CW has teamed up with Microsoft's Bing for a promotional program that relies fans and celebrities' ability to connect via social media -- a strategy likely to crop up in many conversations between marketers and TV networks as upfront negotiations begin.
Five CW actors -- Ian Somerhalder and Kat Graham from "The Vampire Diaries," Alex Patsaves from "Gossip Girl," Jessica Lowndes from "90210" and Misha Collins from "Supernatural" -- star in 60-second vignettes that feature them talking about their personal interests and the empowering nature of "connecting" and "searching."The videos -- which include subtle nods to Bing's use in search -- will appear in the season finales of the CW shows, as well as across the network's website, mobile app, YouTube channel and Facebook page, until the end of June. The effort is an outgrowth of CW and Bing's "Something to Bing About" campaign last fall.
In the past, an advertiser would have counted on TV to make the point. But as younger audiences increasingly turn to other screens, TV airings alone don't necessarily have the impact they once did. So more TV networks are pitching programs that make use of the chatter it generates in some of the new venues. This week's upfront sessions are likely to include a sizable amount of talk about how Fox, CW and their brethren can use popular TV shows to harness consumer interest in social-media outlets.
"Making sure that you've got a layer of digital and social amplification as part of the plan is paramount," said Brent Poer, exec VP-executive creative director at Starcom MediaVest Group's LiquidThread unit, which specializes in weaving ad messages into content and was involved in the pact between CW and Microsoft.
Earlier this month, CBS unveiled "CBS Connect," a digital hub where TV fans can aggregate updates about their favorite shows from Twitter and Facebook, and interact with actors from the programs. On Tuesday, for example, members of the cast of "NCIS: Los Angeles" will connect with fans who use the show's hashtag in their tweets and posts during the program's season finale.
"This is definitely the hot button," said Alison Tarrant, CW's senior VP-integrated sales and marketing. "How do we figure it out?"
Advertisers "have a real thirst to connect with audiences," Ms. Tarrant said, and social-media outlets represent a relatively "uncluttered environment" where consumers would avoid traditional ads but can examine and pass along interesting content -- such as Kat Graham talking about her efforts to perform music.
As part of the Bing partnership, participating CW actors tweeted about their activity, posting video to their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. GetGlue offered custom finale "stickers" that delivered the Bing videos when unlocked. And Ms. Graham took part in an hour-long "Twitter party," in which Bing made her available to talk with fans."The buzz was incredible -- driving our hashtag #Bingit to be a trending topic on Twitter and resulting in thousands of tweets," said Lisa Gurry, senior director at Bing, in an email exchange.
CW was careful not to bombard fans with irrelevant or aggressively promotional content, Ms. Tarrant said. "You have to be very thoughtful and strategic about whether it makes sense for brands to play" in social media, she said. If users feel they can't get anything of value, they will ignore the promotion or, worse, discuss their annoyance with friends and followers.
The CW actors were picked using nontraditional criteria, said Mr. Poer. Each actor who took part had a meaningful avocation that might interest fans of their shows and give them reasons to talk on Twitter or elsewhere. Ms. Graham is working on a music career, while Mr. Somerhalder and Mr. Collins are involved in charities. "What we did is look at baseline aggregates" of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and other social-media metrics, said Mr. Poer. "It's a more live and real-time version of a 'Q Score,'" he said, referring to the popular measures of celebrity likability that are often used by marketers when considering celebrities for ad campaigns.
Expect to hear more. "Social channels can greatly extend the reach of traditional TV or online media buys, and in many cases, provide a closer connection to a brand," Ms. Gurry said. And if the marketers are saying it, you can bet TV networks will be echoing it this week.