My Kingdom for A Butterfly?


NBC Kings

Last November, NBC ran ads for Kings, its latest attempt to reclaim viewers from CBS. Soon after, on-line forums where filled with questions—What were those commercials? Were they about President Obama? Why was the president’s limo covered in butterfly flags?

By now, the confusion has been somewhat ironed out. NBC has revealed more of the plot for Kings, their latest attempt to reclaim the viewers they’ve lost to CBS. Based on the biblical David and Goliath tale, Kings is the story of a soldier named David Shepard who defeats Goliath, an army tank in this case. In the process, he happens to rescue the son of the King of Gilboa. The rest of the series focuses on David’s rise to fame and power among Gilboa’s people.

The most curious aspect of the show is not the plot itself but the methods of its promotion. When initial commercials were aired, the text read: “In 2009, there’s so much to be thankful for. Our families, our freedom, our nation…Our king.” An elected leader was seen from behind, addressing a plaza filled with his subjects. The reference to America’s presidential election was obvious. As if that wasn’t enough, another commercial aired with the attempt to hitch a ride on the Obama express. The narration of this second ad pushed even harder:

“…Now, there is one among us who has proven we can all bring about change. David Shepard has shown it doesn’t matter where you come from—every voice counts in our kingdom. David has given us hope, peace. David has given his best to the man who has inspired us all. This holiday season, will you be there for your king? One act of bravery can change everything. One man can make a difference.  Who among you will be like David? Under one flag…Under one king.”

To an ad exec, perhaps it makes sense for a television campaign to ride the waves of a presidential campaign, but not when the result is confusion.

Billboards, bus shelters, and print ads are popping up everywhere to promote the late February premier of Kings. Every ad features a white monarch butterfly on an orange flag, the symbol of the kingdom of Gilboa. Besides the one-liner joke—a monarch butterfly to represent a monarchy—a butterfly is the worst creature that could possibly represent a kingdom. Who wouldn’t attack a country whose symbol is an insect that can be killed simply with the oils found in your fingertips?

When the identity for Kings was being designed, no one cracked a book on the history of symbols. Even a unicorn has a built-in defense mechanism. There is something unsatisfying about seeing a plaza full of people bow before a flag that bears a symbol constructed with the line tool in Adobe Illustrator.

The banal marketing choices don’t end there. Try visiting, the news website of Gilboa. It is a joke of a viral marketing campaign by NBC, with only a few working links and a rudimentary layout. Is NBC ready to commit to their latest drama? Because if they aren’t, neither am I.


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