ABC's latest on-air promo for The Neighbors starts off by quoting some rather negative reviews, including four scorching ones from The Hollywood Reporter: "Small slice of stupidity," "Supremely unfunny," "It's awful" and "How the hell did this get made?"
Not the kind of quotes you normally see in a marketing campaign. But the ad then goes on to say that critics have warmed up to the comedy, quoting some much more positive reviews (although none from the Reporter). "There was such a critical backlash against the show, to us unexpectedly, at the beginning," says creator Dan Fogelman. "We thought it would be fun to own it. It's kind of a ballsy thing to do on network TV."
Fogelman believes viewers were quick to dismiss The Neighbors because of its oddball premise: A family moves to the suburbs, only to learn that their neighbors are all goopy, green aliens. "People have preconceived notions about the show based on its premise," he says. "Ninety percent of the feedback we get is people saying, 'I'm shocked at how funny that was.' That became the kernel for a campaign that tells people they don't have to be embarrassed to say they like the show."
ABC marketing chief Marla Provencio credits Fogelman with coming up with the idea for the campaign. "It was his brainchild," she says. "He was aware of some of the reviews coming in initially. We certainly saw a turnaround in the press. So Dan said, 'What if we called everyone on the fact?'"
At the same time, Provencio admits that the promos are utilizing an unusual tactic: "It's always taking a chance. It says to the audience, 'Look, we get it. You didn't like it at first. But you saw it and now feel differently.'"
The ads also give viewers "permission" to sheepishly admit that they watch the show, via the offbeat tagline "It's OK to Say You Like It." Says Provencio: "We had to try something different and this was going out on a limb but we figured it was worth it." She says the slogan came out of something Fogelman said in passing.
"A sitcom is meant to be funny and enjoyable," Fogelman says. "And a family sitcom is something a family can sit down and watch together. The point of the campaign was to let people not have to apologize for enjoying it."
The marketing effort is part of a larger plan to drive more viewers to sample the show. Even sister Disney Channel is helping out, having aired a Neighbors marathon in December (the first time it ran an ABC series) to strong ratings. ABC did have to adhere to Disney Channel's content guidelines and search for a handful of The Neighbors episodes that were age-appropriate.
"A show with this high of a concept is not always an easy sell," Fogelman says. "You have to do a bit of work to get people to give it a chance."
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