Day 83: ‘Friends don’t let friends drink friends’

by Sara

“Who would have thought something as classic as vampires would mix so flawlessly with something so new as an integrated marketing campaign? HBO certainly did when they set out to promote their new hit show “True Blood.” This is truly a case study for a marketing plan done right.

Here’s a background for those who have not yet seen the show: A synthetic blood drink has been invented that can sustain a vampire’s thirst for blood. This technological advancement was so significant that vampires can now “come out of the coffin” and become members of society.

Instead of a traditional marketing plan, True Blood creates an “in world” perspective. This is done through a vast array of social media, digital, and traditional advertising techniques but for the purposes of time and energy, I will focus on my favorites. The first campaign started before the debut of the show at last year’s Comic Con. HBO ignored reality and decided to play with imaginations by promoting the synthetic blood drink, Tru Blood, that the show is so appropriately named after. Posters promoting Tru Blood appeared on buildings and in magazines in the same way liquor ads do. They had catchy phrases like “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Friends”. They even launched a website for Tru Blood,, which rivals even the best high-end beverage sites out there (it’s complete with “type finder”, product descriptions, and of course, merchandise).

Of course, HBO didn’t stop there they took it even further digitally with the clever use of micro sites, blogs, and Twitter. The vampires’ lives on True Blood parallel the struggles other minority groups have faced in this country and in this universe, the fight for civil rights is not just for the living. Their main opposition, The Fellowship of the Sun ( has a bright, sunny layout that mirrors the (public) message of the church. It features sermons and words of wisdom to help us “live in His light.” If you didn’t know any better, you might just join the Light of Day Institute. The newest edition to True Blood’s online world is the American Vampire League ( which is styled to look like governmental and nonprofit websites. The content is what really brings the AVL to life; news, an “Intolerance Watch,” a Vampire Friendly Brands section, and even its own Public Service Announcements. And if you’d like to support the AVL, there is an online kit where you can download fliers and T-shirt designs so that you too can rally for the cause.

Blood Copy ( is a blog written entirely from a vampire’s perspective. It is updated daily with everything from videos, to social commentary. On July 31st, 2009, regarding the topic of health care in America our blogger writes: “Breathers are so focused on our quasi-immortal lifespan, how we don’t age and, barring a specific (and short) list of conditions, we do not die, they seldom note another critical aspect of our existence: Vampires don’t get sick.”

Like many other media and entertainment professionals, HBO has also embraced Twitter. However, their approach is a little different. The twitter, BonTempsGossip, is named after the small town, Bon Temp, Louisiana, where the show is set. It provides small town gossip as well as leaks teasers for upcoming episodes, again from a first person perspective. Example- BonTempsGossip: Rumor is, Sookie’s in danger. Don’t think she counted on havin’ to get out of a mess without Bill’s help – word is he’s nowhere to be found.

Most recently, at Comic Con 2009, series creator Alan Ball announced that there will be a Tru Blood beverage on the market in September. Although Ball said it would be a mixture of “Vicodin, Viagra, Ecstasy, Vodka, Cabernet and other ingredients,” the drink will actually be a blood orange soda, packaged in the same bottles as used on the show. So like I said earlier, well done HBO! I’m sure there will be more for us to sink our teeth into as the series progresses.”


“The panel, which included marketers and representatives from HBO, told the story about how the show’s popularity spread online. Fans started their own communities, Twitter identities from characters on the show and even a Babyvamp-Jessica blog written from the perspective of a minor character who got a much larger role once HBO saw how much fans loved her. Now HBO is helping out and supplying content to make the blog more realistic.

The panel offered three key themes that attendees could take away from HBO’s success:

Create the story. “We believe that story is currency in the social space. Let’s prepare people for that first episode … to set the stage. … We saw that there was a really interesting story that wasn’t being told in the books or in the show. … The ads expanded the story. … The concept that vampires live amongst us is pretty compelling. The minute you’re telling this in a story, you’re pulling people in rather than pushing at them,” said Mike Monello, creative director at Campfire.

Go deep. “We really want to build a rabbit hole. So if you want to go really deep, you can go, and they reasoned that if vampires were indeed living among us, then we’d be marketing to them!” said Todd Brandes, managing director for Digital Kitchen. As a result, a series of faux ads was created that tied into the show.

HBO also produced faux commercials such as a vampire motel commercial and even released a mock apology video making fun of their willingness to try new marketing tactics.

Snoop Dogg wanted to be on the show so badly he jumped at the opportunity to play a small part on the series. He created this “Oh Sookie” music video in 36 hours.

Identify your core audience. Sabrina Caluori, director of marketing for HBO, said that “from the onset we wanted to engage the fansites. It was a big corporate shift in thinking at HBO, treating the fan sites as media, giving access that hadn’t ever been done prior to the show.” HBO freely gave access to photos and video clips to fan sites, like and, for example.

Monello noted that “in marketing we think that we want to shout at the widest group of people. You’re better off speaking very closely to a small group rather then shooting broad to a much larger group.”

Find that core audience and speak to them. … Everyone else will come,” he said.”