Fall shows tuned in to Twitter marketing

Networks taking advantage of online word-of-mouth

Twitter's effectiveness as a marketing tool remains up for debate, but don't tell that to Homer Simpson or Jay Leno.

Along with dozens of other TV characters and personalities on a variety of networks, their shows are being actively promoted on the shortform chat network, part of a drive by major broadcasters to generate awareness and buzz for their fall schedules.

According to network executives, word-of-mouth is the second-most-effective driver of program sampling (the first is the on-air promotional spot). This year, they've stepped up use of online advertising, grassroots events and out-of-home venues and stunts.

"The way word-of-mouth spreads is evolving," said Michael Benson, co-executive vp marketing at ABC Entertainment. "We're trying to utilize all sorts of digital platforms to find the audiences that will watch specific programs. There's no cookie-cutter formula; every show is different."

NBC is using Facebook to stream a full episode, prelaunch, of its upcoming Thursday comedy "Community," about the quirky characters at a community college. The catch: To see it, Facebook users have to send NBC promo clips to 10 of their friends on the social network.

"Fans have to do a little recruiting for us," said John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBC Universal Television Group. "This is sort of our own 'forced' word-of-mouth activity."

CBS is tapping nail salons in major markets, among other stunts, to promote its Monday comedy "Accidentally on Purpose," starring Jenna Elfman as a film critic who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. The salons are equipped with nail dryers embedded with video screens playing a clip of the show as well as branded nail files.

"My attitude is, everything helps," said George Schweitzer, president of CBS Marketing Group. "We're in a mass business, and we try to maximize reach and create word-of-mouth."

Three of the four major networks have chosen one fall program for an exceptionally hefty promotional push: NBC is pulling out all the stops for "The Jay Leno Show," Fox is giving a huge push to "Glee" and ABC is heavying up on "FlashForward."

Although digital and other promotional platforms are growing in importance, execs noted that their own airtime still accounts for about 90% of their fall campaign impressions. Each net spends an additional $25 million-$35 million on outside media to round out their campaigns.

"We're always researching how people find out what's on TV," Schweitzer said. "The best sampling always comes from our own promotional spots."