Silver Spoons: A Tale of Three PR Campaigns

Written by: Kendra Spring Klasek



It's been a busy PR week for two premium cable networks and one up-and-coming streaming network.  While most of us have been scurrying around preparing for Thanksgiving, HBO, Starz and Amazon have been releasing promotional teasers for their flagship series.

To paraphrase George Orwell, however, "Some PR campaigns are more equal than others."





Granted - each network has their own choices to make and how they disseminate their product.  Some choices have been thought provoking and effective. Some choices have been controversial but integral to garner buzz.  And then, some were just a tad underwhelming.



So let's start with the controversial choice:



Amazon's critically acclaimed new drama, about an alternate history in which the Axis Powers have won WWII and America has been divided under German and Japanese rule, is also their most expensive to date and, to be sure it stayed a talking point, they took it upon themselves to do a little re-decorating.

That is, they plastered Nazi and Imperial Japan insignia all over the New York City Subway's seats, forcing passengers to pick a side.

Photo courtesy: www.dailymail.co.uk

New Yorkers were unamused.
In an article by Gothamist writer, Erik Baard, one commuter had this to say:
“Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design,” said straphanger Ann Toback. “So I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didn’t want to stare at it.” 
Toback said she doesn’t object to the TV show as a work of fiction, but insists, “I shouldn’t have to sit staring at a Nazi insignia on my way to work.”

In the end, it was an approach, albeit controversial, that implied the story.  

Japanese on the left, Germany on the right and neutral zone in the middle.  All altered to fit an American approach.

Everything you need to know about the show was right there.  Right in front of you.
Was this a sensitive approach by Amazon, especially in light of the current political climate in Europe and other parts of the world, reeling from recent attacks?
No way!
Was it effective? Hell, yes!  Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the subway ads taken down, but not before social media was buzzing with talk of the show.  How many new viewers did they gain by power of sheer morbid curiosity? We'll soon see.  But it raised the show's profile quite a bit.



Now - let's take a look at the thought provoking and (almost) perfect choice for a TEASER:
While all of the hoopla about The Man In The High Castle was going down in New York, HBO was getting ready to lay down it's Trump card.  Ladies and gents, I give you the nearly perfect teaser:
Photo courtesy: HBO
Any fan of the show doesn't need an explanation as to why this is such a huge reveal.  What's masterful about it is that while it seems to be tipping their hand pretty hard, there is zero context.  We have NO idea the direction they are going in any way, especially considering they've run out of source material and are now fully winging it.

But here's what's most important about this poster - it tells you everything you need to know about the next season in one image.  It implies mystery, sadness, tone, hope, narrative force, resolution, danger, intrigue, catharsis, validation, fanboy culture, all in a single frame.  Not to mention, it's gorgeous. 

Fans understand the context, and non fans can tell that something is afoot.

As a collective - we see an implied story.

When this hit the presses - it exploded.  But as much as it implies - it actually shows nothing.  It's just a picture.
In short . . . it's just enough.  It's not everything and we're still flying blind, but it's fantastic and can get us through to April.
Another thing to note . . . that April date.  HBO is working with the same kind of timeline that Starz is, but they know how to properly satiate their fans who are salivating for significant details.  With this bombshell reveal, fans now have at least 4 solid months to strengthen their theories and continue building the show's following.  If you're talking about plot and character, you're engaged.   


And then we have the underwhelming...

STARZ Outlander

We kept seeing #PeekAtParis all over Twitter and other social media during the days before Thanksgiving.  It built a ton of excitement and fervor for Paris. It was an inspired hashtag with an inspired idea.  Not only because of what happens in the book, but mainly because we last left our star crossed lovers leaving Scotland for Paris in the show.  

What awaits our beloved characters in Paris?!  We need to know!  We need our peek!  

This is how it started - and by the gods was it great:



Of course,  the Outlander fandom is rabid for ANY info because we simply love our characters with whom we've developed extremely personal relationships.  

