Social Media Marketing efforts made by CBS Studio in the marketing, promotion and launching of their 2011 Fall drama Person Of Interest


Social Media Marketing (SMM) can be defined as the use social channels or tools to market a product, brand or company. Examples of some commonly used social media tools include, but not limited to, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, email marketing, SEO, press releases, radio and TV ads.  This case study will look at the efforts made by CBS Studio in the marketing, promotion and launching of their 2011 Fall drama Person Of Interest (a product). We will see how CBS utilized mobile, Social, Print & Advertisement (P&A) and cross platform tools to reach its consumers.

Historical Background:

Historically, CBS, also known as Columbia Broadcasting System or The Eye Network was a joint venture between Columbia Records and Arthur Judson, a talent agent from New York. CBS originally aired on September 18, 1927 as The Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System with 47 radio stations. In 1995 Westinghouse Electric Corporation acquired CBS for $5.4 billion. In 1999, Viacom, an entertainment conglomerate and parent company of Paramount Studios Company Inc., which was once a part of the CBS television network, announced its intention to acquire CBS Corporation in a deal valued at $37 billion which was completed in 2000.

Known for its crime and drama shows, CBS’ Person Of Interest was one of the most anticipated dramas scheduled by CBS in 2011, which is still gathering millions of Dollars in ad revenue for the studio till date. Created by Jonathan Nolan and executive produced with J.J Abrams, the series casts a shadow on the post 9/11 attacks in New York where a billionaire programmer built a system to detect terrorist threats and with a “backdoor” access to the system, recruits the expertise of a former CIA agent to help him save the person of interest whose number has been provided by the system. Slotted on Thursdays at 9 PM, the show has beaten ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and NBC comedies The Office and Whitney in overall viewers eventually receiving the 2012 people’s Choice Awards in the category of Favorite New TV Drama.

Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Before acquiring such a success for this product (Person Of Interest), CBS used SMM tools to reach its target audience and keep them engaged without giving out too much.  As one of the major Television Studios, CBS enforced its dominance in primetime TV by running multiple ads to its viewers during NFL and college football games on CBS. George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group, also collaborated with the show’s co-executive producers, which include J.J. Abrams (co-creator of “Lost”) and Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of “The Dark Knight”). Placing the show in mid-week at the 9 PM time slot was also very strategic marketing decision on behalf of the marketing executives at the studio. Besides TV ads, we are going to look at the other SMM tools used by CBS studio to propel the show to success.

1)      Mobile Social Media:

The use of Twitter as a mobile tool for marketing was a given especially as the mobile platform has positioned itself as a leader in the mobile arm of the social networks. The use of Twitter by CBS began with a creation of a twitter account which currently has 28, 172 followers. Compared to other campaigns by other brands on Twitter, this is a very low number of audience but coupled with the huge impact of its TV ads, this show is on a good footing with several twits a day.

2)      Online Social Media:

Three online social media tools used by CBS to market its show Person Of Interest include Facebook, Google+ and YouTube. Pages were created for the show on these platforms with daily activities, videos, clips and back scene access to cast and crew in order to keep the viewers interested and engaged. On Facebook as of 02/22/2012, there are 263,026 fans that like the page and 18,203 of them are talking about the show. The fans and viewers are kept engaged by questions such as “What was your favorite moment from last night’s Person of Interest?” which was commented on 570 times and shared 66 times. These are just some of the engaging activities on the fan page that has kept the interest on the show alive among viewers.

Looking at Google+, users are kept informed of the show by regular images, videos, questions on the aired episodes. This platform has 1495 users with the show in their circle. On a personal note, I could not help to notice the consistency in the communication mix applied by the show’s marketing team through Facebook and Google+ platforms. The layouts of the pages are very identical and the questions and comments put on the pages by the show are very identical as well. Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) which is the coordination of channels to deliver a clear and consistent message can be seen in this situation. Coherence, consistency, continuity and complementary nature of the communication in this campaign are the fundamental characteristics of proper IMC planning (Chaffey, 2009).

The YouTube page for Person of Interest also includes stills, videos and behind the scene information to engage the viewers. The videos have thousands of views with only 466 subscribed to the channel. Noteworthy is the consistency and continuity aspect of this campaign where the few dedicated fans and viewers who visit the page get the informed on a regular basis with updates and new content.

3)      Offline Social Media:

In an attempt to reach its target audience, CBS enlisted two major offline tools to keep its audience informed and engaged. These included interactive billboards and a QR code.  In a September 23rd article by ScreenMadia Daily, CBS studio enlisted the expertise of Inwindow Outdoor, a digital out-of-home advertising company, to run street-level advertising campaigns in New York and Los Angeles. These two screens were unique because they not only took a picture of the street viewer and generate a number for the viewer to text to have access to their image on their smartphone, but went as far as extracting information from the user’s Facebook page (after they share their photo with their friends) to create a “dossier” about the user and their Facebook friends who could be involved in the series’ fictitious government plot. This was not only informative for the viewer but an engaging experience for them as well.

In one of the episodes of the show, a QR code appeared which sent some viewers and fans into a frenzy of hidden secret or mystery. In a forum that lengthily discussed the use of this code, considering the technological nature of the show, it was deciphered that the code led to a real estate website and YouTube video. If this was a mistake, then it was a great buzz generator because the discussion in many forums to crack this code kept viewers wondering what J.J Abrams, had in store for them.

In a nutshell, the Person Of Interest campaign was a success because the marketing team planned and executed the campaign well. According to David Chaffey (Chaffey 2009), digital marketing campaign plans require 3 important decisions to be made about investment on online promotion:

–          Level of investment in digital media techniques in comparison to offline promotion.

–          Selecting the right mix of digital media communication tools

–          Level of investment in digital assets

CBS marketing properly considered these three rules which could be seen from their television, online and offline presence and IMC on online content across the social networking platforms. In the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report by Michael Stelzner where over 3300 marketers were surveyed in their use of social media to grow their businesses, 88% acknowledged that their number one benefit was exposure. This is evident in Table 1below. With the social media marketing efforts put in place for the Person Of Interest TV show, it is safe to say that the studio archived the number one benefit of SMM which is exposure/buzz worthiness.

Table 1: Benefits of social media marketing: The number-one benefit of social media marketing is standing out in an increasingly noisy world. A significant 88% of all marketers indicated that their social media efforts have generated more exposure for their businesses. Improving traffic and subscribers was the second major benefit, with 72% reporting positive results. (Source:

By Gerard Ngwang

for CMGT 555


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