CW Paints the Town (and Skin) Green

Stations use guerrilla marketing to promote new network
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Soon-to-be CW stations are coming up with fresh ideas to get word of the new network out. In San Francisco, three interns from KBHK, calling themselves the “Pod Squad,” are cruising around shooting video podcasts that hype the Sept. 18 launch, while giving out temporary “CW Bay Area” tattoos. To plug the network’s debut in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., WYCW commissioned the jingle “YCW,” set to the Village People’s “YMCA.” And in Philadelphia, WPSG is giving away manicures in the CW’s signature bright green—colorful reminders about the launch.

CW affiliates are intensely focused on increasing awareness for the network. When The WB and UPN shut down, viewers will need to know where to find favorite programs like America’s Next Top Model and Gilmore Girls. Hoping to guard against a dip in ratings, the network and its affiliates have rolled out multimillion-dollar advertising and promo campaigns.

The affiliates face some major hurdles. They have to communicate a new brand and primetime programming lineup. They also need to support syndicated programming and, in a handful of markets, local news.

No market is immune to the changes. Of The CW’s affiliates, 67% were The WB stations, 28% were UPNs, and 5% are new digital stations or had another affiliation.

Stations across the country have put up splashy billboards featuring The CW’s color scheme and sexy teen stars. They’ve also rolled out radio and television ads with the network’s catchy theme song, performed by the Black Eyed Peas. Such traditional efforts are critical, but, to reach the finicky 18-34 demographic, say network and station executives, they need to get creative.

“This audience does not want to be told what to do. They’ll reject heavy-handed messages,” says The CW Executive VP of Marketing and Brand Strategy Rick Haskins, who honed his skills at Lifetime and Procter & Gamble. “We need to do things that break through the clutter.”

Toward that end, stations are recruiting college kids to work on street teams, handing out swag that ranges from T-shirts to beer cups at concerts, malls and campuses. Some ideas are tailored to local interests. With high school football a huge attraction in Albuquerque, N.M., affiliate KWBQ is plastering two stadiums with CW signage and painting the sides green.

Taking It To The Streets

The station’s parent company, ACME Communications, runs one of the largest CW affiliate groups, with seven stations. It assembled focus groups to come up with such ideas. “These are ways to get noticed in the community,” says ACME VP of Promotions Steve Bailey.

Another way is purchasing $60,000 worth of T-shirts, key chains and assorted trinkets for interns to hand out at events and downtown areas. Malls in ACME’s markets, including Dayton, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tenn., are covered with CW signs and station logos. “You need to do the usual radio, print and outdoor ads,” Bailey says, “but we also want to get out positive word of mouth.”

Under The CW’s affiliation deals, stations are committed to provide aggressive local marketing for the launch. The network is providing financial support, weekly promotional spots, signage and even some local events. Earlier this month, The CW kicked off a 12-city mall tour featuring program stars. At the first stop on New York’s Long Island, teens lined up at 5 a.m. to meet the cast of One Tree Hill.

Aside from such splashy events, the network is largely relying on affiliates to drill down into their markets. Several stations, including WBZL Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, are sponsoring auditions for America’s Next Top Model, to draw attention to one of UPN’s top shows. “We’re trying to establish a toe-hold with the brand wherever we can,” says WBZL General Manager Rich Engberg.

Viewers As Promoters

Many affiliates are turning to potential viewers to craft promotions. Station producers are shooting “man-on-the-street”–style promos, asking residents what they know about The CW and its programming. “We say 'What is East Tennessee’s CW?’, and some people have no clue,” says ACME’s Bailey. “But other people are getting it. We edit the responses together and tag on the logo.”

The CW shares best practices among the stations, such as the Pod Squad and affiliate WUPA Atlanta’s renaming a concert venue as CW Live. In San Diego, Haskins notes, Tribune-owned affiliate KSWB is accepting user-created promotion spots on its Website, which it plans to run on-air. If the effort generates solid submissions, other Tribune stations plan to follow suit.

Haskins is thinking big. In New York, where former WB affiliate WPIX will be The CW station, Haskins quips, “I’d love see the Empire State Building lit up in The CW green.”

E-mail comments to aromano@reedbusiness.com

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