Aside from that fandom fanaticism, however, #PeekAtParis worked because it teased what is so tantalizing about Paris and the situation in which Claire and Jamie find themselves as they try to course correct history.  It teased story, like the previous two PR campaigns.

But, in the end, this is what we got...
Photo courtesy: Outlander Starz

And this is what we got...

Photo courtesy: Outlander Starz
The culmination of  Starz' "big" reveal on Twitter? 

Dinner at Chez Fraser.  

Since the beginning of the week, photos, albeit beautiful ones, of various culinary delights have been tweeted by Starz leading up to Thanksgiving.  A plate of figs.  A lamb chop/meat pie/cranberry concoction.  A dinner plate . . . or rather, half a dinner plate, an overturned spoon and a knife. 

Outlander fans on Twitter, after having been pumped up by the tease of a #PeekAtParis, were a bit let down.  Is it understandable to be let down? For the rabid fan? Yes.  For the casual fan? Perhaps.
Photo courtesy: Outlander Starz
Again, this is all so so gorgeous . . . but it's not giving us anything we don't already know.  


Photo courtesy: Outlander Starz
We know that the sets are gorgeous because we've seen them.  We know the costumes are stunning because we saw the wedding dress in season one, and frankly, unless the dress is red, it's not revealing too much.  That's the one you want to hold back as your mic drop dress when the episode actually airs.
  
Anything else?  It's not too much!  Don't worry about giving us too much if it means you're going to give us a dinner tableau, instead.
Photo courtesy: Outlander Starz
Again, the details are stunning and we know Starz is going to get them just right.  
We KNOW they're spending money on the show.  We get that. 

What they DO need to worry about is making sure they get all those subscribers back that they lost by the time April comes knocking.  In other words - is pumping Twitter full of food porn (again, beautiful food porn) the way to go? 

What does it imply about the story?

Sadly - not a lot.  

We see obscured versions of Claire and Jamie with a bunch of people we DON'T know in a setting that is detailed yet oddly distant.  Does that imply we are just as foreign in France as Jamie and Claire? I think an argument can made for that.  

But again, the idea about a teaser is to tell us about the story to come - not what we'll be having for dinner or what a distinctly foreign environment would feel like.  They need to show us what the story will be (at least on a tertiary level.)

To Starz' credit, they may simply feel they don't have any new tricks up their sleeves because, unlike Game of Thrones, we actually HAVE read the source material already.  But that's just the thing . . . not all of their viewers have read the books.  Also in their back pocket, Ron D. Moore's admission that season two strays further from the book than season one.  So, yes . . . there are things, other than place settings, that they can tease us with.
Let's face it . . . we don't even know if Roger or Brianna will even be in season two, yet . . . or in what what capacity.  

What would've been great?  Major casting news!  A release date!  An outtake!  I've seen gifs from season 2; they have them on Tumblr.  

Why is this stuff being "leaked" and not released ON Starz?  Behind the scenes footage (we know they've got a ton in the can, already) interviews with the cast and crew?  Anything to reward viewers who are STILL their viewers, which will, in turn, entice former and new viewers into subscriber status.

 Fans would flip their wigs over something like that!

I don't have a marketing degree, so I'm not going to pretend I can solve Starz' dilemma.  But they have people on their payroll who do and who's job it should be to effectively engage fans.
Finally, I don't want to seem to be kicking Starz in the shins over this. I'm really not.  Everything about the images they've released is visually perfect and beautiful.  It's what this team shines at.  They've made a stunningly beautiful and remarkably shot program.  Furthermore, I know the cast and crew are still shooting this insanely detailed show, so it must take a lot of time for it to be created.

It's easy to infer that they have been working really hard to get us something. Anything.

A third option to consider is that #PeekAtParis was just a gift to all of the loyal viewers of Outlander.  They tied these photos in nicely with the idea of Thanksgiving and it was a cute play.  They give us a "taste" of the opulence and splendor of Paris.  

But was #PeekAt Paris the right choice? 

Probably not.

