Knowing the eighth season of IFC’s brand-defining sketch comedy series Portlandia would be its last was bittersweet for all involved, but Blake Callaway, IFC’s executive vice president, brand marketing, wanted to turn it into something positive for fans.
“We approached it as: What can we do to celebrate the fans, get the fans involved, and give them something special? Internally, we called it PortFANdia,” he says.
In addition to the retrospective approach—with series stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen shooting special “A-O Rewind” segments looking back at some of their favorite sketches—the marketing plan includes a mix of social media, print, out-of-home advertising (in the Los Angeles market), and a special premiere party in Portland for crew members and local fans that will take place ahead of the show’s January 18 premiere.
“We’re doing something really cool called Premiere Gear,” Callaway says. “There’s a call to action — ‘Hey, Portlandia fans, tweet us X and you’ll receive a surprise gift!’ — on the day of the premiere.” He says a limited number of gear bags filled with Portlandia-themed items will be delivered the same day to fans in Portland, New York, and Los Angeles in time for the season premiere.
Not only is Portlandia a series that has spawned countless pop-culture references, Callaway says it has over a million followers on social media, making it an ideal source of gifs and memes.
“We worked with GIPHY to GIF every single episode of Portlandia,” Callaway says. “We have more than 276 million GIPHYs so far. There are so many good reactions and moments from Portlandia. It’s amazing. It’s also because media partners are also fans of the show.”
The print campaign behind the final season was a bit bigger than usual for IFC.
“We wanted it to be celebratory and feel very premium, so we’re in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine,” Callaway says.
To give the print component a Portlandia spin, they created a series of faux going-out-of-business ads for a few of the small businesses found only on the show, but the words IFC and Portlandia don’t appear anywhere in the ads.
“It’s sort of like, ‘Book now! Only a few spots left!’ for Smooth Movers. ‘We’re going out of business January 18th,’ which is the premiere date,” he says. “It’s something Portlandia fans would get, but other people would probably think was strange. ‘What is this ad I’m seeing in New York Magazine?’”
But the campaign isn’t just focusing on nostalgia and call-backs.
“Yes, we have a long list of look-backs, but at the same time, every single week leading up to the premiere we’ve released a sketch from the new season, so we’re kind of looking back and looking forward at the same time.”
Callaway promises even more surprises are in store for fans right up to the final seconds of the final episode.
“It’s been a real brand-defining show for IFC, so we want to send it off in a way that celebrates what was a really unique take on sketch comedy. I think we’ve positioned it for a great final season, and it will live on forever.”