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CW Free to Be a Community

Sep 4, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The CW’s top marketing executive, Rick Haskins, had what he calls his “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment” about the new network’s branding at a focus group facility in Sherman Oaks, Calif., on a Friday night in March.

Mr. Haskins, the executive VP of marketing and brand strategy, was referring to the classic Reese’s TV commercial in which a chocolate lover and a peanut butter aficionado accidentally stumble into each other and realize the two flavors are a perfect blend.

In this case, what went great together for The CW were two of its potential promotional campaigns designed to introduce the adults 18 to 34 target audience to the new network. A male focus group participant was looking at samplers, or mockups put together by graphic houses that present different ways the network might sell itself. One featured a campaign dominated by the color green, and another featured the adaptable tag line “Free to be …”

“It was some guy who said, `Green’s pretty cool, but `Free to be’ is pretty cool too,”‘ Mr. Haskins said. “I was like, `Duh!”‘

Less than a month on the job, and less than two months since the surprise announcement of the new network, Mr. Haskins had a campaign tag he could use to sell the new broadcaster, which combines programming from The WB and UPN to form the bulk of the fall schedule.

“It does take on a life of its own,” Mr. Haskins said of the “Free to be” campaign. “That’s when you know you have something-when you can see all the different executions and it keeps going and going.”

The nine “Free to be” print ads, which feature various CW talent and tag lines (“Free to be fierce,” “Free to be scary”) have become ubiquitous in a number of markets.

The campaign exemplifies Mr. Haskins’ belief that in introducing the new network to viewers, the goal must be to adapt the brand to the consumer, not to force viewers to conform to The CW.

“Old media is about an audience; new media is about a community,” he said. “We are trying to straddle old media and move into new media, just like our audience is.”

The CW is utilizing some traditional campaign elements, including on- air promotions that feature fresh footage of CW stars filmed in May at what Mr. Haskins called a single “mondo-shoot.”

In addition, the network is engaged in more unconventional strategies. Among them is a mall tour that encourages viewer participation before the network’s Sept. 20 premiere. The tour is introducing viewers to CW talent, but it is also taking submissions for its “Free to be famous” campaign, in which people can take pictures in a specially designed photo booth that allows them to submit 15-second spots. The spots could eventually end up on-air. Winners will be notified via e-mail if their spot makes it to broadcast.

Last week The CW announced it will preview selected premiere episodes on MSN.com the week before they run on-air. The network also said it has created a dedicated hub on social networking Web site MySpace.com that features video interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and a competition for music groups that culminates with a guest spot on The CW drama “Supernatural.”

Mr. Haskins was surprised to find out last week that the network’s Web site, CWTV.com, already had had 3 million unique visitors.

“We’re not even a brand yet,” he said, noting that personalization of The CW will continue online in October with the site’s “Mash Maker” function, a tool that allows users to make and submit on-air promos using pre-approved audio and video clips.

Promoting The CW has to take into consideration the migration of viewers to a new station and the melding of two previously competing schedules. A staggered rollout allows Mr. Haskins to focus on one launch at a time, starting with the two-hour premiere of “America’s Next Top Model” on Sept. 20 and the seventh season of “Gilmore Girls,” debuting Sept. 26.

Advertising a few series premieres and touting a programming lineup change is hard enough for a network, but introducing an entirely new brand and schedule is daunting for anyone, especially in the course of six months.

“I wake up some days and say, `What am I doing?”‘ Mr. Haskins admitted, but noted that at its core his mandate is clear.

“My job is really easy,” he said. “My job is to get a message across that resonates with my target audience in a way they understand and respond to.”