Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Game Show Network (GSN), the only 24-hour cable channel in the United States dedicated to game shows and interactive game playing, was founded in 1995. By 2000 its ratings were at an all-time high, and the network said it was attracting a growing number of viewers. Its goal, however, was to expand the number of cable outlets offering GSN and to increase its viewer base from 25 million subscribers to 50 million within three years.
To accomplish this goal, GSN launched its first-ever consumer-marketing and brand-awareness campaign in March 2000. Signed on to create the campaign, which was estimated to cost between $5 million and $10 million, was TBWA\Chiat\Day, an ad agency based in San Francisco. Themed ‘‘You Know You Know,’’ the campaign featured three television spots showing ordinary people in different locations, each shouting the same word. At the end of the spots it was revealed that the people were watching a game show on television and yelling the answer to a question.
Within seven months of the campaign’s launch its success was evident. According to Nielsen Media Research, the Game Show Network had added five million new subscribers. The campaign also garnered a long list of awards, including two Clio Awards, a Cannes Lion Award, and recognition as one of Adweek ’s top 20 spots of the year. The company said, ‘‘The remarkable growth of the network continues to exceed our expectations . . . we have significantly impacted our sales efforts in the past six months.’’
Game shows were popular programming in the early days of television, but they dropped off the viewing radar in the 1950s when it was revealed that cheating was rampant on such hit shows as The $64,000 Question. By the mid-1960s and 1970s forgiving viewers were again tuning in to game shows, including The Gong Show, The Price Is Right, and The $10,000 Pyramid. Seeing a unique niche, in December 1994 the Game Show Network hit the airwaves. The new network, jointly owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media Corporation, offered cable subscribers 24 hours of nonstop programming from its library of classic game shows. In addition to The Price is Right, GSN’s library included Match Game, Password, Family Feud, and To Tell the Truth. For insomniac gamers, the network offered Black & White Overnight, a block of programming that featured game shows from the 1950s and 1960s, such as I’ve Got a Secret, Beat the Clock, and What’s My Line? But despite a full programming line up and a base of 25 million subscribers, by 2000 the network was struggling to survive. To attract a broader audience GSN added new programming that allowed viewers to participate in the on-air games; they could win money or other prizes by playing along while watching the program and calling a special telephone number. Noting that game shows were interactive by nature—viewers often shouted answers at their televisions before the on-screen contestants responded—the network also moved playing opportunities to the Internet. Gamers could go online and play a game while it was on television. Other additions were new game shows original to the network, including 3’s a Crowd, and special-event programming such as Y2PLAY, which ran on New Year’s Eve 1999 and featured the final episodes of popular game shows of the past. The ‘‘You Know You Know’’ campaign, the network’s first marketing effort, was launched in 2000 in an attempt to expand GSN’s reach and to increase consumer awareness of the network.
When it was introduced, the Game Show Network struggled under the perception that game shows only attracted older, less-upscale audiences. It also had to change perceptions that successful shows such as Jeopardy were known as ‘‘quiz shows’’ but that programs called ‘‘game shows’’ were losers. GSN founder and president Michael Fleming said that the challenge was getting out the message that game shows had a broad appeal for all audience demographics, from preteens to older viewers. Early in 2000 GSN executives reported that its viewer base of 25 million subscribers was expected to double by 2003. That prediction of increased viewers was based in part on the success of game-show programming on non-cable networks, such as ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which pushed cable operators to take a closer look at the Game Show Network. While the ‘‘You Know You Know’’ campaign’s primary target was households with cable providers offering GSN, it was presented in a way that encouraged gameshow fans not receiving the network to request that their cable ompanies add the channel. The campaign also was designed to tickle the secret superiority complex of many average game-show viewers—those viewers who sat on their sofas in front of their televisions and shouted out the correct answers before the game’s on-air contestants.
