A tried-and-true brand like Discovery’s annual Shark Week begins to take on a life of its own. And so, the broadcaster has to go above and beyond when positioning it in order to make sure it maintains momentum with viewers. To ensure the sharks still made a splash, Discovery pulled out all the stops this summer for the event’s 20th anniversary by using special online games and a bombardment of inventive outdoor marketing.
‘It’s such a beloved brand, we try to celebrate when it’s back,’ says Julie Willis, senior VP of marketing for Discovery Channel and Science Channel US. ‘This year we needed to do that in a bigger way than ever.’
So, while the standard media plan was in play, hitting up the usual suspects of print, television and cinema, Discovery also stuck to its Shark Week mentality and tried to have fun with the yearly event. ‘Shark Week for us is always a multi-platform extravaganza,’ says Willis.
People in New York City and la saw evidence of Shark Week’s re-emergence during their daily travels. In Manhattan, taxis were outfitted as sharks, with dorsal fins on top of the cabs, and Times Square had window takeovers, with graphics in empty storefronts. The Times Square Nasdaq and Reuters boards featured a countdown to the week as well as shark images. Giant pictures of open shark jaws were there so people could have their picture taken with them. A shark fin image was also projected onto buildings from a moving vehicle in New York, and when it stopped moving, information on Shark Week popped up. Billboards in both cities featured Shark Week info.
And when people weren’t tuning into the programming, they were checking out the website’s shark-themed content. Working with Washington, DC-based Ocean Conservancy, one game tracked live sharks with a GPS in real-time across the world. Other features included a virtual shark dive and a make-your-own shark doc with Discovery-provided sound, images and graphics. Lots of shark data, such as an endangered species list, was also available. The website saw more than 700,000 people visiting it in July, which was an increase of 366% from the previous year.
A theme is also necessary every year. The theme of this year’s week was ‘survival,’ whether it be humans surviving sharks, or vice versa. The appearance of Les Stroud, television’s Survivorman, also cemented that theme.
Every effort was intended to bring viewers to the over 130 hours of shark-themed programming. The audience, made up primarily of men, is often repeat Shark Week viewers who tune in every year, but a significant amount are also non-regular viewers who arrive just for Shark Week. Discovery tries to hook those viewers by dedicating primetime hours to showcase Shark programming, bringing them in on the first night of the week and holding on to them afterwards. ‘There’s kind of an intricate architecture we develop to help people get from one show to the next and hopefully keep them with us for most of the week.’
And the results suggest it was mission accomplished. According to Discovery, it was the most successful Shark Week ever, watched by 27.2 million people throughout the week during primetime compared with last year’s 20 million viewers, an increase of about 40%.
So what do you do for an encore? After 20 years of Shark Weeks, there’s still plenty of originality and excitement left, according to Willis. ‘There are always new media innovations that we can take advantage of. Sharks aren’t static either. We learn new things about them every year, new scientific breakthroughs, changes in their behavior when the environment around them changes, so there’s always something new to say about the shark.’