USA and Hammer Love Ya, ‘Kojak’

Mar 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

USA’s promotional campaign for its new series “Kojak” is the network’s most extensive ever. It also provides an early look at where network President Bonnie Hammer is taking the channel.

“It’s making a statement that visually, USA is changing,” Ms. Hammer said. Ads for the new “Kojak,” which debuts March 25, feature star Ving Rhames’ clean-shaven head and are “clean, classy, bold and graphically iconic,” Ms. Hammer said.

USA’s older ads were a bit retro, much more predictable and meat and potatoes, she said. “We’re going for salsa and sushi. We’re trying to get a little more edge and trend into what we’re doing. A little hipper and a little cooler visually as well as verbally.”

That new sensibility will be reflected in the brand campaign Ms. Hammer plans to launch this summer. “I think you will see in its look it will be more in keeping with the `Kojak’ ad than it would be [with] the old graphics that came before it,” she said. “I think you’ll see it being more diverse.”

The “Kojak” project is also indicative of the way Ms. Hammer wants USA’s departments to cooperate.

“It’s to have the team work together in a choreographed way,” she said. “This is the first project where on-air, marketing, development, programming, press, et cetera, have all worked hand in hand to create a marketing campaign and, to a lesser degree, a television show. And I’m loving what I’m seeing. I think the spots on-air match the marketing off-air, I think the press and the press efforts tied into some of our fun, guerrilla efforts. I think what has come out of it is bigger, clearer, cleaner ideas.”

For example, the cop show has an urban sensibility, so USA went to find a hip music talent and made a deal to have recording artist Tweet create the theme song for “Kojak.” The song wound up on her CD, so a music video was created. That music video became part of USA’s marketing effort and is being shown in Regal Theaters. Some of the scenes from the video-which features Mr. Rhames-will be cut into the show’s open.

The song will be heard on radio and the video will get play on MTV, which will help spread the word about the TV show.

In putting together the campaign, “We had two great brand names to work with in `Kojak’ and Ving Rhames,” said Chris McCumber, USA’s senior VP of marketing and brand strategy. “It was about meshing the two together and to really show this isn’t your father’s `Kojak.’ This is a completely new, fresh take on it.”

Mr. McCumber said USA wanted to take advantage of interest by viewers who remember the old series, in which Telly Savalas played the tough, lollipop-sucking detective. (Information about the new “Kojak” is included in the DVD of the original series, which was released this month.) “But there’s a whole other group, the younger crowd, the urban crowd who don’t even know who Kojak is,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we positioned this show in a way that would speak to that group as well.”

USA made a concerted effort to go after that urban audience. It used an urban marketing company to send “Bald Is Beautiful” kits to barber shops in the top 10 markets. The shops got “Kojak” smocks and lollipop trees and agreed to call a fully shaved head a “Kojak” over the past month.

“That generated a lot of buzz,” Mr. McCumber said.

The network also commissioned a Roper poll to elicit which bald men women find sexy and is running a sweepstakes on its Web site.

USA also joined forces with St. Baldricks, the largest fundraiser for childhood cancer research, which sponsors head-shaving events across the country.

All of that climaxes with a big media blitz. “Then it’s just hit them over the head with TV and radio,” Mr. McCumber said. “We want to make sure we’re everywhere.”

USA is getting time on parent NBC Universal’s outlets, including NBC, Sci Fi and MSNBC, and has tailored spots for Telemundo.

USA is buying added weight on networks such as Comedy Central and BET that appeal to younger audiences to reach an 18 to 34 urban demo.

This week, street teams wearing leather “Kojak” jackets will hand out lollipops in the top 10 markets.

Launching a big show in March is a bit of a gamble for USA. Cable networks generally are more comfortable launching shows during the summer. “I think we’re being brave and we’re being bold,” Ms. Hammer said, “basically saying `Kojak’ is strong enough and good enough to go toe to toe with anyone else there.”

After the Friday night debut of the pilot, the series will settle into a Sunday time slot. It will air at 10 p.m., a good time for a police procedural but also after folks have stopped watching ABC hit “Desperate Housewives.”

“Apart from `Desperate Housewives,’ we’re willing to stick our neck out,” Ms. Hammer said.