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USA’s Super Bowl Spot Builds on Characters

Jan 25, 2009  •  Post A Comment

USA Network will be fielding a team of characters from its original series during a 60-second commercial that will air just after the gun sounds to end the Super Bowl on corporate sibling NBC.

The spot is designed to drive home NBC Universal-owned USA’s brand message “Characters Welcome,” and will feature principals from its shows including “Monk,” “Burn Notice” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

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USA might have used the spot to promote one of its shows, such as “Burn Notice,” which returned with original episodes last week. Instead, the network chose a brand spot that incorporated all of its seven series.

“There was a lot of healthy debate about what sort of priority we were going to use for that 60-second spot, and I think when you know that you have a large platform like this, sometimes the tendency is maybe to overthink it,” said Chris McCumber, executive VP of marketing, digital and brand. “But from the beginning we knew that this was a great opportunity to promote the brand itself as a whole. There are plenty of ways we can promote and support our original individual programs.”

NBC Universal executives like to point out that while NBC’s struggles get a lot of ink in the trade press, the parent company’s cable networks, led by top-rated USA, generate the lion’s share of the company’s revenue and profit. The Super Bowl provides an opportunity for USA to get a lot of attention from television’s biggest audience of the year.
USA Characters Welcome Super Bowl Spot

NBC is selling 30-second spots during the game for $3 million each. Post-game spots are going for a bit less, but are still expected to be seen by about 60 million people. Other NBC properties also will be visible during the Super Bowl and its pre-game activities.

But the Super Bowl might not score a touchdown for USA.

“NBC has a corporate mantra about cross-promotion. It’s very much a part of their DNA. But there’s not a lot of evidence that it adds much,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, a former Lifetime and USA research executive.

When it comes to bringing viewers to the set, “It’s all about the show,” he said. “It might have made a big difference 10 years ago, but in this day and age, everybody who wants to go to USA certainly knows about it.”

Nevertheless, if he were back at USA, he’d want a Super Bowl spot, too. “Every small advantage you can get adds up.”

“One of the great things about being at NBC Universal is the fact that we do a really great job cross-promoting our properties, especially between NBC and USA, because the audiences are so similar,” Mr. McCumber said. “This is obviously a great opportunity for us, and cross-promotion taken to the next level.”

Last year, when Fox had the Super Bowl, a post-game spot was allocated to its cable sibling FX, which used the opportunity to run a spot from its new “Out of the Box” brand campaign.
USA has been using the Characters Welcome slogan since 2005 and has created a spot that shows how USA’s characters stick with a typical viewer all day long.

The spot starts with a young male viewer waking up. In his bathroom, Tony Shalhoub of “Monk” is straightening towels. When the viewer goes to the kitchen, Jeffrey Donovan of “Burn Notice” is there priming an explosion. When he gets into his car, Jeff Goldblum and Vincent D’Onofrio of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” are in the back seat with a suspect. He passes Debra Messing of “The Starter Wife” on a red carpet on his way to work, where he sees Mary McCormack of “In Plain Sight” engaged in a gunfight. When he finishes his lunch and gets up from a park bench, the bench is smashed by wrestler John Cena of “WWE Raw.” Later that night, James Roday and Dule Hill prove that four’s a crowd when he’s on a date with his girlfriend.

The tagline to the spots is “Characters so original, they stick with you.”

“The tagline is really simple,” Mr. McCumber said. “People see the characters are unforgettable, and throughout your day you’re thinking about them. They literally become a part of your life.”

The commercial was shot on film and is being converted to high definition.

The spot also brags a bit that USA Network, the most-watched ad-supported cable channel last year, has seven hit original series.

That embarrassment of programming riches will make it difficult to cut the ad down to a 30-second version, so USA plans to air the spot at full length on its own channel. It also will make the spot available on its Web site.

Mr. McCumber likes the spot’s tagline, but said it won’t be replacing the network’s Characters Wanted slogan. In fact, it’s not clear when it might be used again.

Football’s championship game also is the Super Bowl for advertisers. But Mr. McCumber said he felt no special pressure creating a spot that will be seen by tens of millions of viewers.

“There’s always pressure,” he said. “The message has to be clean. The message has to be amazingly clear; the creative has to be top-notch and creative-sound. I think we place the same amount of pressure on ads launching our shows on our own air as we do on a 60-second spot for the Super Bowl.”

Mr. McCumber plans to watch the game at home and root for the Steelers, which was his grandfather’s favorite team. He said he’s a football fanatic who tends to watch games from beginning to end, but this year, no matter what the score is in the fourth quarter, “I will definitely be watching” until after the final gun goes off.

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