Vince Manze, president, NBC Agency; John Miller, chief marketing officer, NBC Universal Television Group; Viv Zigler, senior VP, marketing and advertising services, NBC Agency
Selling the end of the world to TV audiences would seem tricky enough, but selling the end of the world up against American Idol is a task bordering on demonic.
Yet that is what was asked of NBC Agency President Vince Manze, who led the push for the six-hour event series Revelations, which debuted on NBC Wednesday night, April 13. And thanks to a creative and rather risky approach, NBC attracted 15.6 million viewers to the premiere, despite the tough competition.
“If it was me, I would have made my task a little easier and not scheduled it there. But that's not my job, unfortunately,” jokes Manze.
The six-week series followed a Harvard professor and a nun who find evidence that the world is coming to an end, as predicted by The Book of Revelation in the Bible.
To create buzz for the event, Manze—along with NBC Universal Television Group CMO John Miller and NBC Agency Senior VP, Marketing and Advertising Services, Vivi Zigler—rolled out a campaign featuring a single Latin phrase and no translation.
Two months prior to the premiere, they launched billboards containing the words “Omnium Finis Imminet.” Only later did they then add a rough English translation, “The End Is Near.” But what was being advertised wasn't disclosed.
NBC, across all of its networks, used a series of on-air “interruptors,” seven- and 10-second cut-ins made to look as if they were interrupting programming with the same phrases. But still no reveal.
“Some thought it was for War of the Worlds,” Manze laughs, referring to the old Orson Welles radio play that scared the nation in 1938. “It was all to create buzz; we knew they'd know what it was for eventually.”
A month later, NBC added the series name and tune-in time. They also added an online element: If users typed phrases such as “end of the world” into Yahoo! or Google, they would be offered links to the official Revelations site.
The campaign created enough intrigue to drive the significant tune-in number. But while the premiere attracted a respectable 15.6 million viewers against Idol, the series' ratings eventually faded badly.
Manze was still proud of the opening. “Certain things like Joey are a lot easier to open to a good number, because of where it came from,” he says. “But things like this are much different, and it is much more difficult to deliver that number, so this is one we were pretty happy with.”