HBO used an integrated marketing campaign to promote its new show Lovecraft Country.
HBO needed to raise awareness and drive tune-in for Lovecraft Country, a sci-fi/horror drama launching on HBO and its streaming platform, HBO Max. The goal was to hit 10 million in cumulative premiere episode viewers by the season finale across all platforms.
The target audience was people aged 18 and over, entertainment and sci-fi enthusiasts, and people of African-American heritage. Importantly, this audience prefers to learn through content, with 70 percent saying they prefer it to traditional advertising.
To make Lovecraft Country a hit, the network needed to raise awareness of the show before, during and after the season premiere, and prompt people to watch on HBO or HBO Max. The target was to hit 10 million in cumulative premiere episode viewers by the season finale across all platforms. With such an ambitious viewership goal, the tune-in campaign had to intrigue multiple different interest segments effectively, using customized content to speak to pivotal groups of potential viewers.
Given the clutter in the market, the network needed to do more than just promote the show via TV and digital ads. Instead, HBO needed to take the target deep into the show's backstory and pique their interest in the struggles of real African-Americans in the 1950s. To do this, HBO used content to cut through. Like Lovecraft Country, the content would blend art and activism, combining the craft of storytelling, with powerful messages calling out the racism of America's past.
To reach target audiences, HBO worked with three specific content partners to share different messages:
HBO is the home of groundbreaking dramas like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, and The Sopranos, and one of the most respected entertainment brands in the world.
In 2020, it was launching Lovecraft Country, a genre-bending sci-fi/horror experience set during some of America's darkest times in the battle for racial justice. The show tells the story of Atticus Freeman, a young African-American, who travels across 1950s America in search of his missing father. Along the way, he struggles to overcome the racist terrors of white America and hordes of terrifying monsters. Airing on HBO on Sunday nights, and available for streaming on new streaming service HBO Max, Lovecraft Country was HBO's biggest show of 2020.
The network wanted to attract as many as 10 million cumulative viewers for the season finale. However, achieving this goal wouldn't be easy. Not only was the show competing against Sunday Night Football, but also the return of programming after a six-month pandemic hiatus.
Overall Campaign Execution:
HBO launched the campaign a few weeks before the season premiere with a competition on TheRoot.com. With "For the Love of the Craft", the network asked Black writers to write a story about monsters that littered Black American history, blurring the historic and monstrous, just like Lovecraft Country. The winner would get $5,000, have their story published online, and receive mentorship from the show's writers.
Concurrently, HBO launched its partnership with Vanity Fair with a homepage takeover, linking to a custom long-form native article. In "Subverting And Surviving: How Black Storytellers Remix Sci-Fi's Racist History," a collaboration between Vanity Fair and HBO, the network highlighted the journey and complexity of H. P. Lovecraft through a branded article that included comic-book-inspired illustrations.
In partnership with Genius, HBO created an additional article, "Soundtrack Breakdown," in which Lovecraft Country music supervisor Liza Richardson gave an inside look into how the show used contemporary music and hip-hop to enhance storytelling. An accompanying video, Scene Annotation, brought her words to life. HBO also created For the Record, a video in which host Rob Markman and composers Raphael Saadiq and Laura Karpman discussed the creative choices made in the score of Lovecraft Country while recording during a pandemic.
While sharing thematic similarities, each piece of content was tailored to specific cultural segments associated with the respective partner publications, requiring a deep understanding of tonality, and close collaboration with HBO's publishing partners.
HBO supported the content with targeted video and social posts, sharing teasers and show clips on its social channels. The company also targeted bingers and people who'd watched similar shows on connected TVs (CTVs) with trailers and pre-roll content and reached AT&T Advanced TV viewers via its set-top box advertising product Xandr.