Make 'em laugh: Emmy marketing campaigns try humor

Quahog, R.I., the fictional hometown of Peter Griffin and his dysfunctional 'Family Guy' relatives, is coming to life. Blackstone Valley Tourism Council will hold an all-day bus tour on May 5, 2012, highlighting the Rhode Island institutions featured — for better or worse — on the Fox network's hit series.

Photo by Fox

Quahog, R.I., the fictional hometown of Peter Griffin and his dysfunctional "Family Guy" relatives, is coming to life. Blackstone Valley Tourism Council will hold an all-day bus tour on May 5, 2012, highlighting the Rhode Island institutions featured — for better or worse — on the Fox network's hit series.

— Marketing campaigns for Oscar trophies tend toward earnest snoozers. But pleas for Emmy glory can be as snarky or witty as the comedies they're promoting.

Two cases in point for this year's Emmy nominations chase: Bids by Fox's edgy animated sitcom "Family Guy" and IFC's gently satiric "Portlandia."

"Family Guy" sent an eye-popping mailer to TV academy voters with a drawing of character Peter Griffin urging them to nominate "Family Guy" as best comedy series. Or, as the caption put it, "Come on, you bloated, overprivileged Brentwood Jews. Let us into your little club."

The mailer provoked mutterings from some recipients who complained, anonymously, to trade papers about the stereotypical ethnic reference to industry big shots living in the posh West LA neighborhood.

But it got the industry talking and drew media attention which, in the increasingly competitive Emmy environment, is the point of campaigns that can exceed $100,000.

Fox declined comment. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences said it doesn't govern or approve Emmy campaigns and, while it believes they should be "conducted in a respectful manner," that's up to those behind them.

"Portlandia," the Fred Armisen-Carrie Brownstein comedy about a mythic, too-hip version of Portland, took a droller approach, one with a "nice grassroots feel" that's true to the heart of the show, said Blake Calloway, IFC marketing chief.

In this undated publicity image released by IFC, Fred Armisen, left, and Carrie Brownstein are shown in a scene from  'Portlandia.'

Photo by Scott Green

In this undated publicity image released by IFC, Fred Armisen, left, and Carrie Brownstein are shown in a scene from "Portlandia."

The channel enlisted Portland Mayor Sam Adams, a good sport who's appeared in "Portlandia" as the fictional mayor's assistant, in an online plea to academy members. Nominating ballots, which went out earlier this month, are due back June 28.

"Why, you ask, is the city of Portland campaigning for 'Portlandia' to win an Emmy ....? Well, in Portland, we support all things that are locally sourced, artisanally crafted and organically grown," Adams says in the video.

Really, Mr. Mayor, why are you shilling for "Portlandia"?

"Portland has totally embraced the show and we love it. It's good fun," said Adams. Besides, Emmy recognition would highlight "the great local talent" that contributes to the production, he said.

While awards are beloved Hollywood ego-boosters, it's serious business when a studio (or, less often, network) invests in mailers, online and newspaper and magazine ads, digital billboards and more. There are high-tech efforts (NBC Universal launched an iPad application to make it easier for voters to view potential nominees) and lower-tech schemes (the company wrapped Emmy ads around double-decker buses in LA).

Nominations or awards that result from a well-run campaign can have substantial value, said publicity veteran Tony Angellotti, who specializes in awards politicking. In TV, it can mean higher ratings, greater returns in syndication sales and the kind of gloss that allows a network to draw bigger stars.

Not all campaigns are funny: Drama series get more sober treatment, the kind that dominates the Academy Awards, which don't have a comedy category.

Even "Modern Family," a two-time Emmy winner as best comedy, has relied on ads that were more eye-catchingly elaborate than amusing. As part of this year's campaign, one elegantly staged photo depicted the cast as circus performers, while a similar approach from last year showed them as old-time beachgoers.

But nothing sells like humor, especially the bawdy kind, as a simple but brilliant approach for the ABC comedy proved in 2010.

"If Modern Family wins the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, Sofia Vergara will run naked down Sunset Blvd.," an ad proclaimed in boldface type. An asterisk pointed to the fine print: "Cast member may change without notice."

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Online:

http://www.emmys.org

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