The CW: Free to Be Ad Friendly

Chili's, American Eagle and Unilever First Major Sponsors

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- By now, you're probably familiar with the "Free to Be" marketing push from new broadcast network the CW, which has plastered phrases like "Free to Be Fierce," "Free to Be Super" and "Free to Be Funny" on buses, billboards and most other types of ad spaces across the country. But considering the CW's willingness to offer up every conceivable facet of its multi-platform network, one wonders whether the CW's lasting slogan should be "Free to Be Commercial."
Chili's will be featured on 'Veronica Mars' and waitstaff will promote the network by wearing T-shirts with the 'Free to Be...' tagline.
Chili's will be featured on 'Veronica Mars' and waitstaff will promote the network by wearing T-shirts with the 'Free to Be...' tagline.

Stark contrast to rival
In stark contrast to its rival My Network TV, the CW -- the first broadcast network to go on air since its predecessors, the WB and UPN, set sail in 1995 -- will be awash with advertisers as it launches this week. It pulled in a respectable $650 million in upfront commitments, and restaurant chain Chili's, American Eagle Outfitters and Unilever's soap brand Caress have all signed broad ad agreements that make them the founding charter advertisers of the new network, backed by CBS and Time Warner.

And buyers say the CW's efforts to help move advertisers beyond the realm of the 30-second spot played a major role in the network's ability to grab sponsors.

"They are trying to be a partner," said Andy Donchin, director-national broadcast at Carat, who negotiated a marketing agreement with the network on behalf of Pfizer. "They're trying to be creative to help sell our products and help us rise above the clutter."

Want an example of that creativity on the CW's end? Just look at the relationship it has set up with Chili's.

'Let's do something exciting'
Chili's "came in early, and they said let's do something exciting to partner for the launch," said Alison Tarrant, the CW's senior VP-integrated sales and marketing. "As we were developing the plans, community was an important part of how we were going to position both brands."

The restaurant will be featured in "Veronica Mars," and is currently considering other programming. Chili's will also be included on the network's website in an area called The CW Lounge, which features chat rooms and message boards. In a "Free to Be Famous" promotion, supported by Chili's, viewers are asked to post their own photos which will be used in promotions for the CW on the air.

In return for all that, Chili's will hang artwork from the CW in 1,000 restaurants, servers will wear "Free to Be Saucy" and "Free to Be Friendly" aprons while coasters -- labeled "Free to Be Icey" -- will be placed on tables and bar counters.

Connecting with fans
One executive involved in the deal said viewers of the CW are not only "incredibly receptive" to messages, but also passionate fans of their shows.

Similarly, American Eagle Outfitters agreed to a partnership that will see its new line of intimates and dorm-room clothing featured on "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars." As part of the integrated-marketing pact, signs promoting the CW will go up in American Eagle stores.

The more innovative part of the deal involves short programming produced by American Eagle itself. The shorts will features viewers talking about shows on the CW and how viewers relate to the themes.

Details of Unilever's Caress partnership have not yet been revealed.

Three-minute vignettes
On top of such co-branding agreements, the CW has sold content wraps, three-minute vignettes that feature advertisers' products. Those shorts will either be produced by the advertisers or by the CW.

"Every broadcast network is trying to do things that are different on the digital side and 30-second spot side," said Carat's Mr. Donchin. "The CW is in that realm, some things are going to work and some things won't. They've done well, but the bigger concern is how the shows are going to do."
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