A Tip o’ the Hat to Marketing

Jan 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Special to TelevisionWeek

The WB Network’s marketing co-Presidents Bob Bibb and Lewis Goldstein have spent the better part of their more than 20 years in television trying to figure out what makes teenagers and young adults tick.

The duo’s first order of business upon joining The WB in 1994 was to establish a brand identity for the nascent network. Improbably, the two were both fans of a relatively obscure Looney Tunes character, Michigan J. Frog, a singing, dancing amphibian created in 1954 by legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones. They decided that Michigan’s showbiz look, complete with top hat and cane, would appeal to younger viewers and resonate with their parents, who might remember the character.

“There was a lot that went into the branding and choosing of the frog,” Mr. Bibb said. “We presented with Chuck Jones [at a meeting of WB affiliates] how this little mascot would become our `spokesphibian,’ and they really enjoyed it. They felt it was classy and fun.”

According to Mr. Bibb, necessity also played a major part in the decision to use the frog. “The network went on the air without any pilots. Shows came in one week before they went on the air, and we had no options,” he said. “When we were building all this stuff in the fall of 1994, we didn’t have any stars, no signed contracts with talent; we had nothing on film.”

The seeds of their partnership were sown in the early 1980s at NBC, when Mr. Bibb spent a week as a temporary vacation replacement for Mr. Goldstein and later was hired as director of on-air promotion for movies and miniseries.

One day Mr. Bibb suggested he and Mr. Goldstein should try to work together on the network’s new branding campaign. Eventually NBC promo chief John Miller gave them their shot, and the “Bob and Lew” promotional partnership was born.

They left NBC in 1987 to join the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Co. as VPs of creative marketing and special projects. Once on board, Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Bibb saw very quickly that despite some edgy choices by Chairman Barry Diller, President Jamie Kellner and programming chief Garth Ancier, Fox’s overall strategy of trying to beat the Big 3 networks at their own game-attracting household ratings-wasn’t going to work.

“I remember a meeting with Jamie where we said we can’t be all things to all people,” and the decision was made to transform Fox into a niche broadcaster aimed at young-adult males, Mr. Bibb said.

After seven years at Fox, the two were recruited by Mr. Kellner to rejoin him at another startup effort: The WB.

Under the guidance of Mr. Bibb and Mr. Goldstein, The WB has led the way in using licensed music as a marketing tool to appeal to its core audience. That helped stimulate advance buzz for future hits such as “Felicity,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Smallville” and “Gilmore Girls,” among others.

The WB pioneered the use of music cards at the end of episodes, ensuring exposure for emerging artists and enabling the network to license music at discounted rates in exchange for promotional opportunities for the music firms.

Mr. Bibb and Mr. Goldstein knew they had made an impact in their quest to attract major pop artists to television when Madonna granted permission to use “The Power of Goodbye” in the marketing campaign for “Felicity.”

“It was groundbreaking,” Mr. Goldstein said.

“Up to that point, she hadn’t lent her music to television, only the big screen,” Mr. Bibb said.