Turner Broadcasting goes viral to market Conan O’Brien

Conan O'Brien survives driving a car off the cliff in a promo for his new show.

Conan O'Brien survives driving a car off the cliff in a promo for his new show.

Not only is Conan O’Brien unusual, but so is the marketing campaign leading up to the debut of his new TV show in two weeks.

Jeff Gregor

Jeff Gregor

Never before has Turner Broadcasting relied so heavily on the Internet to create interest in a show. For the first few months of the campaign this summer and fall, Turner — a TV company, I think — had its own medium play second fiddle to the Web. What’s more, its strategy is likely to be repeated by the company and adopted by competitors in the future.

I often run into execs who talk about “exploiting social media” when hawking their wares. But they frequently have little to show for their efforts. In this case, however, Turner execs took advantage of Conan’s Web-savvy fan base, which was fueled by NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno into Conan’s late-night spot.

I sat down last week in the “Conan War Room” (that’s literally the sign on the door) at Turner Entertainment headquarters beside the Downtown Connector with the three execs responsible for the strategy: Jeff Gregor, chief marketing officer of TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies; Tricia Melton, senior vice president of entertainment marketing; and Dennis Adamovich, senior vice president of brand and digital activation.

Here’s what they did:

Tricia Melton

Tricia Melton

– First, they understood they did not have the traditional challenge faced by many execs charged with introducing a new personality, product or service. Conan and the controversy were well-known. So, they concluded that their core principle would be: “Let Conan be Conan.” Capitalize on his unique sense of humor and energize his fans, who live on the Web.

Before continuing, it cannot be overstated how important it was for the three of them to shed all of their previous notions and playbooks, and focus on creating a new one from scratch.

– They set up a task force within Turner of about 20 people with various areas of expertise. Since Conan went on a 35-city tour after he left NBC, they were not able to really get started on the campaign until late July. That made collaborating with Conan’s writers even more critical because of the time crunch. After all, Conan’s team knew him a lot better than the Turner people did. And the essence of the strategy was for Conan to be authentic — assuming a comedian can ever be authentic.

– Turner colonized Conan’s teamcoco.com website instead of creating a new one for the show. Virtually all information is generated there — for the fans and the media. Conan answers questions on the site, and most TV ads appear there first. Fans can vote on who they would like to see as his first guest — the Pope, Jack Nicholson, Vladimir Putin and Lady Gaga are among the choices. (Nicholson is leading.)

Dennis Adamovich

Dennis Adamovich

– More traditional approaches to draw in new fans have been layered on top of the main Web effort, from a Conan blimp flying overhead during TBS telecasts of the baseball playoffs to television promos that we’re all going to see a lot more of in the coming weeks.

Still, the Web will remain the show’s focal point. Conan has more than 1.7 million Twitter followers.

An internal marketing document sums it up quite well: “Twitter = Conan’s megaphone.”

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

6 comments Add your comment


October 26th, 2010
12:18 pm

Thank you TBS! The promos are fabulous. I find myself watching just to see them – even though I can see them on the website at any time. Can’t wait until Nov 8th!


October 26th, 2010
12:27 pm

FANTASTIC job, TBS. The web communities have definitely been following your efforts and are so, so thankful that you guys are a) allowing Conan to be Conan, and b) trying to understand the fan base and the mediums we use to communicate. Well done!


October 26th, 2010
12:29 pm

Thank You TBS!!! I could not sleep last night and found myself watching TBS (sex in the city) just to see the new CONAN promos. All of them have been fantastic! I look forward to Nov. 8th.


October 26th, 2010
12:35 pm

I don’t get TBS in Canada but still, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Sarah W

October 26th, 2010
3:20 pm

So excited!! I may not be able to stay up late since I teach, but I am DVRing it!!!


October 26th, 2010
5:36 pm

Let God will be done thru this blog http://lightoftheearth.blogspot.com/