Slogan? Ask Your Harshest Critic
July 23, 2008
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's a universal truth that
teens love to love the things their parents hate. In
that vein, the CW has decided the best way to deal with
parents' disapproval of its steamy teen shows is to use
their denunciations as its latest marketing slogan.
The fledgling network, owned by Time Warner Inc. and CBS
Corp., intends to run ads for "Gossip Girl" that use
quotes from the Parents Television Council, an advocacy
group that has criticized the program for its frank and
candid depictions of teens having sex and using drugs.
In one ad, to begin appearing Aug. 1, two of the teen
characters are shown cuddling in bed together, below a
blurb that reads "Mind-blowingly inappropriate!" -- and
identified as being from the PTC. The new season of
"Gossip Girl" makes its debut Sept. 1.
"It really reeks of desperation," said Melissa Henson,
director of communications and public education for the
group. The network's decision to "position the show in
opposition to the Parents Television Council speaks both
to the trouble they've had attracting a decent-sized
audience for the program and the fact that they have had
to sort of cling to an image of this show as being
raunchy, salacious and envelope-pushing in order to lure
Be careful, Ms. Henson, or you might just give CW
another reason to use your quotes as a promotional
blurb. Indeed, another promotion in the series of
"Gossip Girl" ads quotes the New York Post as saying the
program is "a nasty piece of work." One can imagine the
network picking up on Ms. Henson's quote and running a
poster saying that CW is "raunchy, salacious and
envelope-pushing" sometime soon.
Use of the hyperlicious quotes is meant to reach out to
the show's young-teen audience in a "provocative"
fashion, both with pictures and words, said Rick
Haskins, CW's exec VP-marketing.
"We looked for what I thought was the best headlines and
the most clever writing," he said. The PTC "just
happened to have what I thought was a really interesting
quote that fit hand in glove with the campaign and where
we were going." The campaign was created by the
Using a criticism of the show to get people excited
about it seems the ultimate in counterintuitive
thinking, but many TV networks are getting increasingly
brazen about how they burnish their entertainment
offerings. Once content merely to show clips from coming
episodes in brief "promo" fashion on their own air,
networks have gotten more aggressive in tone and in use
of other kinds of media. Mr. Haskins said "Gossip Girl"
ads will also run in celebrity weeklies such as People,
Us Weekly and In Touch, as well as on CW and a variety
of national cable networks.
CW has a lot at stake -- another reason for using a
campaign with an outre tone. While "Gossip Girl" is fast
becoming the network's flagship program, its ratings
have been lackluster at best, a testament to the
difficulty of trying to get young consumers to watch TV
when they are fast becoming accustomed to getting more
of their entertainment online and with mobile devices.
In fact, CW decided not to stream the last five episodes
of "Gossip Girl" when they originally aired, in the
hopes of sparking better ratings for traditional TV
broadcasts of the show.
Mr. Haskins and "Gossip Girl" have fueled controversy in
the recent past. In April, the network ran ads featuring
Serena, Nate and other characters from the program
locked in passionate embraces, with the text message "OMFG"
superimposed on top (one suggestion was that the letters
stood for "oh, my freaking goodness," but that's hard to
Some critics expressed dismay and shock. Mr. Haskins
said the network believes strongly in trying to talk to
fans of the show in language that's relevant to them.
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