Instead of avoiding it, TNT Latin America decided to steer into the controversy that surrounded the late Hugo Chávez, former president of Venezuela, to market its new series, El Comandante (The Commander). Produced by Sony Pictures Television, the series is presented as both a political and human drama where facts mix with fiction.
El Comandante, which premiered on TNT Latin America on Jan. 31, stars Andrés Parra in the title role and features 60 episodes and more than 600 actors. TNT Latin America is one of Latin America and the Caribbean’s leading cable networks, reaching 59.2 million subscribers.
El Comandante is an important production for TNT “because of its scale, because of what it represents and because the programming team thinks that the figure of Hugo Chávez is still relevant in people’s memories and has the potential of enticing wide interest in all markets,” says Gerardo Kerik, VP of brand strategy and digital marketing at Turner Latin America.
Turner Latin America’s marketing strategy was all about starting a conversation.
“[O]n the one hand, we leaned on this controversy without taking sides and, on the other, we communicated that the interesting thing [about the series] is what is still unknown about Chávez,” says Kerik. “The figure of Chávez is still fresh in people’s minds, people know him. We have a challenge, since people already have strong ideas about him. He has as many supporters as he does detractors. This is a controversial issue we knew we were going to have to handle,” says Kerik.
This is why there are moments in the story where “it seems we are on Chávez’ side, because when he is young, he is shaping himself and he has ambition,” says Kerik. “And there are moments in the story where this ambition overtakes him and turns into a thirst for power. We know that at any of these moments someone’s going to dislike TNT. We don’t take sides on the controversy; rather, we make a story about the controversy, about the story of power behind Hugo Chávez, all the time trying to be very careful.”
Given a lot to work with, the campaign focuses on the character and the storytelling.
“We know that Chávez was the king of TV screens, a showman, a genius of controversy. He generated and invented it out of nowhere. This was how his voice emerged. We tried to understand all this and to see how we could translate it into [promotional] pieces,” says Kerik.
With this in mind, the team decided to emphasize digital marketing, both organic and paid, with the creation of different pieces for the various channel’s accounts, including “Canvas” (below), which aired on Facebook and depicted the character’s dual power, stressed by two contrasting colors.
Other parts of the campaign played a bit more with Chávez’ controversial nature. The below piece affirms that “Latin America’s strong voice is back” (“Vuelve la voz fuerte de Latinoamérica”), after remembering the former Venezuelan president’s words to George W. Bush: “You are a donkey, Mr. Danger.”
In some cases, the spots take a more ironic approach, showcasing how the late Chávez would have laughed at recent world events such as Brexit, Colombia’s “No to Peace” and Donald Trump’s ascent to the American presidency, or how he might compare his fame to a YouTuber’s.
Much of the content marketing for the show addresses the many myths that still swirl around the larger-than-life character of Chávez.
“We tried to build up the character not only based on what is already known—that he was a president, a dictator, a populist leader—but also with all the polemic that surrounded him,” says Kerik.
The examples below brings up a few of these, including Chávez’ alleged affair with supermodel Naomi Campbell, the rumor that he wanted to turn “chavismo” into an official religion, or the notion that he was reincarnated as a bird.
The spots close by reminding viewers that “the true controversy lies in what you still don’t know” (“La verdadera polémica está en lo que no conoces”).
Kerik and his team also created content pieces segmented by audience type.
“We looked for people who had seen [series star Parra] or who were interested in him and we created pieces where the communication is about Andrés Parra in El Comandante,” says Kerik.
The following promo shows how the actor—who also starred as Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the series Escobar, el patrón del mal (Pablo Escobar, the Drug Lord)—has now morphed into Hugo Chávez.
The team also created spots targeted at people interested in Latin American politics or series such as Narcos (Narcos) or El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of Heaven).
“We decided to look at our audience in a more micro-segmented way and to try to deliver customized content to them,” Kerik says.
Although the launch campaign has been primarily digital, there also has been an outdoor campaign and several on-air spots.
Sony, together with Teleset, produced the trailer in the cube above, which was used to launch the series.
Juan Pablo Posada, creative VP at Teleset in charge of that production, says the trailer’s main objective was to “highlight ambition as one of the most visible features of the real character” as well as “to evoke everything that existed behind the power, the ego, the desire and the passions of Hugo Chávez.”
To address Chávez’ polemical nature, the team decided to show his different sides.
“So that it was not biased, we exposed a great moment of eloquence, power and impressiveness, but that also [revealed] his madness, despair and cruelty, always fluctuating between emotional contrasts,” says Posada.
The trailer includes elements that aren’t part of the historical record of Chávez’ real life, a nod to the fact that the series is not a documentary and includes fictional elements intended to heighten the storytelling.
Finally, the look and feel of the series’ final logo was designed to express Chávez’ indomitable character. The logo’s background is a military uniform behind a hermetically enclosed title.
Says Posada: “The intention was to highlight one of the character’s most iconic and recognized symbols, his red beret. The typography refers to the military setting and the textures and the title certainly refer to a story that is compelling, just like the protagonist.”
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