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The Fall of Arrested Development: Fox’s Ultimate Marketing Failure

The Bluth Family from Arrested Development

Arrested Development (AD) was considered by many people to have been one of the greatest television series of all time. It won countless awards and was acclaimed by just about every critic on Earth, and yet, it was canceled after only 3 short seasons. What happened?

Essentially, Fox dropped the ball. They had a potential hit and they failed to properly promote it. It was a classic example of poor marketing. Hopefully, future executives will learn from Fox’s epic mishandling of the Arrested Development situation.

What they did wrong:

Firstly, Fox should have realized the effect that Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) like TiVo or computer TV Tuner cards have on Nielsen ratings. The Nielsen ratings can’t properly account for DVRs. I have a TV tuner card in my computer (it’s basically like TiVo) and I can’t remember the last time I watched live TV. This is part of the reason why smart shows do poorly in the ratings. Smart people are early adopters of new technology and they love gadgets. DVR owners tend to be smart. This means smart people tend to be under-represented in Nielsen ratings.

With that in mind, Fox should have tailored it’s ad campaign specifically to the more intellectual market and not been initially concerned about “low ratings”. Smart shows are less likely to have “one off” episodes, meaning they’re more likely to have complex themes that run across episodes. In addition to that, smarter people generally watch less TV. Combine these two and it seems like a good plan to put AD in a solid time slot and not change it, so that people who want to watch the show know when to turn on their TVs each and every week. Unfortunately, Fox repeatedly switched ADs time slot, at one point almost weekly.

Also, during the show’s run, I hardly ever saw commercials for it. The few commercials I did see were poorly crafted generic ads that seemed more suited to Everybody Loves Raymond. Fox had a formula and they stuck to it. But Fox should have selectively advertised during shows with a more intellectual audience, even if they’re on other channels, like The Daily Show for example.

But most of all, Fox should have embraced the internet. There was a huge amount of support online for Arrested Development, fan websites and forums and such, and I don’t think Fox really knew what to do with it or how to translate that into revenue. On top of some sort of online advertising campaigns, Fox should have offered complete AD episodes on their website, just like the folks at South Park do. That would have made all the difference. It would have offered another stream of revenue and, more importantly, it would have increased interest in Arrested Development.

Arrested Development has themes and jokes that run from one episode to the next, so having an online cache of episodes for fans to browse through would have been absolutely crucial.

The problem was that Fox just didn’t know how to handle a show that was so different than it’s regular lineup. They tried their old formula and when it didn’t work, they assumed the show would never do well. In marketing, there is a name for people who assume a product will never do well: Losers.

Recently we gave Smiling Bob from Enzyte the Best Marketing of a Shit Product Award. Well, Fox wins the opposite award, the Worst Marketing of an Amazing Product Award. Congrats, Fox, you suck.

Check out David Cross on the subject: