ll get you off” ads, which also appeared in print and digital campaigns. “It works for Michael Weatherly.”

The principal challenge of marketing new television shows ahead of the fall season is competition. Every broadcaster is pushing multiple products at the same time. Standing out from the crowd is a tough task.

CBS’ efforts on behalf of “Bull” included a “What type of juror are you?” Twitter activation, a pop-up court room in New York’s Union Square, and a free-coffee giveaway outside New York courthouses. The network began doing on-air promotions in June.

But the marketing moment for the show that Schweitzer is most proud of is one that wasn’t planned. When McGraw appeared on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last month to promote the show, Kimmel displayed a picture of the “He’ll get you off” billboard and jokingly asked if Steven Spielberg — whose Amblin Television produces “Bull” with CBS Television Studios — had approved the ad. When McGraw insisted that the ad was “pretty clever,” Kimmel agreed.

“Here’s Jimmy Kimmel, late night on ABC, using CBS marketing as content,” Schweitzer said. “That’s something that we strive for in all these little marketing projects we do, big and small. When your marketing becomes content for your competitor, that’s fantastic.”

That moment would not have been possible without a display ad capable of being a conversation starter. But CBS only ran the outdoor campaign in two markets — New York and Los Angeles. For the rest of the country, there were the social media campaigns and efforts such as radio-DJ promotions and a dart-board game that appeared at state fairs.

“We could have put this in ten markets, but I don’t know how it was going to play,” Schweitzer says of the outdoor ads. The decision to focus “He’ll get you off” in the two largest media was also a function of budget. “I believe in concentration. You’ve gotta make noise.”

Schweitzer is quick to point out that the show’s success, from a marketing standpoint, is carried primarily by elements such as the punchy title, solid concept, creative auspices, and a strong lead-in from “NCIS.” Then there’s the star, Weatherly, a 13-season veteran of “NCIS” whose face is well-known to CBS viewers — and was integral to that ad that helped build buzz for his new show.

“Michael loves a camera and people love Michael,” Schweitzer says.

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