In the 1990s viewership of the big-four television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX—was steadily declining, and cable channels were gaining viewers. In addition, the Game Show Network was in the unusual position of trying to woo viewers away from competing cable networks at a time when viewers were asking for fewer game shows and more educational fare. A 1997 Wall Street Journal poll indicated that 79 percent of respondents wanted television programming to include more documentaries and shows related to history and the arts, while 60 percent wanted to see fewer game shows. As the Game Show Network moved ahead with plans to boost its program lineup with a new game show set in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and with interactive gaming options on its website, cable channels Bravo and Discovery were applying similar strategies to attract viewers. Bravo, the artsy cable channel that sent programming into 79 million U.S. homes, turned to England when it decided to add a new show to its offerings. The new series, Cold Feet, was added to the 2001 program mix along with the long-running hit shows Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Inside the Actors Studio. The new program was supported by a marketing campaign that included television, radio, and print advertising as well as Internet marketing. Also in 2001 the network gave a fresh look to its year-old tagline, ‘‘Not your everyday . . . everyday on Bravo Network,’’ which had helped increase viewership by about 30 percent after its introduction. The network’s revamped on-air look was designed to capture the attention of its target audience, viewers between 25 and 54 years old with discriminating tastes. Besides on-air ads that featured images of average people doing everyday things such as answering the phone, the campaign included print ads and website tie-ins. In 2000 the Discovery Channel, a cable network with a subscriber base of 78 million homes and best known for its spectacular documentaries, turned its advertising focus to its Internet division, Discovery.com. The new ‘‘Two Guys’’ campaign, described as humorous and edgy, had the tagline ‘‘Discover something new every day.’’ Although the commercials remained loyal to the Discovery brand, complete with close-ups of insects and flaming meteors, they had a twist designed to appeal to younger viewers. In one spot, mosquitoes landed on a man’s arm, but a closer look revealed the insects to be two men dressed as bugs. As the bug-men began sucking their victim’s blood through straws, one bug was smashed, in true mosquito style, by the victim. Another spot featured two men dressed as meteors. When one man commented that meteors burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere, there was a flash and the camera showed both men bursting into flames. The Discovery.com campaign included TV spots on the Discovery Channel as well as print and online ads. Despite its popularity with viewers—the ads increased the number of Internet users logging onto Discovery.com by one percentage point—the campaign had been canceled by the end of the year, with the network offering no explanation for the decision.
ABC and NBC were also trying to win back defecting viewers and to keep viewers who continued to tune in. Both networks had launched major marketing campaigns in late 1997. ABC’s ‘‘TV Is Good’’ campaign included ads in newspapers and magazines as well as television spots. NBC’s campaign, ‘‘Must See TV,’’ took a similar approach. In addition, ABC offered direct competition to the Game Show Network with its game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, two of the highest-rated first-run syndicated shows on television.
The GSN’s ‘‘You Know You Know’’ campaign was the network’s first foray into consumer marketing since its inception in 1995. The brand-awareness campaign kicked off in March 2000 with three television spots in limited markets that included Boston and Philadelphia. Also a part of the campaign were outdoor ads and other promotional events. The campaign was multipurposed: it was designed to encourage cable operators not offering the network to subscribers to add GSN to their channels, and it was aimed at getting the cable and satellite subscribers who were already receiving the channel to tune in and watch.
‘‘You Know You Know’’ television spots, which ran on cable channels such as Comedy Central, Lifetime, and Nickelodeon (during its ‘‘Nick at Nite’’ programming), featured ordinary people in unusual situations, each repeating the same word. At the end of each commercial it was revealed the people were shouting the answer to a game-show question on television. In one spot a woman getting a massage shouted, ‘‘Sputnik,’’ while another woman checking coats for customers shouted the same word, and a man in an office did also. The camera shifted to show a woman on television asking, ‘‘Sky Lab?’’ A buzzer sounded, the woman on television lost, and it became clear that the correct answer was ‘‘Sputnik.’’ The tagline ‘‘You Know You Know’’ followed. In the ‘‘Botulism’’ spot the incorrect answer was ‘‘salmonella,’’ and the wrong word in the ‘‘Marsupial’’ spot was ‘‘rodent.’’
The television portion of the campaign was supplemented by a live contest that featured a GSN van towing a huge box to different locations with the question, ‘‘What’s in the Box?’’ Clues about what was in the box were announced each day. Contestants were able to register their guesses with either local sponsors of the game or by calling a posted phone number.
In an effort to further promote its brand, in August the campaign was expanded to include seven additional markets: Sacramento, Los Angeles, Saint Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham. The network explained that the decision was made to expand the campaign because it resonated well with cable providers and consumers. ‘‘These spots do an incredible job capturing the fun, unpredictable, and involving nature of game shows. . . . By expanding the reach of the campaign, we can continue to increase GSN awareness and encourage consumers to tune in to GSN,’’ a company spokesman said.
The ‘‘You Know You Know’’ campaign was named one of the 20 best advertising spots of 2000 by Adweek. Additional accolades for the campaign quickly followed. The ‘‘Botulism’’ television spot won a Silver Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, and the ‘‘Marsupial’’ spot was included on the Cannes Lion Shortlist. The Game Show Network also earned two Promax Judge’s Choice awards, given for overall outstanding work by Promax & BDA, an international association of promotion, marketing, and design professionals in electronic media. Promax presented the entire campaign with a Gold Award in its Branding and Imaging category, and the ‘‘Sputnik’’ spot was recognized separately. Silver and Bronze Clio Awards and a nomination for a Mark Award (an honor given out by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing) in recognition of excellence in cable-television marketing, were added to the campaign’s honors.
Dena Kaplan, the network’s senior vice president of marketing, said that the success of the campaign exceeded the company’s expectations. Business Wire quoted Kaplan as stating, ‘‘It is exciting to see the ‘You Know You Know’ television campaign play well with consumers as well as the advertising community. Our brand campaign has been successful in expanding the awareness and distribution of the network.’’