HBO Sopranos

Volume 20 Letter 5

We’re all watching TV these days and it has become a major battle for your eye balls.  Networks like HBO, Disney, Crave, Netflix (‘Net fix’ in our household) Amazon, Hulu and others are trying to outdo the other in creative content.  But where did this craze all start?

Television in the 1970’s 80’s and 90’s was occupied by endless sitcoms attracting “B” actors who aspired to find parts on the big screen.  The Fonz – Henry Winkler and Richie Cunningham played by Ron Howard from Happy Days would both go onto to make big Hollywood productions.  Michael J Fox got his start on Family Ties going on to star in Back to Future and John Travolta from Welcome Back Kotter would star in Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Urban Cowboy and Pulp Fiction.   But the concept of television programming changed in the late 1990’s when HBO introduced the ground breaking series called The Sopranos.

The Sopranos showed how television could do more than just clever sitcoms. The series followed a New Jersey mob boss and because it’s a series, screen writers could dive deep into the lives of the mob family run by Tony Soprano.   Since the story arc was over a longer period of time writers could go deeper into their character development and into their plots which could unravel slowly, allowing watchers to see the pieces falling into place rather than rushing to a conclusion in a couple of hours or less.  The series caught the attention of A list actors who started to abandon the big Hollywood productions for the HBO style TV Series.  The rest, as they say, is history and it came to an end in 2007 with the Sopranos famous “fade to black” grande finale.

In 2019, HBO was celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos and trying to get viewers to re-watch the show.   It had been off the air for 7 years and had faded from our pop culture.   Not only that but the marketing team was given absolutely zero for a budget to breathe life into the old series and they had to come up with a clever way of catching viewers’ attention.  In response to the challenge, the HBO team went back and re-discovered their core purpose.  At its heart, HBO is an entertainment company and they realized they would have to do something entertaining on social media to attract viewer attention.

One of the cult-like things about The Sopranos was the nicknames, Michael “Mikey Grab Bag” Palmice, John “Johnny Sack” Sacrimoni, Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero and so on and HBO decided to latch on to what people remembered best.   They created a social media campaign to create mob nicknames for people focusing mainly on celebrities and social influencers.   The twitter feed simply said in “In honor of the 20th anniversary of The Soprano’s, I’m handing out Soprano nicknames today.  Who wants one?  FYI if you tell me your first name its way easier for me”.

Tennis star Roger Federer became “The Fed”,  Wendy’s restaurant became “Square Patty” and the dating app, Tinder, became “Wesley Swipes” etc.    In 24 hours HBO tweeted out 200 mob names (in all 24,000 people asked for names) and 100% of those people given names re-tweeted their mob name. The Twitter campaign got over 300 million media impressions and gave The Sopranos reboot a real boost.

What can we learn from The Sopranos campaign?

  1. Stay true to who you are:  HBO is an entertainment company – their campaign needed to be entertaining.  What’s your core purpose?  Focus your messaging there.
  2. Piggy back on your successes: especially if money is tight, point to what you have done well already.  When re-launching your brands and services, remind us what you’ve done well in the past

As we continue to work from home and practice social distancing let’s have some fun.  Send me your name, job title and favorite sports team or hobby and we’ll come up with a SABRE Behind the Glass prof nick name for you.   We’ll start with Ian Williamson; our software guru …. “Bugsy” Williamson and Tess Cosad an accomplished ballet dancer, Tess “the Nutcracker” Cosad.  My co-prof in Lausanne with a crop of white hair is Canadian and a ski fanatic…James “Snowy” Henderson, Prof Dave Reibstein from Wharton….well we’ll name him Dave “The Brains” Reibstein.  And me, you never get to name yourself so when you send me your name you can also take a crack my SABRE nickname.

To see more on this see:

  • Terry O’Reilly Under the Influence The Sopranos gave 200 fans their own mob nicknames
  • Muse by Clio HBO Saluted The Sopranos by Giving Out Mob Nicknames to Celebs and Brands: Real-time Twitter stunt is just what the 20th anniversary needed

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