Inside ‘Scream Queens’ Killer Marketing and Social Media Playbook

The youth-driven horror comedy bridges gap between traditional marketing and the future of brands

Last Updated: September 22, 2015 @ 1:35 PM

Fox is working hard to scare up a monster audience for the premiere of “Scream Queens” Tuesday night. The Ryan Murphy horror comedy, about sorority girls terrorized by a masked killer, has received the largest collective spend on marketing of any of the network’s shows this fall. To push the series, Fox dropped dollars on real-world marketing stunts like a carnival ride at Comic Con in San Diego.

But with its cast of young female stars and millennial-friendly premise, social-media is also playing a huge role in raising the show’s profile. The rate at which fans — particularly young women, the so-called “power users” of social media — are eagerly engaging “Scream Queens” across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and other platforms could be a sign that Fox’s on- and off-line marketing strategies may be paying off.

Fox Television Group COO Joe Earley told TheWrap that for “Scream Queens,” the network wanted to break from the marketing norm.

“When you have a big, sexy product like ‘Scream Queens,’ that’s one where you probably could say, ‘Let’s just do national media. Let’s just buy our awareness,'” Earley said. “But no one here was satisfied with that. Everyone said, ‘What else can we do? What else can we do?’ Including, by the way, Ryan Murphy.”

Earley was particularly fond of a promotion at New York Fashion Week, where the network distributed blood-colored juice at events.

But his favorite marketing effort for the show was the ride at Comic Con, which sent fans on a 120-foot free fall. Fox used the physical structure as a launching pad for social sharing.

“It stood out physically, it stood out visually, it stood out from a social standpoint,” Earley said. “We got the cast to go on it and we shot them on it — that’s gone everywhere.”

“Scream Queens” has proved especially powerful on Instagram, where it has racked up 202,000 followers. Its closest rival from the crop of new broadcast series, The CW’s “Legends of Tomorrow,” has nearly 100,000. CBS’ “Supergirl” has just 22,000 followers and NBC’s “Heroes Reborn” has 18,5000 followers.

That kind of following bodes well for a youth-skewing show. An April report by Piper Jaffray found that Instagram was the most important social network for teens, with 32 percent listing it at No. 1, compared to 14 percent who cited Facebook as most important.

“With more and more features like direct messaging, with people tagging each other in the comments, you’re starting to see Instagram take shape as a mobile communication agent,” Nick Cicero, CEO and Founder of Delmondo and Strategist at BRaVe Ventures, told TheWrap.

“People aren’t just on there to share a photo and log off,” Cicero said. “Something that is so young and visual like ‘Scream Queens,’ by pure nature of the show, it’s going to follow a totally new path where ‘Scream Queens’ can use Instagram images and video in a different way than other shows may be able to. And that’s because of the audience and the horror genre, which lends itself to having a really visual element to it.”

The importance of social media to the show’s target audience has been obvious from the early days of “Scream Queens” marketing, with promos centered around texting debuting before any actual footage from the show was released.

But “Scream Queens” also benefits from an inherent edge — the mind of Murphy, whom Earley calls “a marketing genius.” Murphy also recognizes the importance of social to building the show.

“The show is by nature about young people and it’s about how young people communicate,” Murphy said in a promo for the show. “One thing that we really are hitting hard from the pilot on is social media — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. As the show progresses, clues to who the killer could be are left trailed by the killer on different social media sites. So that becomes a modern twist on the murder mystery, which is very today and very now.”

Whether all that social buzz will translate into ratings remains to be seen. Last year’s big freshman play by Fox for the youth market, “Red Band Society,” failed to catch traction and was ultimately canceled.

Earley stated that “So far the strategy looks successful” for Scream Queens and added, “It has solid awareness — especially for a show that doesn’t have preexisting IP.” Fox will look to translate that awareness into viewerhip from women 18-35. Females 18-49, Earley said, will come with time. As for men, he believes they’ll come to the show down the road.

That’s how it worked with another Ryan Murphy project–“Glee.”

“Scream Queens” debuts Tuesday, Sept. 22 with a two-hour premiere, at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

See “Scream Queens” star Keke Palmer in TheWrap Magazine Fall TV Issue cover spread
and interviews with 9 other buzzy broadcast TV stars:

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