Inside Peacock's marketing pivot amid a pandemic and postponed Summer Olympics — and how its ad push compares to rival streaming services

  • The top marketers at NBCUniversal's Peacock told Business Insider how they adapted their launch campaign after the Tokyo Olympics — the tentpole event the launch was tied to — was postponed.
  • With the Summer Olympics postponed, NBCU's footprint rallied around the launch of Peacock throughout the summer, and the company leaned into shows like "Downton Abbey," "Parks and Rec," and "Battlestar Galactica" to promote the service on social media.
  • "It allowed the entire organization, top to bottom, across every single broadcast network, cable network, and digital platform, to singularly focus on this moment," said Alexandra Shapiro, who oversees brand marketing and strategy for Peacock. 
  • Data from MediaRadar showed how the media value of Peacock's launch push compared with that of Disney Plus and HBO Max.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When NBC Sports personality Mike Tirico took the stage in January as Comcast unveiled its upcoming streaming-TV service, Peacock, it was clear why the platform was launching this summer. NBCUniversal was hitching its ambitious new streaming effort to its most star-studded and watched event: the Summer Olympics.

"We all know that there's nothing that brings the world together like the Olympics," Tirico said. "And this summer, Peacock will give audiences a front-row seat and a behind-the-scenes look at the game's most electrifying moments."

Peacock was set to roll out nationally on July 15, little more than a week before the planned opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In March, the Olympic games were postponed to 2021, and the company was forced to pivot some of its launch plans.

Peacock marketing execs told Business Insider that the overall plan — including the platform's April soft launch — didn't change dramatically, but the cadence of the promotions and media mix were altered.

Instead of concentrating on the two or so weeks of the Olympics, Peacock's promotional cadence kicked off between April 15 and May 1, and ramped in the 30 days ahead of the July 15 release. Peacock also scrapped elements in light of the pandemic, like cinema ads, billboards, and the kind of buzzy experiential events that usually yield headlines, including postponing what would have been NBCUniversal's first fan festival, Peacock Live.

But with the Olympics on hold, NBCUniversal's company-wide Symphony campaign was also free to focus fully on Peacock. Symphony is what NBCUniversal calls marketing pushes that bring together several divisions of the company to promote a single project, like a TV show, movie, or tentpole event.

"That actually provided us an even bigger opportunity for all of the brands to participate in our launch," Patricia Hadden, who leads growth marketing for Peacock, told Business Insider.

"It allowed the entire organization, top to bottom, across every single broadcast network, cable network, and digital platform, to singularly focus on this moment versus having sort of bifurcated agendas," said Alexandra Shapiro, who oversees brand marketing and strategy for Peacock. 

Ads for Peacock are airing on all of NBCU's networks like NBC, MSNBC, Bravo, and Telemundo. They're popping up on the lower third of the screen during programming. Peacock is being plugged in more than 40 shows across NBCU's networks, including set integrations into NBC's live and daily shows. Kelly Clarkson will also incorporate Peacock into one of her musical Kellyoke segments on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" on launch day. And, while Peacock had to drop some of its activations, its enlisted a fleet of skytyping plans to write messages above New York, Los Angeles, and other places on launch day and the following weekend.

Shapiro said the Symphony campaign for Peacock was the largest in the company's history, and will extend throughout the summer. It aims to drive awareness and desire for Peacock, while paid media is used to acquire customers.

Synergistic campaigns like Peacock's Symphony push have aided other streaming launches. Disney Plus made a big splash in November with the help of the Disney marketing machine, which promoted the subscription service on Disney shows, networks, stores, theme parks, and more.

MediaRadar, which tracks advertising across print, online, YouTube, Snapchat, and national TV, estimated that media value of Peacock's push was in line with promotions for Disney Plus about four weeks before each platform launched. In the past few weeks, Peacock's media value has skyrocketed.

Marketing experts said that Peacock is facing a greater challenge than Disney Plus, partly because of the pandemic.

"With NBC's Peacock, they couldn't use all the different weapons that they have for Symphony," said Gene Del Vecchio, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. Del Vecchio said that while Disney was able to promote Disney Plus in its theme parks and during major sporting events on ESPN, NBCUniversal, which also has theme parks and sports channels, couldn't deploy them in the same way to promote Peacock.

Peacock also has more work to do in educating customers on what you get with the service, the experts said. 

Disney Plus had a clearly defined library with anchor brands including Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars, and an ace in the hole with its original series "The Mandalorian." Peacock also has a vast selection of popular franchises like "Jurassic Park," "Shrek," "Saturday Night Live," "Downton Abbey" and "30 Rock," but it has a heavier lift in stringing those properties together in the minds' of consumers.

"I don't think of NBC when I think of those originals," said Michael Smith, an information technology and marketing professor at Carnegie Mellon's Heinz College. "That to me is their challenge."

Peacock has been showcasing the breadth of its content in its ads, and using social channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok to drive the message home.

During the 30 days leading up to its launch, Peacock is promoting a different franchise each day on its social channels. One day, it was the Premier League, and Peacock advertised that it would be airing matches for free on launch day. On other days it was "Downton Abbey," "Chrisley Knows Best," "Suits," "Parks and Rec," Telemundo programming, or "Battlestar Galactica."

 

"One of the most valuable things we have at our disposal is these massive fandoms," Shapiro said.

Peacock's ads have also made it abundantly clear that much of this content will also be available on the platform's free tier, something its major rivals like Netflix and Disney Plus don't have. Peacock will hammer on that message by announcing free giveaways on launch day through its social channels.

Shapiro said Peacock originals such as "Brave New World," many of which will only be available on Peacock's subscription plans, will play a big role in the marketing after launch.

Hadden and Shapiro said the marketing team's biggest priority moving forward — and something it learned to value more during the pandemic — is staying nimble.

"The marketing plan that we have in place today is going to be 180 degrees different than it is next year, because the idea is that we are going to be testing and learning and then changing and iterating," Hadden said. "It's this idea of just embracing change and experimenting."

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