There’s a certain irony in using a mobile app to promote a TV series that takes place in the 1920s. That irony paid off for HBO when it partnered with upscale on-demand car service Uber to promote the September 2012 premiere of the third season of Boardwalk Empire.
The series, about Atlantic City gangsters during Prohibition, has garnered praise and a loyal following in part because of the authenticity of its milieu. With the help of agency BLT & Associates, HBO brought the trappings of the 1920s to the streets of Manhattan with a fleet of vintage automobiles emblazoned with a Boardwalk Empire hashtag. Members of Uber could sign into their mobile accounts and request a free ride anywhere between Canal and 59th streets from one of these vehicles. To gain greater visibility among those who weren’t Uber members, HBO also assigned four 1920s billboard cars to various areas of Manhattan. All the vehicles were equipped with iPads showcasing Boardwalk Empire recaps and trailers.
HBO and Uber promoted the free rides via their social media accounts. And to garner more online visibility, they gave high-profile bloggers free rides to work as well.
The campaign ran just two days in September, but it nonetheless generated more than 23 million impressions from social media alone. Nearly 2,600 New Yorkers requested rides, and the online outreach campaign among bloggers drove an estimated 7.9 million impressions.
As for ratings, the third-season premiere of Boardwalk Empire was viewed by 2.9 million people, roughly the same number who had watched the second-season premiere. Repeats of the episode earned a cumulative 4.6 million viewers, compared with 4.5 million for the previous season’s premiere.