Experiential marketing plays a big role in what History vp Chris Meador does to promote the many shows he handles at the network. Last spring, for example, he put a Cajun food-themed “Taste of the Bayou” truck on the streets of Manhattan to drive tune-in for the second season of “Swamp People,” a series that explores the heritage of the Cajun community. This year, Meador and his team brought the swamp to life at New York City’s Chelsea Market to promote the third season of the series with the Swamp in the City activation, which converted a 5,600-square-foot space into a swamp filled with live alligators and turtles. Here, he chats more about why live is playing such a big role in TV marketing.
EM: What has made experiential such an important part of the marketing mix at History?CM: There’s a perception of what the History brand is, so we have to always make people realize that we’re not what they expect us to be. Experiential helps reinforce the message that we go into many areas of programming, not just our core shows about Vietnam or Gettysburg. With “Swamp People,” the show is a representation of life in Louisiana. And, food is the window into a culture’s soul. That’s why the food truck activation last year was so important. This year it evolved and everyone who walked into the swamp immediately understood what’s so special about that area of this country.
EM: When we think of TV networks we think of on-air ads. Can you talk about why live promotions make sense for network brands?
CM: They’re all equally important but it’s a matter of where you want to put a little more of your weight behind each campaign. I think that TV really reinforces the message and tells viewers something amazing is coming up, but as a brand it has to be continually reinforced to the viewers that we’re not what they expect us to be, and experiential becomes incredibly important. With experiential they immediately recognize this is something different and special, and then also think that of course History should be doing this because History is different. Being able to create these experiences keeps History top of mind.
EM: What are the unique challenges that a network faces when bringing its shows to life?
CM: Our challenges are huge because our content is naturally entertaining. A lot of marketers have to make their utility, a toothpaste for example, entertaining. We’re being handed something that is already loved and engaging, and doesn’t need to be made better, but made equal to that experience. If you don’t get the details right from the type of tablecloth to the plant, then the authentic experience you’re trying to create is just not going to work. We have to find experiences that match the shows. I’m always having to one-up myself and I think that’s a challenge for most TV marketers.
EM: What were the results for “Swamp People” after the Swamp in the City program?
CM: “Swamp People” premiered to about two and a half million adults in the 25 to 54 age range. It was our largest premiere so far this year with 4.7 million total viewers. It was the number one show in that time period—the number two for the night on cable. From a rating standpoint it came out roaring like a lion. This experience from a press standpoint was really one of the more amazing efforts that I think I have ever seen in my career. The pickup we got from a couple of big stories made national news. The Associated Press story about our partnership with the state of Louisiana, for example, was picked up on the wire by 200 different newspaper sites.
EM: Any other words of advice about making live events successful?
CM: Partnerships are part of what makes good experiential. For Swamp in the City, as I mentioned, we brought in the state of Louisiana. We’re also seeing this happen with our advertisers. Advertisers are coming to us and saying ‘We don’t just want to buy advertising time, but we really want to partner and market with you to create co-experiences.’ I really think it’s a direction you’re going to see big brands like us go.