Fox recruits Goodby for branding buzz

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Fox Broadcasting has tapped Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, to develop a branding campaign as the network seeks to stem a sharp decline in ratings.

At least two other TV networks -- cable's Comedy Central and the Food Network -- are also looking to change their brand images and may be in the market for new agencies.

Fox's marketing campaign will start in the spring. While few details have been revealed, Goodby will try to re-create much of the branding buzz evident when the network launched in the late 1980s.

"It's about reassociating Fox with its brand, which is irreverent, topical, smart and somewhat alternative," said one executive close to the company.

TV FIRST

Goodby's initial creative will be TV spots on Fox's airwaves, but could evolve into print, outdoor and other media. Fox doesn't have an agency of record for its creative work, using in-house promotional staff as well as employing shops that include WongDoody, Santa Monica, Calif.

A Fox spokesman wouldn't comment about a new marketing push.

Some marketing executives don't believe a branding campaign for an established network with broad audience appeal, such as with Fox or ABC, yields any significant results. ABC has used its yellow-tinged "TV is good" campaign for four years; ads feature tongue-in-cheek lines touting why heavy TV viewing is good. TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., created the campaign.

"ABC wasted $70 million," said Chris Pula, who was a senior marketing executive for Fox Broadcasting in the early '90s. "Now it's a waste of time for Fox. Fox is going after the 18-to-49 demo, which means they are a broadcast network now. But a broadcast television network is not worth branding. When you have a slim niche, like the WB, you can brand."

GRUSHOW, GREENBERG KEY PLAYERS

Sandy Grushow, as chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, overseeing both Fox's TV production arm and the network, has pushed the marketing effort since coming aboard in November. George Greenberg, exec VP-marketing for Fox Broadcasting, also is said to be deeply involved in the branding push.

Mr. Greenberg's stay is temporary, however. Late last year, he accepted a job as exec VP-programming for Fox Sports Television. A search is under way for his successor.

Mr. Grushow came in to aid Doug Herzog, who's in his first season overseeing the programming for the network as president of Fox Entertainment Group. Mr. Grushow was part of the initial team that established the Fox brand; he started as VP-marketing for the network.

Fox is in a steep ratings slide this year. Season-to-date ratings through the end of the fourth quarter of '99 show a drop of 15.5% to a 6.0 household rating, from a 7.1 for the same period a year earlier. Key demographics also have fallen, such as adults 18-to-49 skidding to a 4.2 rating in the fourth quarter, off from 4.9 for the same period the previous year.

Fox is not alone in rethinking its branding efforts. The Food Network is looking for an agency for its $5 million account, according to executives, and Comedy Central has sent out a call to a number of small TV design shops for some project work, according to a spokewoman.

CONTINUING PROCESS

The Comedy Central spokeswoman said the move is part of a continuing process of hiring shops on a project-by-project basis. Still, one executive at a major agency believed Comedy Central was looking for an agency for a broader, ongoing relationship.

UPN, meanwhile, has been considering a branding campaign since last year.

Increasingly, TV viewership has been in flux. This is especially true of the increased flightiness of young demographic audiences.

"Fox and Comedy Central have 12-to-34 targets, and they are very hard to reach and very fickle," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research for Horizon Media, New York.

"Fox needs to branch out and extend their reach," said Jerry Solomon, president of national broadcast for SFM Media, New York. "If you come up with clever branding, this will take them to the next step."

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Laura Petrecca

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