Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Saturday, April 30, 2011


With its huge base of subscribers, HBO had a diverse viewing audience. For that reason the ‘‘It’s Not T.V. It’s HBO’’ campaign did not target a narrow demographic group. HBO hoped to reach all segments of the American consumer market from ages 18 to 49. The image ads conceived by BBDO were considered an ideal means to reach this broad-based target. Because the spots did not focus on one aspect of HBO’s programming but instead tried to hone the overall image of the channel, the campaign could appeal to all viewers. ‘‘The campaign tries to convey that we are a total entertainment package—that there is something for everyone,’’ said Chris Donlay, HBO’s manager of corporate affairs. ‘‘We were not looking for a market share or Nielsen ratings,’’ said Nancy Parmet, HBO’s vice president of marketing, who oversaw the ‘‘It’s Not T.V. It’s HBO’’ campaign. ‘‘We were looking to break through the clutter.’’ USA Today acknowledged the competitive and multifaceted state of the entertainment industry when it declared that to thrive ‘‘HBO must remain top-of-mind with consumers.’’


In its early days HBO primarily showed Hollywood movies and high-profile sporting events such as boxing. In the mid-1980s, however, HBO began to emphasize original productions, which included critically acclaimed made-for-HBO movies such as And the Band Played On and From the Earth to the Moon, comedy shows such as The Larry Sanders Show, and dramatic series such as Oz.
The shift toward original programming was fueled in part by the arrival of the VCR, which enabled viewers to rent at their convenience the same Hollywood movies broadcast by HBO. By the mid-1990s the network also offered original documentary films, animation specials, children’s and family programming, extensive sporting events and shows, and coverage of contemporary music concerts. At the time of the ‘‘It’s Not T.V. It’s HBO’’ campaign, 30 percent of HBO’s programming was original. By 1997 HBO reached roughly 23 million subscribers, approximately one-fourth of the viewing public. That same year it also won 19 Emmy Awards for its original films and shows, the most ever garnered by a cable television channel.
HBO’s programming was recognized for being innovative and daring. The New York Times lauded the channel’s ‘‘willingness to take a chance on unconventional programming and to allow writers and directors to operate with minimal interference.’’ HBO produced movies dealing with such issues as abortion, AIDS, and racism. As a pay television channel independent of advertisers’ pressures and demands, HBO had the flexibility for controversial and bold programming. ‘‘We’re not selling ads,’’ Jeffrey Bewkes, the company’s CEO, told BusinessWeek. ‘‘We’re not selling our audience to advertisers. We’re selling our programming service to you.’’ HBO’s mandate, and the key to its survival and profitability, was to continue to expand its subscriber base.
Like the cable industry as a whole,HBOwas subject to ‘‘churning,’’ the phenomenon of tremendous fluctuations among subscribers. Each month a huge number of viewers disconnected their HBO service for a variety of reasons. Some signed up for a specific event, such as a high-profile tennis tournament, and then disconnected the next month. Others subscribed to HBO only during the winter months, when they knew they would spend more time indoors, and canceled the service in the spring and summer. Some lost their jobs or suffered other financial hardships, and some disconnected when they moved. Despite the constant drain of viewers, however, an even greater percentage signed up either as first-time or repeat subscribers. There were other factors that made it challenging for HBO to attract and retain subscribers. Potential customers had a wide array of entertainment choices. Network and cable television, premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime, and the Disney Channel, and video rentals, movie theaters, and even chat rooms on the Internet—all vied for the consumer’s entertainment time and dollars. It was in this competitive situation that HBO developed the ‘‘It’s Not T.V. It’s HBO’’ campaign. The goal was not only to distinguish HBO from its competitors but also to reflect the originality of much of HBO’s programming. The commercials, with their quirky humor, compelling plots, and high-tech execution, were intended to encapsulate the strengths of HBO and keep the channel prominent in the consumer’s mind.


Founded in 1972, Home Box Office (HBO) was the oldest and largest premium pay television channel in the United States. Unlike network television and most other cable channels, which raised revenue by selling advertising spots during programming, HBO relied exclusively on subscribers’ monthly fees to generate income. As consumers’ entertainment choices multiplied dramatically over the years, HBO strove to construct a distinctive niche for itself and to stand out amid competitors, which included other television channels, movies, home video rentals, and the Internet. In 1996 HBO launched an innovative $60 million television advertising campaign in an effort to draw attention to itself and to strengthen its brand recognition. The spots, conceived by ad agency BBDO New York, sought to reflect the spirit and the programming of HBO. Instead of previewing upcoming events or providing a traditional ‘‘tune-in’’ message, the ‘‘It’s Not T.V. It’s HBO’’ campaign attempted to present the viewer with a sample of HBO’s programming. The five spots making up the campaign deliberately strove to be humorous, creative, and original.
According to the company, based on surveys prior to and following the launch of the campaign, ‘‘It’s Not T.V.
It’s HBO’’ achieved its goal of increasing the network’s brand image and awareness among consumers. Further, the campaign earned praise from the media and advertising industries. ‘‘Chimps,’’ the first commercial of the campaign, was awarded the first ever commercial Emmy. In 1997 the ‘‘Chimps’’ spot received a Gold Clio Award in the Television/Cinema category. As the campaign continued, its focus shifted, and the slogan evolved into the network’s mantra, setting HBO apart not only from other pay television channels but also from all TV networks. The Cable& Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) named the campaign its Hall of Fame winner in 2003