The WB’s Supergirl Focuses on Branding

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

How do you market Superman when your audience thinks he’s a dork?
That was the challenge Suzanne Kolb faced three years ago, when she was charged with promoting the debut of The WB’s “Smallville.” Focus groups showed teens-particularly girls-did not like Superman, did not think he was cool and did not want to watch a show about him.
So Ms. Kolb created a campaign that showed a cute boy who’s tormented by his high school peers and has a deep, dark secret. There were a few glimpses of Superman iconography-a flash of glowing green kryptonite, an “S” on a shirt-but there were no loud costumes and no mention of the S-word. It was an anti-Superman Superman campaign. And it worked: The premiere was the highest-rated debut in The WB’s history.
“People think Superman’s good again,” Ms. Kolb said.
And people think Ms. Kolb, a WB veteran, is pretty good herself.
“I’ve watched her rise at The WB for years, and she really knows how to market on television,” said Caryn Picker, senior VP of media marketing for Miramax.
Ms. Kolb was working on the ABC account for Grey Entertainment when she was hired by The WB as head of print advertising in 1996. She said The WB’s fledging status was a major appeal.
“It was a young network, and you were able to make a difference,” Ms. Kolb said. “There were no real clearly defined lines of what the job was. You can say, `I have an idea. Can I try it?”’
One of her ideas was to create a publicity department for the network. And she did it. Another, she said, was to embrace show branding before it was popular.
“I tried early on in the process to figure out what the emotional brand was for each show and never deviate from it,” Ms. Kolb said. “`Smallville’ is very distinct. It should never look or feel like `Gilmore Girls.’ They each have their own personality.”
Ms. Kolb is now the net’s executive VP of marketing and said she has stayed with The WB because she enjoys the programming and appreciates the network’s intense demographic focus.
“I’m thrilled if a 50-year-old wants to watch, but I’m not specifically marketing to them,” Ms. Kolb said. “At ABC, you wanted everybody who’s ever drawn a breath to see something.”
Though her campaigns are more focused in regards to viewer age, Ms. Kolb admitted The WB’s coverage does necessitate casting a broader net in terms of network awareness.
“We have to try to balance getting the die-hard WB viewers and people who are not,” she said. “The other nets are pretty much part of the consideration set, but you go to a smaller market and we might barely exist. We can’t assume everybody has the same level of [network] awareness.”
Ms. Kolb’s now has the tricky task of marketing the summertime replacement “Pepsi Smash, a concert series.” Though she agrees the name could be off-putting to some, she added, “I think the audience is willing to accept corporate relationships and sponsorships if it’s perceived as bringing more entertainment value than it otherwise would. And most people already sort of know that Pepsi sponsors music.”
At 34, she’s edging out of the target 12 to 34 demographic at a notoriously youth-obsessed network. “I’d be a terrible marketer if I couldn’t do it without being in the same age group,” she said. “I’m able to stay in touch with the demographic.”
She then added: “Hopefully, they won’t kick me to the curb.”
Not a chance.
Name: Suzanne Kolb
Date of Birth: Feb.18, 1969
Place of Birth: New York City
Title: Executive VP of marketing, The WB
Big Break: Hired as head of print advertising by The WB in 1996
Who Knew? She is an accomplished juggler.