ABC'S NEW ADS ARE EDGY, RISKY: BRANDING EFFORT FROM TBWA CHIAT/DAY TRIES OFFBEAT STRATEGY

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TBWA Chiat/Day, which broke new ground with its image ads for Nissan, has created a brand campaign for ABC that veers from traditional network TV approaches.

The campaign, which will be teased in June and break in August, comes on the heels of a poor showing for ABC's prime-time programming this past season. The network has dropped to third place in the ratings and is expected today to unveil an overhauled schedule for the coming fall season.

MOROUS AND EDGY

Humorous and edgy, the new branding effort is a departure from such network TV promotions as NBC's "Must see TV" and CBS' "Welcome home." The ABC campaign has no single tagline.

"This is designed to be breakthrough, to create an attitude and sensibility for ABC," said Alan Cohen, the network's exec VP-marketing.

For example, part of the print component of the campaign will consist of a single one-liner on a page, punctuated by the ABC logo.

Promoting heavy TV viewing in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the one-liners include: "8 hours a day, that's all we ask"; "Hobbies, schmobbies"; "Books are overrated"; "The couch is your friend"; "TV is like a muscle-if you don't use it, you lose it"; "Don't worry, you've got billions of brain cells"; and "If you ask us, kids don't watch enough TV."

"If you look at some of the cable networks, such as MTV or ESPN, they've made who they are as entertaining as the shows on their air," said Lee Clow, chairman and chief creative officer, North America, for TBWA Chiat/Day. "So we said to ourselves, 'Hey, we grew up with TV and we're bright and literate.' What is TV? It's recuperative, a way to veg out at the end of the day. It should be acceptable and fun."

The agency's pitch for just such a campaign helped it win the recent review for the network's $30 million account.

"People are closet lovers of TV," said Jim Vescera, ABC's senior VP-advertising and promotion. "We want to take it out of the closet and celebrate it in a fun way."

NO IN-YOUR-FACE PROMOS

He said the campaign "will permeate our entire promotional style. People are sick of the in-your-face TV promos they get bombarded with, and so they lose impact."

Sensitive to the criticism that TBWA's Nissan Motor Corp. USA ads have won critical praise but haven't yet proven an ability to sell cars, Mr. Cohen said the ABC ads will promote specific shows as well as the network.

A print ad for "NYPD Blue," for example, will show the series stars with this copy: "They can. You can't. That's cool."

An ad for "The Drew Carey Show" has the star's photo and these words: "Life stinks. His life stinks more. That's funny."

WHAT TO DO?

In some ways, the ads promote TV viewing overall. A series of 15-second on-air spots carry the tagline "TV. What would you do without it?" One spot shows a snail crawling, set to music. Another focuses on an outdoor bug zapper, which claims a single victim in the final seconds of the ad.

A radio ad extends the approach, noting, "Radio is half a medium. Oh sure, you get great sound and it's in stereo and all that, but what are you looking at? The back of a bus? An old lady in a station wagon? Yeah, that's real stimulating."

Mr. Clow said one of the TV spots in particular captures the philosophy behind the campaign. It begins with a shot of a family watching TV and notes that Americans watch more TV than any other nation.

"Then you see some Japanese doing Bonsai gardening, some Brits doing something, the French doing something else and so on," Mr. Clow said. "Then you go back to the Americans and we say America is the richest, most successful culture on earth. It ends with 'Coincidence? We think not.' "

Shepherding the creative aspects of the ABC campaign are two teams, one led by Group Creative Director Jerry Gentile in TBWA's Venice, Calif., office, the other by Executive Creative Director Eric McClellan in the agency's New York

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