Bravo tries to snag female viewers with gay programming
Introducing the two new series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Boy Meets Boy at a press conference this month, Bravo president Jeff Gaspin anticipated an obvious question from reporters. "Does this mean that Bravo is becoming a gay network? Absolutely not," he said. Quoting from a famous Seinfeld episode, he added, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." But there is something wrong with the notion that the cable channel caters exclusively to gay viewers, as that demographic is not the primary target for Queer, a makeover series featuring a squad of gay stylists that premiered July 15, and Boy, a gay dating show, which debuts Tuesday in the 8-9 p.m. slot before Queer Eye.
"On the surface [the program block] might seem designed for gay audiences, but it's really not," Gaspin said. "When we discussed our advertising plans for how we are going to promote it, the first group of people we [said we were] going to promote it to are women 18-49." Call it the Will & Grace marketing strategy: Bravo has a dual target in mind for what might seem aimed strictly at a gay niche audience. After some internal debate at the channel, gay viewers were classified as a secondary priority to female viewers, who will command three quarters of the marketing budget allotted for Queer Eye and Boy Meets Boy, according to Vivi Zigler, senior vice president of marketing and advertising services at the NBC Agency, the network's in-house advertising department. "Gay men are not measured by Nielsen [Media Research]," she said. "Women 18-49 is a more salable demo."
After three episodes--including two on its premiere night--Queer Eye has emerged as a solid performer for Bravo, averaging more than 1.5 million total viewers, a record for the channel. NBC, which acquired Bravo in December, gave a half-hour version of Queer Eye a prime-time tryout Thursday, where it retained 86% of its Grace lead-in, according to a preliminary Nielsen report.
But the early success of Queer Eye didn't come without a substantial marketing effort. Bravo won't disclose its budget, but the cost of promoting the launch of Queer Eye rivaled that of some of NBC's prime-time series, Zigler said. A healthy number of spots ran on NBC detailing day-and-date information, which isn't traditional practice because it risks irritating affiliates. With a purchasing power estimated at more than $500 billion, the 26 million-strong gay-lesbian market is on the radar at NBC and any sizable media company. But women 18-49 drew the bulk of marketing dollars for Queer Eye and Boy Meets Boy primarily for the simple reason that the demographic is far larger than the gay one.
In addition, despite the fact that women 18-49 watch more TV than any other demographic, Zigler felt they wouldn't gravitate as naturally to Queer Eye or Boy Meets Boy as gay viewers would. "Women, as a broader target, are not as easy to convince to see these programs," she said. "Communication in the gay community is such that they would find their way to these shows quickly." To lure female viewers to Queer Eye, Bravo resorted to a mostly traditional media mix of TV, radio, print, and outdoor, which included airplane-drawn banners to find those summering at the beaches. Two different types of Queer Eye TV spots were cut as well: one that explained the premise of the series and another aimed directly at women, tapping into female frustration with straight men who are stylistically challenged. "Ladies, is your man an embarrassment?" the voice-over intones. "Is his place a pigsty? Meet five gay men out to make over the world one straight guy at a time."
Because gay viewers are difficult to pinpoint through mainstream media buys, Bravo resorted to unconventional marketing tactics to reach them. Street teams were deployed to recent gay pride parades in New York and Los Angeles to distribute materials, including 44,000 whistles with the name of the show printed on one side and "Bad style really blows!" on the other. Straight and gay viewers don't necessarily require separate marketing messages either: To promote Boy this past weekend, nightclubs in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco catering to both sexual orientations were visited by people dressed up as Cupid in full-body paint, where they will hand out scorecards with pictures of each Boy candidate for patrons to keep track of the action.
"The truth is, marketers are still learning the different ways we can talk to the gay community," Zigler said. "That isn't to say women can't respond to the same language." However, Boy also will be promoted with TV spots that speak directly to women. One commercial highlights the show's handsome bachelor, extolling all his virtues before pulling the rug out from under salivating female viewers. "Ladies, meet this summer's hottest catch," the voice-over says in introducing the bachelor. "Successful, handsome--and totally unavailable."
Despite the hope that Boy Meets Boy will have crossover appeal, Bravo has met some resistance placing the spots. Although the program itself has no graphic depiction of same-sex intimacy, several stations refused to run Boy spots during syndicated airings of Will & Grace, while others included them only in markets where the sitcom is on late at night.
Queer Eye hasn't escaped controversy either. The NBC affiliate in Augusta, Ga., postponed the broadcast debut of the program until later that evening due to content concerns. The peacock is less likely to try repurposing Boy. "This is us pushing the envelope on a small cable network," Gaspin said. "There is no intention of putting Boy on [NBC] right now. Ultimately, maybe." (Boise, Ida., NBC affiliate KTVB also decided not to air Queer Eye in prime time, but the station manager said the decision had to do with objections over promoting a rival network's show rather than problems with gay content.)
But the summer experiment could portend more permanent program-sharing for Bravo and NBC, where ratings-starved Saturday night could use fresh blood, for instance. "It will test the possibility that a show really designed for cable can work on the network," Gaspin said. "I can't promise Queer Eye is the show that will give us that information, but we have to give it a shot."