TV Advertising Blog

How American Horror Story Continues to Capture Millennials' Attention

October 30, 2015
5 minute read

“Honey! Can you grab me a towel?” your spouse calls from the bathroom.

You’re wrapped up tight in your sheets and comforter. This is the only time you’ve actually watched TV all week. On screen, a woman lying in bed is awoken by a dead woman’s scream. A man covered head to toe in skin-tight black latex charges into the room. The woman lying in bed screams as she throws the covers aside. The Rubber Man dives into the bed. She pulls away, shouting as she falls. She crashes onto the floor off the foot of the bed. The Rubber Man slithers toward her. Her screams echo unanswered down the hallway.

The show cuts to a commercial. You take your first breath in ages.

“Honey, it’s really cold,” your spouse whines.

“Just a sec,” you say as you lurch out of bed. You flick on the hallway light, grab a towel from the hall closet and march into the bathroom. “I don’t know how you can forget—”

Your spouse is gone. The Rubber Man stands motionless in the bathtub. You scream. The figure climbs out of the tub. No one hears you as you shout louder, screaming for help. The black latex squeaks as he takes a step toward you. You freeze. Your hands shake.

Your spouse rushes out from behind the shower curtain, laughing.

“Honey, it’s okay! You signed up for this, remember? It’s your Horror House Call!”

As a promotional campaign, the creators of American Horror Story invited viewers to go online and register for a frightening surprise. The following invitation appeared on a unique landing page:

Fear. It’s what makes a second seem like an hour. How will you react when you come face-to-face with a character from “American Horror Story”? There’s only one way to find out. Tell us who you are and what scares you. Give us your name and the name of a friend or a family member who can help us plan your “American Horror Story House Call”. It could happen anytime. Anywhere.

Hidden cameras were installed and the videos from these shocking encounters erupted on Youtube. The participants were primarily millennials terrorized in their homes by the Rubber Man. It was a startling success, but the promotional team wasn’t satisfied and took the torment a step further.

Every group that participated in the House Call was given a cryptic invitation. Their presence was requested at the Rosenheim Mansion for a dinner party catered by the celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck.

When the guests arrived, they were given a tour through the mansion. They discovered the old home was the inspiration for the murder house featured in Season 1. As they walked through the house, the guests were horrified. Each room was decorated to showcase the macabre murder scenes that were next to come in the TV series.

When they finally arrived in the dining room they discovered what was on the menu. “Braised embryos in a white wine reduction sauce with flesh encrusted toenails,” and “Cubes of Vomit.” When they sat to eat, the lights fell and they dined in the dark. Randomly, throughout the meal, they were visited and terrified by the Rubber Man.

The Power of Viral PR   

In a world where TV is rapidly losing its millennial audience, groundbreaking PR strategies like this have helped give American Horror Story a 127 percent increase in viewership among adults between the ages of 18 and 34 since its debut.

The viral impact of PR stunts like the American Horror Story House Call have had a residual impact in attracting a younger viewership. New stunts have crept up every season that Millennials have embraced, participated in, and shared online. For Season 2, American Horror Story: Asylum, fans were driven to a unique landing page to take a psychological exam complete with Rorschach inkblots and viral AHS content. They were given a diagnosis they could share online and register for an opportunity to visit the AHS asylum.

The four winners experienced a night of evaluation, experiments and terrors in an old northeastern facility notorious for paranormal activity. Much like the House Calls promotion, all of the content leading up to the night and the content from the night itself was shared on social media and went viral.

The PR stunts have gotten so sophisticated that audiences wonder if unrelated events are part of elaborate PR schemes for the show.

A Stranglehold on Social Media

American Horror Story crept in where millennials live to lure them in. Approximately 70 percent of millennials check social media sites at least once per day. That’s more than they watch TV or even text and chat. It’s a cable television show with nearly 11 million Facebook followers. To put that in perspective, most hit shows on the major networks don’t even come close. Scandal only has 3 million followers. Dancing with the Stars has 6 million. Modern Family has 8 million.

In addition to PR stunts, the team doubled down on the amount of content they created to share on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. New tantalizing images, cast interviews and teaser trailers appear regularly to snare Millennials’ attention and invite them to participate in the comments section.

Engagement is a focal point for their social media strategy. It builds anticipation and excitement and encourages Millennials to turn traditional TV viewing into an event that can’t be missed. As part of a partnership with GetGlue, they tested a reward system for users that check in. By checking in, the viewer gets an exclusive digital sticker. If the show gets 25,000 people to check in, anyone with a sticker is given exclusive access to behind the scenes content before anyone else does.

Reinvention’s Enticing Lure

As a strategy to attract mainstream TV viewership, creators of American Horror Story decided to abandon a longstanding continuous storyline in favor of starting fresh with each new season. Season 1 was called Murder House, followed by Asylum, Coven, Freak Show and Hotel.

Returning fans are rewarded with a familiar cast, while newcomers to the series are invited to dive in at any time. By reinventing the world of each season, the show is able to tap into new fears and craft new terrifying situations. Reinvention also synergized well with the overall marketing strategy. Marketers are able to consistently deliver edgy, shocking content to help build the new world. With PR stunts rooted in the show’s setting, diversity is compelling and advantageous.

 In an interview leading up to Season 2, Sally Daws (SVP of Marketing for FX) commented on the advantages of their approach.

“The new storyline gives us a unique marketing angle; a hit show that has received 17 Emmy nominations is coming back, and you don’t have to have seen the first season to understand or follow. Many times consumers may opt out of a buzzy show because they find the 13 hours to catch up intimidating. Not necessary with this type of show format. The commentary we have seen thus far from the content release strategy is overwhelmingly positive.”

Omni-Channel Synergy

Just like our advertising model at Marketing Architects, American Horror Story’s strategy recognizes the intrinsic value of omni-channel synergy. Leading up to Season 2, Facebook fans were rewarded with exclusive content first, but that content was all eventually pushed out to a syndicate of bloggers and entertainment sites. The most popular trailers were repurposed to become TV spots. The first 30-second teaser was released to support a cover story about the new season published in Entertainment Weekly. Every piece of content was tied back to social media to prompt an online discussion and provoke viral sharing.

The team at AHS recognized that no single channel is as effective alone as it could be in concert with the other channels. We know that’s true based on the trends we’re seeing in our own data. Consumers will click on your web ad because they saw your TV spot. People respond to your radio ads because their friends raved about you on Facebook. The minute you start pitting your channels against each other and make them fight over credit, you’re on a slippery slope to nowhere.

If you’re ready to take advantage of omni-channel synergy, we should talk. At Marketing Architects we’ve developed the infrastructure to allow you launch campaigns in Radio and TV with the online optimization required to get them working together.

Rob DeMars

By Rob DeMars

Chief Creative Officer

Share this article

Blog Comments

Schedule a Conversation

Fill out the form below and we'll get in touch with you shortly.

Popular Posts

Subscribe to Our Blog