Under the Influence

The Sopranos gave 200 fans their own mob nicknames

When the 20th anniversary of the Sopranos rolled around in 2019, HBO wanted to entice people to watch the series again and celebrate the milestone. And their free strategy earned them 300 media impressions.
Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini. (Barry Wetcher/HBO/The Associated Press)

The Sopranos.

This week, in our first episode of the 2020 season, we step into the highly competitive world of Television Marketing. Between Netflix, Amazon and Crave, the marketing of TV shows has become a rat-race. And in a world where we can watch anything anytime, luring viewers back each week calls for some outside the box marketing. Hope you'll join us. 0:57

Rolling Stone magazine calls it the best television show of all time.

The Writer's Guild of America voted it No. 1 in its 101 Best Written TV series of all time list.

It was the first series on a cable network to win a Prime Time Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.

The Sopranos changed everything.

To begin with, it ushered in a second Golden Era of television.

Created by David Chase in 1999, the storytelling was epic and finely detailed. It felt like an incredible motion picture — except it was 85 hours long. That long arc showed screenwriters that television could dive into waters deeper than cinema. That storylines could be challenging and could unravel slowly. Soon, the best film writers began moving across the street to television studios.

The character of Tony Soprano, a mob boss who suffered panic attacks, would usher in an era of deeply conflicted anti-heroes. There would be no Walter White from Breaking Bad without Tony Soprano.

It could be argued the Sopranos made it possible for the Wire, Dexter, Mad Men and Deadwood.

And importantly, the Sopranos elevated HBO for all time. It went from a boxing and movie cable channel to become one of the foremost destinations for highly-acclaimed drama.

So when the 20th anniversary of the Sopranos rolled around in 2019, HBO wanted to entice people to watch the series again and celebrate the milestone. The problem was the Sopranos had been off the air for seven years. The task was to find a way to bring it back into the pop culture conversation — with zero production dollars and zero media dollars.

When you have no media budget, you have to work with what you have. And HBO had a Twitter account.

Tony Soprano and Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts. (HBO/Getty Images)

One of the memorable aspects of the Sopranos — and mob life in general — was the use of nicknames.

Like Paulie "Walnuts."

And Johnny "Cha Cha."

And Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero.

So HBO came up with a fun way to generate buzz on Twitter. They did it by sending out a single tweet.

It said: "In honour of the 20th anniversary of the Sopranos, we're handing out nicknames today. Who wants one? It's easier if you tell us your first name."

And that was it.

In just a few hours, HBO received 24,000 responses. HBO and its agency assembled a creative team and responded in real time.

For example, Wendy's restaurants tweeted:

"They call me Wendy."

HBO responded with the nickname: "Square Patty."

When Tinder tweeted "Hi," HBO responded with: "Wesley Swipes."

The New York City library asked for a nickname and was given: "Dewey 'The System' Decimal."

When celebrities jumped into the mix, the promotion exploded. Tennis star Roger Federer tweeted saying, "I'm Roger…"

HBO said: "No, you're "The Feds."

CNN's Jake Tapper was christened "Newsboy."

Stephen Colbert became "Stevie Buffet."

And when Twitter founder Jack Dorsey jumped in on the fun, HBO nicknamed him "Jackie No Edits."

Tony and Carmela Soprano, played by James Gandolfini and Edie Falco. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO/The Associated Press)

The promotion lasted one single day, with 24,000 responses.

The HBO team managed to coin over 200 nicknames in real time. One hundred per cent of the 200 people who received a Sopranos nickname retweeted the result.

The Twitter campaign garnered over 300 million media impressions. Media dollars spent: zero.

While most of the coverage of the Sopranos anniversary was reverential, this promotion was fun. As a result, it got the most traction.

And — if you were a Sopranos fan, you know how the final episode ended.

The HBO team ended the Twitter promotion the same way.

The final tweet just said "The End" with an all-black frame.

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Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)