There is nothing uniquely French (to the common person like me) about these photos.  This could have just as easily been taken in England, Italy, Spain, or high class American Colonies. 

And even though it may have been a gift for Outlander fans, we have to inevitably take this a little bit further down the rabbit hole.  These are the first photos the world is seeing from season 2 of Outlander.  

Yes, this is our first look at season 2.  It's not just the rabid fans who are seeing these - it's the entire television community.  SO, were these photos a good "First Look"?

Not at all. 

It tells us nothing about what's to come other than Jamie and Claire will be at a nice dinner into an obtusely referenced Parisian dining room.  They had to tell us it was #PeekAtParis for us to understand it was actually Paris.  

Why tell us when you are supposed to SHOW us?

Yes, most anything Outlander related will impress current fans because they know what they're looking at.  They, (and myself) are happy to get anything.  We've been waiting for so long.  But, these dinner photos don't engage new viewers.  They don't coax old viewers back who decided to call it quits after season one B.  

There's no story here.  

There's nothing to entice people about how exquisite and beautifully layered our show is and/or where it's going in season 2.

We need something "other", and as only Starz and the creative team know what they are holding back, they are the ones who need to figure out what that "thing" is.  Perhaps there is a large timeline of events and releases that we don't know about yet.  Maybe they are still working on post production on images and film so they can't get us a perfectly treated tidbit of the show yet.  I totally understand all of that.

But, it's been a long time since June and "winter is coming".

What were your expectations of 'A Peek at Paris'?  How can Starz meet them in the future weeks without giving too much away?

24 comments

  1. Since they already had a sneak video of Season 2 for ComicCon, they could use some of that. I understand it was snippets of some super stuff! No prep needed just release a few seconds at the very least!!

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  2. Just curious, you said "a long time since August." What happened in August? From where I'm sitting, it's been a helluva long time since June, or the Comic Con and the sneak peek at S2 (which I saw as it was leaked). Did I miss something in August? Great blog piece, btw. Fair and informative.

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    Replies
    1. You are correct! I lost track of my air dates for a sec. Thank you!

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    2. Oh, you're welcome. (Hoping I had missed something though. That's how bad it is. LOL!)

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  3. If they won't release new clips, well, it's been nearly 6 months since SDCC. They should release the season 2 clip that was shown at the Comic con panel. Not everyone saw that. Those that do, might want to see it again.

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    Replies
    1. Yup. I'm in the eastern US, so didn't even know they showed a teaser snippet at SDCC. I sure would like to see it! Nicely started article.

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    2. Yup. I'm in the eastern US, so didn't even know they showed a teaser snippet at SDCC. I sure would like to see it! Nicely started article.

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    3. LindyLu, you should be able to find it on YouTube. Search for: Outlander S2 Slow Down. It's a slowed down (obviously) version of what was shown at SDCC. Not great quality but what can you expect with something that was probably captured by iPhone.

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  4. The problem with starz is I think they assume everyone who watches is an avid reader of the books so when they give us pics like this we are suppose to know whats going on and most readers do. But you're right they are neglecting the none readers. If I didn't read all the books would I still be around waiting for season 2 absolutely not. I would have forgotten about this show already like I do most other shows. I only stay interested because I've read the books and I want to see them on screen. Their PR team isn't the best but hey like you said they could be holding out until they get closer to the premiere date. However, by then it may be too late for some of the viewers. You have to maintain the interest of the average viewer and with that they have failed.

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  5. The sad thing is that a lot of savvy Millennial digital media interns could come up with something - ANYTHING - that would be a better tease than what this was. Seriously. It's hard, but not that hard. And I'm in PR.

    Great piece, Kendra!

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  6. Wow, great analysis of the three shows. I'll be watching The Man in the High Castle for sure. And I love Jon Snow, so even though he's gone (or not?) I'll be watching GOT too.

    And after being lured by cutlery and an empty Parisien table, and then yes, filled with cast I don't really know yet, sad to say, I'm already hooked, and thus will be watching Outlander too.

    Argh! This is what they already know. We will come. No matter what. Even with sucky unemotional pictures.

    However, what they don't realize is the reach we do have. We, the fringe, could convert many more people- our circle of influence is huge. These are the subscribers they want.

    But if I have nothing to entice my circle except a boring table... My words alone can't always sell Outlander.

    Give me a scene where Jamie can't make love to Claire because of his past torment, or show him being enticed by his former flame, or crying over his hand as he's so grateful for Claire, or almost losing a duel, or torn apart from Claire and put in prison... any of those I can first be self-satisfied and then use my passion to convert the uninitiated.

    Could they not put together a focus group for promotional purposes?

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  7. For the record, I believe it's a Rack of Lamb/Gooseberry/sculpted turnip concoction. I do dig the sumptuous detail, which I believe the creators are all so proud of, but if they have a season 2 clip out there, enough with the holding back and let all the fans who couldn't attend ComicCon in on it. Great blog.

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  8. bravo Kendra!! "Chez Fraser" made me chuckle lol!!

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  9. I thought it was brilliant. It accomplishes a lot. Jamie is well. Claire and Jamie are living a life far removed from the horror of 116. Season 2 will be gorgeous in an entirely different way. If I were a casual viewer it would make me wonder how the heck they ended up in the midst of such splendor. Trailers will follow.

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  10. I may be the only one who is ok with the tease. I think it did what it was supposed to do. The other shows you mentioned are in different phases of their shows. One is a new show so of course Amazon will be provocative about its promotion. And GOT is coming off of one hell of a cliffhanger of sort by killing off one of the main characters (maybe). The Outlander tease did its job in showing several things: Jamie and Claire away from Scotland and in Paris with its opulence and doing what they talked about in the finale - trying to change history by infiltrating Paris society. Clearly they are hosting this dinner by being at opposite heads of the table so their plan in motion. Reading in between the lines of this pic tells a fan a lot, book reader or no. Plus this was Thanksgiving so they were tying the whole feast idea into a small food related promo perhaps to appease fans who complained we haven't had anything new.
    I think it's early for Starz to try to get back those subs that were lost after the finale. They have plenty of time for that. I for one wouldn't renew my subscription until I knew an air date. I'm sure there will be a whole blitz for that. I have no doubt that Starz will pull out all the promotional stops when the time comes with Outlander being their flagship original series. I, for one, would like to see Starz PR get them on more major talk shows such as Ellen, the late night shows, more coverage on entertainment related show such as Access Hollywood, The Today Show, in addition to the smaller hits the were getting.
    Also, I've seen that SDCC S2 clip montage on YouTube. The quality was bad but just search for it there.

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  11. gr8 article! You made extremely valid points about the PR issues. You're right-the nonbook fan or potential new fans get nothing out of those images that would intrigue them.

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  12. There are two problems with the OL pics:
    For book fans - it shows something most fans don't care about: Fancy dinners with lots of people. DG glosses over these in the book. Again, it looks to me like expanding parts of the book people don't care about. When I think of Paris, I think of the Gazebo, I think of the duel, and the fights before and after.

    For non-book fans - it's boring. I can barely see Jamie or Claire in those pictures and there is nothing interesting going on.

    Overall, for both book fans and TV fans, the emphasis is on style not substance, visuals not meaning.

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    Replies
    1. Truth! What are your thoughts on the trailer?

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    2. The trailer had some good moments. I'm wondering if this was the Jamie and Claire cut and if there will be other versions that focus on the history and the fights.
      The thing that concerns me is that I'm not liking the way Jamie comes off. It's so brief, but it just seems like Jamie looks naive, lost, confused - like he has no idea what's going on. That is not what I think of when I think of Jamie Fraser in DIA.
      It made me a little nauseated.
      Also, it was a little slow.

      Like I said, maybe this is just one version of the Season 2 trailer.

      Delete
  13. a shot or 2 of the duel would be a good teaser

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  14. Wasn't overjoyed with the OL trailer,& I so agree Starz PR for OL is dismal.

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