MSNBC Wants Viewers to Listen Up


No slouching, coach potatoes! MSNBC’s new two-year, multi-million dollar ad campaign with the new tag line, “Lean Forward,” is going for a sense of urgency.

The fierce urgency of now? Certainly MSNBC, having overtaking beleaguered CNN in primetime, sees an opportunity in the ratings cycle.

As MSNBC President Phil Griffin told The New York Times, the new slogan, “defines us and defines our competition.” So, MSNBC is affecting a forward-looking posture and the competition is looking in the rearview mirror? Or MSNBC viewers are sitting on the edge of their seats and viewers of those other cable news networks are hunched in their Barcaloungers?

MSNBC will put the first of its “Lean Forward” commercials in rotation next Tuesday on the network as well as other NBC Universal channels. Display ads will begin appearing on news sites such of The Daily Beast and Slate and print ads will run in TheNew York Times, but presumably not the News Corp.-owned Fox News Channel or The Wall Street Journal.  

One of the 60-second spots, according to The Times, “begins with a child learning how to walk and intersperses scenes of war, rescues in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a peace protest, and the moon landing.” The voice-over intones: “When we understand the world around us, we lose our fear and we move ahead.”

Another spot has a narrator saying: “Starting today, may the ideas that advance our country, no matter who or where they come from, win.”

It all sounds so…bipartisan.

Except that MSNBC has gone from also-ran to second place (albeit a distant second behind Fox News) on the ideological backs of primetime hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

But, the country is also careening toward what is likely to be a bloody mid-term for MSNBC’s base, the Democrats (even if party leaders see Republican spoilers in outlier candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell). And poll after poll shows that voters are sick to death of the bickering and gridlock in Washington. So perhaps MSNBC is attempting to burnish its “thoughtful” credentials at a time when the political scrums, encouraged by special interest cash, a sleepless blogosphere and the media at large, have gotten a little, well, loud.