HBO's 'Sopranos' Break Through Clutter With Bada Bing Insert

When HBO wanted to get some buzz going among potential viewers of the March 12 premiere of the final season of its hit original program “The Sopranos,” it decided a pop-up magazine insert would get some eye-popping results.

The front of the insert says, “Drop everything,” and the inside is a pop-up of a dancer from notorious Sopranos mobster front and hangout Bada Bing with certain assets accentuated. The copy says, “Back in business March 12.”

The Sopranos insert ran in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue published Feb. 14, said Stephen Campbell, director of print production and distribution for Home Box Office, New York. A total of 910,000 pieces were produced and inserted into subscriber and newsstand copies in the New York and Los Angeles markets.

“That was approximately a month before the March 12 premiere of the new 'Sopranos' season on HBO as a reminder that it was coming,” Campbell said. “It was the first marketing effort out of the box on a large scale. While it's not unusual to have a lot of things to appear the week of the premiere, this was run about a month before to start creating awareness and a buzz.”

Campbell stopped short of comparing the demographics of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue with viewers of “The Sopranos,” though the choice seems to make sense.

As in the past, HBO teamed with Structural Graphics, which calls its products dimensional paper marketing solutions. HBO has used Structural Graphics for three-dimensional inserts and other unique magazine inserts over the past five years.

“We did a sound chip insert for 'The Sopranos' with them two years ago,” Campbell said.

The creation of the insert used this time resulted from collaboration among HBO, Structural Graphics and series creator David Chase.

“We looked at several executions and proposed several ideas, and this was the artwork that David Chase wanted,” said Heather Barrett, director of sales at Structural Graphics, Essex, CT. “We created a dimensional format based on the artwork they supplied.”

It was also Structural Graphics' job to ensure the insert met the specifications of the bindery that would be putting it into the magazines. Barrett said the format for the insert was standard. Still, she added that dimensional inserts are better than flat ones at getting noticed.

“Dimensional inserts get consumers' attention for three to four seconds at minimum,” she said.

They also have what she called “thumb appeal.”

“When you pick up the magazine you know there's something in there,” she said.

The insert did not include a URL for HBO or a “Sopranos” Web page, so there was no measurable aspect to the piece.

“There is no real way to track how much the promotion helped, so it's difficult to say whether there is a return on investment,” Campbell said.

He would not compare the cost with other types of advertising done for the show.

“We're not as concerned about the cost of it as we are with breaking through the clutter,” he said.

In the weeks preceding the premiere, HBO also did other types of advertising including billboards, ads on the sides of buses and other print ads. No other inserts are planned for “The Sopranos.”

Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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