Promoting an entertainment venture based on a world war, as HBO has done with The Pacific mini-series, is a delicate matter. The Pacific, which premiered on March 14, recounts the story of U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Although World War II has largely receded into history’s dusky corridors for many of us, even still the war’s legacy is one of suffering and killing on a monumental scale. So I am relieved and pleased to see how The Pacific has been marketed over the past several weeks — a tasteful and educational multichannel experience.
For instance, the digital experience focuses on an interactive map that uses striking graphics and narration by The Pacific co-producer Tom Hanks to allow you to explore in more detail pivotal battles depicted in the mini-series.
A Facebook page provides previews of upcoming episodes but, even more interesting, a forum for fans to talk about the show. I like reading the occasional post from a war veteran inspired to speak up, or the inevitable student of history who takes issue with the way a detail is depicted in the mini-series. I think the page brings out the best side of social media by bringing together enthusiasts who share history’s bond.
Similarly, PR for the series has been thoughful, the highlight being Time magazine profile of Tom Hanks, depicted as “America’s Historian in Chief” for his involvement producing historical epics like Band of Brothers, John Adams, and now, The Pacific, among other ventures.
Another highlight is Hanks and co-producer Steven Spielberg providing insights into why they tackled The Pacific via an engaging Q&A with Entertainment Weekly. Notice the focus on the personalities behind the series. Clearly, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg realize their celebrity appeal is essential to raising awareness for The Pacific — they know better than to assume that a war that occurred nearly 70 years ago is going to sell itself. Does World War II belong in Entertainment Weekly? You bet it does.
I think the highlight of The Pacific marketing is the print element. The series is based largely on the books With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie. HBO did not publish those books. But thanks to The Pacific, these noteworthy memoirs, published decades ago, are back in wide circulation. Their availability is more than marketing but rather a public service.
On top of that, Hugh Ambrose, son of famed historian Frank Ambrose, makes his own contribution to the literature of the war through his The Pacific, the official companion piece of the mini-series. Kudos to Bantam, Presidio Press, and NAL Hardcover for publishing these books.
But an entertainment venture is no substitute for history itself. In that regard, the real value of The Pacific has yet to be realized. We don’t yet know how many viewers of the mini-series will be inspired to dig deeper into the history of the war and its impact on us today. But if the marketing of The Pacific does nothing more than draw viewers to the mini-series, then at least the job has been done admirably.