With a Hot Demographic, the CW Launches With Advertisers in Tow

Network's Ad Sales Chief Says the Trick Is Connecting Brands to Content

By Published on .

Most Popular
Who: Bill Morningstar, exec VP-advertising sales, the CW Network.
CW's Bill Morningstar says, 'The advertising community spoke up loud and clear and said we want you guys to try new things and be innovative and look for different ways to connect our brands with your audience.'

Why you need to know him: As the CW's head of sales, Mr. Morningstar is leading the charge when it comes to integrating advertisers into the new network's programming and website, as well as launching branded-entertainment efforts such as "content wraps," the name for short-form sponsored programming that will run during commercial breaks and later online. Madison & Vine caught up with Mr. Morningstar to talk about how he will work with advertisers at the network, which officially launches today. (The CW is the result of the merger of Time Warner's the WB and CBS Corp.'s UPN.)

Credentials: A veteran ad-sales executive at the WB, Mr. Morningstar recently served as its exec VP-ad sales. He joined the WB in 1994, and held various positions, including senior VP-media sales and VP-Eastern sales. Before that, he was a VP in the network group at Grey Advertising.

The CW officially launches this week. The WB was really active in branded entertainment, especially when it came to integrations and sponsorships. Will we see the CW doing more of that? "I don't know about more. We're still there and doing it. It's still an enabler for marketers who are looking to differentiate their brands in a meaningful way. But [product placements and integrations were] last year's hot flavor. It's still important but not as big an item as it once was."

So what will you be doing differently? The network has generated a lot of attention around its content wraps. "They are a chance to see how we can transform the actual on-air viewing experience. What we know from [shows like] 'Veronica Mars' and 'Gilmore Girls' is that we have very passionate viewers. People who watch these shows love them and can't get enough of them. We asked ourselves: How do we take this environment and create a more meaningful environment for viewers? When you lean in and give them more meaningful content that they care about, their brand perception goes up. We're trying to innovate. It's a changing landscape which is scary and exciting."

How did the idea come about? "We had done some research last year where we did something with 'Smallville' and created webisodes that were built out of a storyline -- six short-form stories that you could only see on the internet [and were sponsored by Acuvue]. The responses we got from the consumers was overwhelming; they loved it. We found that when advertisers gave them more episodes, the consumer was off-the-charts happy."

Which marketers are sponsoring the content wraps? "We just announced Herbal Essences in our first night of programming with 'America's Next Top Model.' They will do three different wraps that tap into fashion and beauty and what's hot and happening and what's hip. Pfizer is another."

How many content wraps will you produce? "It's a big undertaking. We're going to do about 10 to 12 this year [that will air on the network and on CWTV.com]. We want to fine-tune it and get it right."

Who is producing them? "It's a joint venture with the advertisers, but we'll have an active role." The producers of "Extra" are overseeing the productions.

Are you also working with show producers to create them? "We're pretty involved, but [producers] have to be invested with the process. No one's as close to the show as they are."

The network's stressing that it's going after younger viewers now. Has that made it easier to convince marketers to try something different like the content wraps? "One of the things that was refreshing when the merger was announced was the meetings with different advertisers. We realized we had this unique and wonderful opportunity to launch a new network, but on the back of established hits. The mindset was, How can we do this differently? The advertising community spoke up loud and clear and said we want you guys to try new things and be innovative and look for different ways to connect our brands with your audience. Having a clearly defined mission statement and target audience is important for marketers to know. The average household gets over 100 channels. There's a lot of choice out there. We can't be everything to everybody. We want to be important to a certain group. A very important group. We want to be the first stop for young adults. They're important to marketers. Many are establishing their life's firsts. The average age of marriage happens at 24. The first baby at 27. They're buying that house, that car, that TV."

What are marketers asking from you when it comes to nontraditional advertising? "They're looking for original content that can live out of the shows and in a digital world. We're trying to have a digital experience for each show what is customizable for each show."

Are you trying to get more brands to do promotions around integrations of products in programming? "If you want to have an association with a show from an integration standpoint, we'd hope that you support the show with advertising as well. We still believe in the 30-second spot."

Would the content wraps work for every advertiser? "It depends on the brand. It lends itself to the night [and audience] that the advertiser is trying to make a connection with. If advertisers want to target young females, then Tuesday night, with 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Veronica Mars' would be great for them to do content wraps. We've got a lot of action on our Thursday night with 'Smallville' and 'Supernatural' that would find more of a male-skewing viewership, which might lend itself to an area like music."

Is there a certain way you approach branded entertainment, whether it's integrations, promotions, sponsorships or other forms? "We've always taken the approach that we never want to insult the viewer. You've gotta be careful. You've gotta do it right. The last thing we want to do is upset the viewers. That just creates a bad perception of the show and bad perception of the brand, which isn't good for us. It's all about the execution. We're all figuring things out. What helps me sleep at night is that content will be the engine that drives all these new platforms as they emerge and develop. No one develops more meaningful content than the broadcast networks. Now it's our job to take this content and bend it into different sizes and shapes for the screens that are coming. That's why we've all had success in this area. We all have this great content."

What kind of shows out there do you think are successfully integrating brands and doing promotions around them? "The sports properties have done a good job. From a network TV standpoint, the early-morning shows do a good job. 'Lost' and 'American Idol' have done some interesting stuff."

Are there shows you think aren't? "Ask me that question in a couple of months. We're going to learn a lot in the fourth quarter. We're all trying to be responsible and do it the right way so the show benefits, the viewer benefits and the advertisers benefit. You can't force these things."

There is still some confusion out there on what branded entertainment actually is. How do you define it? "I don't have a clear definition of it. When you sit in a room with an advertiser and you start to understand what their brand is and what their brand objectives are and you marry that with one of our shows and the studio and producers, that's when the magic happens. No two ways are alike. You don't want to go into it with a cookie-cutter format. It will be dictated by the brands and their objectives. The idea will come out of that. Everybody's experimenting."

What's on your TiVo? "I don't have a TiVo. I have four kids. If I had a TiVo, I'd never sleep or never see them."

What's on your iPod? "I just got a video iPod. I like a lot of Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Elvis Costello, The Stones. A lot of the older stuff."

What do you do on your downtime? "My weekends are pretty busy [with my children's] sporting events. I like to play tennis and golf and spend time with my wife."