CBC goes all out to push the ‘fun in fundamentalism’

Promotion for CBC's unveiling of its new sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie, is heating up with a teaser campaign and lots of national and international press. Producers are stressing the comedic spin and taking care to note that it's not political satire. Judging by the buzz thus far, and the strategy, the series has potential to draw in some eyeballs.

A little teaser ad appeared on the front page of the Toronto Star‘s A&E section on Dec. 6: ‘You say Tomato, I say Tabouleh… Small town Canada. With a little Muslim Twist.’ The new series teased in the ad is Little Mosque on the Prairie, which premieres in early January. But you wouldn’t know that, or where to watch it, from the ads – not yet, anyway.

CBC teamed up with Toronto-based Zig about a month ago for two weeks of intensive concept development for the teaser campaign, which is now rolling out. The first phase launched this week with online and weekly newspaper ads, as well as spots during Tuesday’s episode of The Rick Mercer Report, seen by the host’s 930,000 fans. CBC’s name will also be absent during the campaign’s next phase, when OOH billboard and transit shelter executions launch on Dec. 18.

The third phase of the campaign will arrive on Christmas Day during an airing of Pirates of the Caribbean, with teasers laced throughout the film and a sneak preview of the show’s content at the conclusion. A final push, with newspaper and radio ads, will begin on the program’s launch day, Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 8:30 pm – with The Rick Mercer Report as a lead-in to capitalize on the comedy audience. The premiere episode of Little Mosque will rebroadcast on Jan. 10, when it takes its regular Wednesday 8 pm timeslot.

CBC director of advertising and media Mary-Jo Osborn tells MiC that some of the executions for the ad campaign were deemed a little too edgy. ‘We tested them in focus groups and also with Muslim focus groups and a Muslim consultant. A lot of them laughed and really seemed to appreciate it,’ she says. ‘(But) there were some concepts that we had to scrap because maybe they pushed the edge a little too much.’

The comedy itself, created by Canadian filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz, chronicles a Muslim community trying to interact with small-town neighbours in Saskatchewan. Known for a 1996 Toronto International Film Festival showing of her BBQ Muslims, Nawaz is oft-quoted as saying she wants to ‘put the fun back into fundamentalism.’ Westwind Pictures, with offices in Toronto and Regina, has spent the last few weeks producing eight half-hour episodes with CBC Television in both locations.

Media Profile, with offices in Toronto and Vancouver, and Toronto-based Word of Mouth PR are running a publicity campaign to accompany the show’s premiere. The New York Times and Maclean’s ran stories on the series this week, and an online reporter for Al Jazeera English was on set during production. As well, The International Herald Tribune has revealed some of the show’s punchlines and situations.

While the push to sell ads or marketing opportunities hasn’t been aggressive, the Ceeb evidently isn’t expecting disapproval from audiences or advertisers. ‘We don’t anticipate any negative feedback because the program has had positive coverage. People understand it’s straight-up comedy and not edgy or satirical,’ says CBC’s head of media relations Jeff Keay.

Little Mosque‘s cast includes Zaib Shaikh (DaVinci’s City Hall, Metropia), Carlo Rota (24, At The Hotel), Arlene Duncan (Puppets Who Kill, Degrassi: The Next Generation), Derek McGrath (Doc, Cheers) and Neil Crone (Hollywoodland, Against The Ropes).