The Sopranos dishing out mobster names is a genius way to promote its 20th anniversary

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The Background

This year marks the 20th anniversary of HBO crime drama The Sopranos airing on television. 

It has been hailed as the pioneer of the golden age of television, breaking all of the regular TV series rules, and paved the way for all the fantastic shows we now (binge) watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime and so on. 

For those who haven’t seen the show (really??), no spoilers will be included in this review, but to set the scene; the series follows the life of an Italian-American mobster, Tony Soprano (played by the spectacular James Gandolfini), exploring his struggle between balancing his family life whilst also leading a violent criminal organisation.

The Big Idea

So how does one of the world’s hottest networks promote ‘The greatest show of all time’, as voted by Rolling Stones magazine, on its 20th birthday? 

Surprisingly, in a rather cost-effective and simple way.

HBO spent the day on Twitter offering to give mobster nicknames to those who replied to its post. Almost immediately, the thread was flooded with replies from fans around the world, celebrities, and big brands all hoping to get their very own Sopranos nickname. 

And the network was more than happy to assist and dished out names accordingly with a very simple text-only graphic that it edited for every unique post. 

Some of the best: tennis player Roger Federer was nicknamed ‘The Feds’ and the New York Public Library was crowned ‘Dewey “The System” Decimal’. 

But, when Game of Thrones tried to get involved, it cheekily replied saying ‘But… A Girl Has No Name’. That one was obviously pre-prepared also being an HBO show, but it was still amusing.

The network also sent out very special deliveries to members of the media…Baked ziti from the New York City restaurant, Carmine’s, with an amusing note in mobster tone. Ziti was made famous by Tony Soprano’s wife during the series as this was her signature Italian dish.

The cast was also united for the first time in years in an interview with Today (sans James Gandolfini, who sadly passed away in 2013), where they shared special memories of being together on set.

The Review

What I love about the campaign: it was nothing fancy or overly complicated, just a really fun and novel way to bring the show back to life. 

A PRO in any agency or in-house social team could’ve come up with this idea and executed it well with a witty copywriter on hand. 

It was successful because the HBO team understood what its audience (and the world more broadly) loves about mobster stories. 

We root for them, wanting them to succeed in their illegal endeavours. But more than that, we want to BE them, living vicariously through them whilst watching our screens. There is something deeply alluring and exciting about imagining yourself as part of the inner circle of the mafia.

In addition, by personalising the campaign and replying in almost real time, it added to the hype of people spontaneously getting involved. 

They could have their appetite quenched, and quickly.

In Hindsight

The week of the anniversary, views of The Sopranos was up by 70% on HBO Go and HBO Now. What a result for an almost ‘free’ campaign. 

Besides planning time and a couple of baked zitis, I don’t think you could’ve asked for more. HBO knew that the power of The Sopranos brand and the popularity of the show meant that spending huge dollars on media space might’ve well been wasted. 

After all, the show usually falls somewhere in its HBO Go and HBO Now top 10 on a monthly basis, even though its finale aired nearly 12 years ago. It also ended the year in 2018 at number 11 amongst all shows, making it the only show not currently in production to land in the top 20.

My only disappointment with this campaign is that it lacked a bit of the grit that made the show so famous… the cazzo that made it so bold. The idea was insight led, novel and cost-effective, but not gangster-worthy. 

But, as Lucky Luciano said: “There’s no such thing as good money or bad money. There’s just money”, and The Sopranos have made a shit ton of it to date! 

Maybe that’s enough.

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Leila Mountford

Leila Mountford

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