FX Hopes ‘American Horror Story’ S6 Mystery Didn’t Damage the Brand
We’re just one day away from American Horror Story finally pulling back the curtain on Season 6, but it’s hard to argue that the mystery approach has affected anticipation. Ahead of the big reveal, FX marketing admits to some uncertainty with viewer expectation, as well how the promotional strategy could affect premiere ratings.
A lengthy THR conversation with FX head of marketing Stephanie Gibbons saw a wide variety of explanations for the mystery approach, including those rooted in horror affinity for the number 6, and some elemental human psychology. Whether or not the inability to promote traditionally (or with cast) might have frustrated fans, however, Gibbons had this to say:
I don’t feel like we thought we would damage the brand. I think the power of the program can precede a marketing campaign. A marketing campaign, by being at the point of entry, we are the privileged babysitter to the primary relationship with the program itself and the viewers. What we try to do is open the door and let people know that there’s something of value to experience. So I don’t think we worried about damaging the brand.
What we did worry about is that we didn’t want to do anything that didn’t bring the viewers a thrill, happiness, a twist and a turn that was a positive and thrilling experience; versus a frustrating experience. And I don’t meant to say that there weren’t viewers out there who were frustrated, I’m sure there were, but overall, there’s a thrill to the hunt and that’s what we were celebrating. AHS was coming whether we told you or not, so there wasn’t a risk of the marketing campaign saying, “Aha!” And that there wasn’t even a show at the end of the tunnel. After all the breadcrumbs, you are definitely going to get the sandwich. There’s no bait and switch here. It was about celebrating the building and worshiping the anticipation.
That said, Gibbons can’t be sure that a lack of visible promotion will impact premiere viewership one way or the other. Has the approach diminished viewer interest, or will more than ever tune in for the final reveal?
Yes, I worry day and night. I’m not clairvoyant and I don’t know what the ratings will be. I won’t disagree with the fact that we are wondering, along with you, if this does increase live. But long ago, we adjusted to the fact that a view is a view, and live versus eight hours later, three hours later, three minutes later or seven days later. The way I look at my job now is that a launch is truly a launch. I’m in general trying to build anticipation for season six versus build live viewership for that particular slot.
However, that said, I do think that when you create anticipation for an event, it might, for a portion of the audience, create a bigger degree of urgency. But I don’t know what percentage of the audience it will affect. That’s speculation. So for us, this is an interesting case study to see what drives live viewership.
There’s also every chance that viewers might come out in droves to learn the American Horror Story Season 6 premise, but just as quickly lose interest, and send the remaining season into a ratings tailspin. Gibbons promised that Season 6 promotion would normalize a bit with the ongoing mystery of the season itself, but was American Horror Story’s big gambit worth it?