KQED Uses Broad Advertising Campaign to Promote Victoria on Passport

To coincide with the premiere of Victoria on January 15, 2017, San Francisco’s KQED launched a major promotional campaign for Passport. The campaign ran from Season launch to Season end. The message, “Binge watch all episodes of Victoria now with the KQED Passport Member Benefit”, appeared everywhere from Google ads to local transit stations.

“We decided to do it that way because we wanted to promote Passport rather than the actual broadcast itself,” says Andrew Alvarez, Senior Manager of Audience Insights & Ingenuity at KQED. The opportunity to binge-watch entire seasons of shows is a significant part of what audiences love about mediums like Netflix and Amazon Prime—and KQED wanted to take advantage of the same practice with Victoria.

The two-week advertising campaign directed viewers to a special URL. “It showed them how to activate the Passport account if they were already members, or how to become members if they weren’t,” Alvarez explains.

KQED’s Landing Page

KQED currently has over 27,000 Passport users. Around 15 percent of them (4,000 users) activated since the Victoria premiere, and 1,280 of those are new to KQED. Since that cutoff point (April 2017), Passport has generated more than $75,000 for the station—and the campaign, built upon a combination of grants and advertising trades, cost the station almost nothing.

The campaign was distributed across three particular ad channels:

Online Advertising: While KQED had experimented with predictive ads in the past, it was in the process of transitioning between ad serving companies around the Victoria premiere. Due to that uncertainty, it avoided predictive ads during the campaign. Instead, it took advantage of a trade opportunity at SFGate.com, an online publication of the San Francisco Chronicle, using digital insertions throughout February that promoted Victoria and Passport. “The SFGate is a fairly well-established channel for us,” says Alvarez. “We felt there was a good opportunity there.”

KQED’s Google Ad

Google AdWords: Previously, the station had mostly used these ads for general brand awareness, but decided during the course of the campaign to switch that message to watching Victoria on Passport. Targeting keywords like KQED, Victoria, and Passport, the Google AdWords campaign began with the premiere in January and ran for two weeks. Users who googled those terms were invited to binge-watch Victoria on Passport and sent to a dedicated landing page at KQED. “Search is one of the best channels for new acquisition and new web visits in particular,” says Alvarez. “The best practice is really to be very careful which words you pick.”

Brenda Tucker, KQED’s Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, says the AdWords campaign became KQED’s main Victoria/Passport push—and a very effective one. Victoria searches drove good website traffic during the first week in February. Taking advantage of Google’s monthly $10,000 Advertising Grants to nonprofits, KQED spent 25% of its monthly allocation on the Victoria campaign. While the approach was certainly successful, Tucker warns using the grant can be a challenge. “It’s this really tricky, crazy thing,” she says. “It’s so complicated that we actually hire a consultant.” (KQED works with Kevin Gottesman of Gott Advertising to get the best results from its Google grant.)


Public Transportation: “We also did some physical ads that ran in our BART transit system,” says Alvarez. Connecting San Francisco, Oakland, and other points in the area, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system averages 430,000 riders every weekday. Using a quote from The Hollywood Reporter’s review of the series, the ads appeared inside stations and BART trains. “It’s a really good way of getting our brand and message out in the community,” says Alvarez. Tucker says the BART advertising was a trade worth around $10,000, and began on March 6, following the final air date of Victoria.

In addition to the advertising, KQED promoted Victoria on the cover of its January OnQ magazine, which reaches 110,000 households in the Bay area. It held a sold-out screening on January 7 at San Francisco’s 1,400-seat Castro Theater, airing a PBS spot touting Passport at the event. And on January 15, the station sent an email to its list of 320,000 touting Passport and Victoria.

What about smaller stations? Alvarez and Tucker both recognize that the dense Bay Area offers advertising opportunities that aren’t always present for smaller member stations. Not everyone has in-kind public transportation trades to take advantage of. However, AdWords campaigns and other online advertising can be effective regardless of a station’s location or budget. “A lot of the digital advertising companies won’t do anything under $7,500 or $10,000, which isn’t conducive to the smaller stations picking that up. So I always recommend a good social media presence and Facebook ads,” says Tucker. “That’s a good way to go.”

She also recommends taking advantage of the Google grant and working with a professional to get the most out of that opportunity. “It’s a lot less expensive [than traditional advertising channels] and it can really drive traffic and donations and promotions.”

Taking advantage of ad buys or trades requires a careful strategy, but stations like KQED have shown they can be effective—especially when paired with a relevant, specific message like Victoria and Passport.