In Depth

‘Gossip’ Hopes to Get Its Groove Back

The CW Tries Steamy Ads to Win Back Targeted Viewers

What to do when you really need to get attention in a blogosphere world? Rely on sex and just a whiff of profanity, of course.

“Gossip Girl,” despite lackluster ratings, is still the flagship program of The CW. As such, the fledgling broadcast network really needs to succeed in tempting viewers back to watch the first new episodes of the salacious teen drama since the writers strike.

Ads, online video promotions and outdoor billboards will feature Serena, Nate and other characters from the program locked in passionate embraces, with the text message “OMFG” superimposed on top. The initials might stand for “oh my frickin’ goodness,” suggested Rick Haskins, CW’s exec VP of marketing.

The show, which returns to the air April 21, has not had an original episode air since Jan. 9, due to the writers strike. The strike has proved to be especially hard on shows that rely on a continuous storyline to pull the audience back week after week. The goal is to spark more interest from viewers 18-34.

The network is “using the vernacular that they use on [text messages] all the time when they are talking with everybody,” Mr. Haskins said. “That’s kind of what we like about this. We really are speaking the way our audience speaks.”

Not in all cases. In some instances, the “F” will be removed from the ads, which may just read “OMG” or use an emoticon that signifies the same thing. The letter and what it stands for isn’t appropriate for some weekly magazines and even The CW’s own air. The F will have a stronger appearance on cable and online.

Sparking chatter about “Gossip Girl” is a crucial task for CW, which has had few breakout hits this season and finds one of its other popular shows, “America’s Next Top Model,” growing long in the tooth. “Gossip Girl” brought in $28.2 million in ad dollars in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence, attracting such marketers as Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, Target and Johnson & Johnson.

Ratings for the show’s original episodes have slipped since it first debuted Sept. 19, according to Nielsen. The premiere episode notched about 3.5 million live or same-day viewers. But the last original episode only secured about 2.3 million, and the program’s audience dipped as low as around 1.8 million on Dec. 19.

Media buyers see “Gossip Girl” as a viable avenue to reach younger consumers, who are often hardest to reach and yet most influential. At the same time, the program’s ratings are cause for concern, said David Scardino, entertainment specialist at independent agency RPA.

“It doesn’t seem to have gained any real traction” in the ratings, he said, though the network has boasted of the reach “Gossip Girl” has online and in other digital means.

CW has announced that the program has been renewed for next season.

“Gossip Girl” is also home to a wide-ranging product-placement deal with Verizon Wireless. Verizon won a four-way battle among the nation’s biggest telecommunications marketers—including Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T—to nab its multimillion-dollar role in the show.

The new promotional effort, created by agency 72andSunny, Los Angeles, aims to spark buzz—and not just because it shows TV stars in make-out sessions and bedroom scenes. CW’s Mr. Haskins said the ads feature scenes of the “Gossip Girl” crowd from previous episodes and even tease scenes from the next original.

The ads are set to appear on billboards in New York’s Times Square and in Los Angeles; on MTV, VH1 and E!; in celebrity weeklies such as People, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly and In Touch; and online on MySpace, Yahoo and Facebook.