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Eye on the show: The art & science of the TV promo

Effective TV promos have three things in common: simplicity, story, and memorability.


Even with all of the media choices available to viewers today, on-air promotion continues to be the single most effective way for TV marketers like CBS to get the word out about our shows. Yes, we also advertise on every media platform in every format -- print, digital, outdoor, radio, mobile, social. But nothing has the same creative impact as the running our promos on the first screen.

Promos give people a free sample of the show. Research tells us that viewers like promos -- they view them as entertainment content and program information that helps them decide what to watch. Anyone who's waited to see the previews of what's up next week can relate. Effective TV promos have three things in common:

They are simple.
That respected marketer of a concept -- democracy -- Thomas Jefferson, famously said: "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." It's certainly true in our world. We go out of our way to tell viewers: "This is what this show is about" with as little confusion as possible. It's harder and harder for the average media user to focus on the screens right in front of them. While elaborate graphic and cinematic devices can be exciting, they can also distract from the main message. We never want to hear "That was a really cool ad  -- but I'm not sure what it was for." If we've done our job, people know exactly what the promo is for.

They tell a story.
That genius marketer of news programming, Don Hewitt, creator of "60 Minutes," said to his reporters: "Tell me a story." People don't remember information; they remember stories. The impossible job that TV promos do each day is distill 30 or 60 minutes of a show into a few select words and images compressed into seconds. Effective promos reveal enough concept and plot for people to catch on and get invested, but not enough to satisfy their appetite for the show itself. They simplify the most complicated story lines into recognizable tropes: good versus evil, fish out of water, boy meets girl, and so forth. It's not easy to do in 30 seconds, but that's where the "art" comes in.

They are memorable.
That memorable marketer of hype, P.T. Barnum, knew how to get people "into the tent." The call to action behind all TV promos is "WATCH THIS SHOW!" Tune in information is becoming increasingly complicated in this multi-platform, DVR-centric viewing universe so we focus on hammering home the names of our shows and the fact that people can only find them on CBS. Here's a 60-second online promo for the new CBS show "NYC 22," premiering Sunday, April 15, at 10/9 p.m CT. Take a look and be sure to tune in!