Why American Horror Story’s Season 6 marketing campaign is so successful

Sian Thomas

· Social Media

American Horror Story’s sixth season launches tonight on FX in America, and if you didn’t already know that, we can only surmise that you have been living under rock, a rock which blocks any internet and mobile signal, doesn’t allow access to social media, and you haven’t watched TV ads or news in the past month or so.

Because that’s how successful AHS’ marketing campaign for Season 6 has been, despite the fact that we don’t even have a confirmed name or theme for the season. And did we mention it’s launching tonight?

American Horror Story has been a popular show throughout its running: viewing figures for the pilot episode in 2011 stated that it was watched by 3.2 million people – the best figures FX had ever seen for a series premiere. Season 5 was their most popular premiere ever with viewers up to 13.36 million including the encore runs, and it looks as if they’re out to beat that this season.

How do they do it?

Last year’s season launch saw a 127% increase in young adults (18-34) tuning into the show due to the impact of viral PR stunts – a feat that’s astounding in a world where young people are now cancelling TV licenses and catching up with Netflix on phones instead. It’s been proven time and again that these PR stunts will capture the attention of young people and bring new viewers back to the screens. For previous American Horror Story seasons, these stunts have included:

Season 6: ?

We were first given an earlier than expected premiere date. The other seasons have all started in October, but this season they are launching tonight – September 14th. This set tongues wagging from the off.

We also had Ryan Murphy, creator of the show, confessing that all the seasons are somehow connected, sparking mass fan theories. He says:

“The show is in its sixth season, and we’ve always done everything by the book. We wanted to [create a] different experience for the fans this year.”

PR Stunts

And following on from their success with the previous seasons, we have seen mass PR stunts, but in a way that’s never been done before. You’ve surely stumbled across one of the promos somewhere along the line but perhaps not even realised it burrowing into your subconscious; 26 teaser trailers have been created, containing inspiration from over 500 iconic horror movies and shot of the period of four days. The trailers involve every stereotypical horror theme and sub-genre imaginable from spiders, creepy children and possessed dolls to crop circles, the “Mist” and massacres, feeding off the stereotypes of the genre – just a few examples:

At first viewers were excited to see the first 6 teaser trailers being rolled out, until they realised that the varying teaser trailers they were watching couldn’t possibly all be connected. And then more trailers were rolled out, and it became apparent that they were being played. Instead of angering fans, this sparked a new mystery for them to solve, delving deeper into the hidden clues in each video and discussing them on every social media channel possible. And here’s where they really hit the jackpot: with approximately 88% of Millennials getting their news from Facebook, it was almost impossible for them to miss at least one mention of the now infamous Season 6 of American Horror Story.

The only thing to connect every single one of the trailers so far? The now iconic symbol:


Then they launched the AHS Sweepstakes, allowing fans to vote on which trailer they thought portrayed the true theme of the season 6 – turns out all but one of the portrayed seasons themes are fakes. If people weren’t already talking, the element of competition now had them hooked.

Off the back of this, we’ve seen offshoot marketing campaigns; we’ve seen brands getting involved; it’s all the TV news sites have talked about for weeks. While some companies or campaigns would leap into action to remove or attack any offshoot marketing, American Horror Story creators and FX are using these to add to the web of mysteries, neither confirming nor denying whether any of the theories are true, leaving fans even more in the dark.

The beauty of the campaign is keeping viewers in suspense, much like they do within the episodes themselves, leaving questions unanswered until the very last minute or never answering them at all. The result of this? It’s left not only fans, but also potential fans, trying to be the first to crack the case, to solve the mysteries and to figure out what will be appearing on the screens of millions this evening, because if the marketing has worked, that’s how many will watching.

So tonight the world watches, waiting for the theme of American Horror Story to finally be revealed, captured solely by the power of a successful marketing campaign that generated buzz across social media and the internet.

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