Showtime Uses a Microsite and Encrypted Tweets to Launch Homeland

by Nichole Kelly |

As bloggers we occasionally get pitched to cover upcoming news and social media promotions. I got something from a firm promoting a Showtime social media push and decided to take a look. I thought it was an interesting approach that raised a whole bunch of questions for me that inspired me to write this post.

This campaign involves some mystery, action and prizes for the launch of Showtime’s new series Homeland. Take a look at what they are doing at Too lazy? No worries, I’ll give you the run down.

When you go to there are some previews of the show, some games and a little tab that says, Decryption Lab. If you click on the tab, it will allow you to type a Facebook update or tweet and it encrypts it for you. It also decrypts messages you’ve received.

Here’s what they had to say about it:

“The Decryption Lab is part of a larger interactive campaign for Showtime’s new series, Homeland. Starring Claire Danes, Homeland is the story of a CIA operative who believes that an American Marine, held captive for years as a prisoner of war, was turned by the enemy and poses a serious risk to national security. In addition to the Decryption Lab, Homeland’s Watch site consists of 4 games that test your powers of perception. If you’re able to complete all 4 levels of all 4 games, you’ll unlock the unedited Homeland pilot episode and classified documents that reveal key information about the show’s characters. Note: The Decryption Lab is also a great way to discover other players’  secrets to beating the games.”

It all sounds cool, but when I started to peel back the “interactive” layers, I was left with some big questions that made me wonder if this campaign will deliver the success that Showtime is hoping for.

What will this actually deliver for the premier? Here is my analysis of the campaign and whether or not I think it will be successful in delivering viewers.

Do the people who interact with the microsite view the pilot episode? That’s the big question right. Ultimately, they are hoping to generate buzz with the gaming features and hope that people play around with it long enough that they get excited about the episode. Plus, did you notice…there are 4 games to beat to see the pilot early, way too many barriers for me. Obviously, there were a few areas that raised concern in my mind on its ability to deliver on actual viewers.

Does the microsite attract the right audience? Are they going after gamers? I actually think the show looks cool, but there is zippy chance I have the time to play an online game so I can see the episode early. I don’t care that much yet, maybe later down the road I would do something like this if I was dying to see the “last” episode of the season, but not for a premier.

Will the microsite help Showtime generate return visitors?  I’m concerned that once the campaign is over there is no reason for those who did use the site to come back. I’d rather see them use the Showtime website where there will be on-going content about the show so there is a potential for return visitors after the campaign. I really tried to think of a situation where I would recommend building a short-lived microsite, but I couldn’t think of anything where the benefit outweighed the loss of return visitors down the road. Can you?

Will the campaign deliver SEO value for Showtime? Unfortunately, because this campaign is hosted on a microsite rather than the Showtime domain any conversation that is generated will deliver SEO value for the microsite rather than the Showtime domain. It seems a little wasteful to work so hard to create buzz and then have such short-term gains when it would have been just as easy to use a url like which would have accomplished the same thing while maximizing the results of their outreach campaign.

How are they measuring success? Even with my measurement experience, I think it would be a little tough to know if someone who played with the microsite actually watched the episode, unless they actually beat the games and watch it online. And that still wouldn’t tell the whole story as some may just tune in on TV even if they played around on the microsite. My guess is that they aren’t isolating the success of each individual campaign, but hoping the whole shebang delivers. That’s not an effective way to plan for next season’s launch when budgets are sure to be under more scrutiny.

I would recommend that they look at cost metrics as their measure of success and compare it to other marketing channels. They should look at cost per impression, cost per page view, cost per inbound link, cost per click, cost per repeat visitor and cost per mention to just name a few. If you are out there Showtime, I have a measurement dashboard for campaigns like this that will make your executives sing hallelujah!

Using microsites for short-term campaigns is nothing new. There have been tons of campaigns run using this strategy, so I’m not totally knocking it. But in terms of delivering long-term results I think a few tweaks would go a long way.

Here’s the bottom line. These short-lived campaigns may deliver short-term success and get some gamer types to watch the premier. But as we know, in TV it’s about the on-going ratings and I’m not convinced that this approach is going to help achieve season success. But I suppose, time will tell.

Personally, I happen to really like Claire Danes. She was my hero back in the day when her and Jared Leto help me feel normal during the awkward teen years with their series, My So-Called Life.  So yeah…I’ll check it out, but I’m not going to decrypt a tweet to tell folks about it. But I suppose I did write this post, so kudos Showtime, in the end the campaign worked for me.

What do you think of microsite campaigns? Do they deliver? Do you ever actually respond to them?

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About the Author

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole