The CW hopes a promotional boost from Microsoft's Bing search engine will help drive results for the launch of its coterie of new and returning series.
In a move that cedes some valuable on-air real estate to a marketer, the CW will let Bing run promotional messages in specially created commercials featuring cast and crew members from CW programs; in promos that run in the "lower third" of the TV screen at certain times during each evening; and in the words that appear in the CW "bug" usually affixed to a bottom corner of the TV screen, along with the network's slogan, "TV to Talk About" (viewers will see that CW also offers "TV to Bing About").
The promotional efforts come as TV networks find they have to work harder to get the word out about their new and returning programs in the midst of a crowded field of launches in autumn, but also as some TV ad-sales executives believe marketers are pressing more forcefully for special on-screen promotional pieces and less so for weaving products into programs.
Over the course of the past year, said Alison Tarrant, exec VP-integrated sales and marketing at the CW, the network has heard from marketers that are "more interested in creating custom content." While product placement is still desirable, she added, "there is a lot of momentum in developing opportunities that run outside of the show," including commercials tailored to the program in which they appear, as well as other on-screen entreaties. These individually crafted videos don't "just run one time in the body of the show," she said, but can live on in digital venues and tend to have a longer shelf life than a sneaker or phone that shows up in a character's hands for a few seconds.
The sentiment has been echoed by other TV executives. Speaking at a conference organized by the Association of National Advertisers earlier this year, Marianne Gambelli, president-advertising sales at NBC Universal's NBC, suggested more sponsors are asking for special content in ad breaks and toning down demands to intrude in the scripts of dramas and comedies.
Microsoft's Bing has in the past few years tried to establish itself as a heady competitor to search-engine giant Google. To do so, it has paid to have characters in various TV programs make use of its search capabilities, as it did in an episode last season on CBS' "Hawaii Five-0."
Yet marketing executives behind the product are starting to see value in other methods, said Sean Carver, a director of marketing at Bing. "Integrations today have basically started to become like commercials were five or 10 years ago," he said. "It is more difficult to catch people's attention" using them.
Rather than paying to have actress Blake Lively's "Gossip Girl" character Serena van der Woodsen search out a club by using Bing on screen, the marketer and CW have instead created about 50 different videos, said Ms. Tarrant, 10 of which will show up during the premieres of various programs. In each video, a member of the cast or crew of the show currently on air will offer some tidbits or thoughts about events slated to take place during the season.
Kevin Williamson, the popular showrunner behind "Vampire Diaries," will appear on behalf of that program, while Sarah Michelle Gellar, the star of the new drama "Ringer," will make an appearance for that series. For "90210," which is seeing some cast changes as characters graduate to college, the casting director will offer viewers some notes. Just as Bing is supposed to help web surfers find information, the sponsored vignettes are meant to "give the viewer a deeper, an insider perspective on what's going to be happening this season from someone who is tied to the show," said Ms. Tarrant. Longer versions of the videos will subsequently appear on Microsoft-owned sites online as well as CW's website.
The extra promotion is no doubt welcome at CW, owned jointly by Time Warner and CBS Corp. The network is launching four new programs -- "Ringer," "H8R," "Secret Circle" and "Hart of Dixie" -- and has moved some of its older programs, including "90210" and "Nikita," to new days or times in order to accommodate. While the network will give Bing a substantial presence on its air, it will likely benefit from the marketers' ability to plug its programs along with its own search capabilities.
Bing wanted to go after a younger audience that watched TV but also was familiar with digital and social media, said Lisa Gurry, a director-marketing at Bing. And while this group may view traditional advertising skeptically, the marketer hopes it feels rewarded when its "gets an opportunity to Bing in contextually relevant ways."
This marks Bing's second large integration since moving its U.S. media business to Publicis Groupe 's Starcom MediaVest from Interpublic Group's Universal McCann earlier this year. Recently, the company worked with MTV and its Video Music Awards.