The CW Targets Royal Baby Photos With Ads For 'Reign'

TV Network Shrugs Off Any Potential Pushback

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The birth of a new British royal elicited a blizzard of Twitter posts from brands looking to emulate Oreo's famed Super Bowl tweet. A number of those marketers, in turn, sparked contempt from the Twitterati for their opportunism.

Wait until they feast their eyes on what The CW has spawned.

The CW has begun running ads right inside images of Prince William and Kate Middleton's newborn son to promote the TV network's new fall show "Reign," which will center on the adolescent Mary, Queen of Scots.

"We knew the royal baby was just around the corner. As we're giving birth to our own royal baby in 'Reign,' we wanted to figure out ways that we can align our messaging about the [premiere] of our new show with what we were sure and I think even underestimated what kind of media circus the royal birth would be," said The CW's VP-media strategies Caty Burgess.

Appropriating baby photos for advertising purposes -- essentially turning the potential future King of England into a Nascar driver -- is risky to say the least. "We are talking about a baby. I don't really like that," said Gian LaVecchia, managing partner and U.S. digital practice lead at media agency MEC, of advertising on an infant.

Won't The CW receive the same flak as other brands that tried to pile on the royal birth? Couldn't commercializing the child incite even more aggressive vitriol?

"I don't think we're concerned about that," Ms. Burgess said. "It's a slightly different sort of case here more closely aligned with the royal birth than Oreos is. [That 'Reign'] is telling the story of a young royal makes a lot more contextual sense than some of the bandwagoning going on [Monday]."

Mr. LaVecchia agreed. "The attempts to connect X brand to said birth were a pretty dramatic stretch and lack any real effort of authenticity. The ones that were panned fall into that bucket," he said.

For the campaign, The CW is working with in-image advertising company GumGum, which has a network of publishers that allow it to place ads atop photos on their sites. GumGum CEO Ophir Tanz said GumGum's technology crawls those publishers' pages for keywords like "kate middleton," "prince william," "royal family," royal baby" and "westminster" to identify on which images to run the ads.

Once a photo is pinpointed GumGum will serve up one of three ad types The CW is using for its campaign: a static image that spans the bottom fifth of a photo, an animated version of the same ad and a takeover unit that functions like a preroll video ad by eclipsing the photo with the advertiser's image for three to five seconds.

Mr. LaVecchia acknowledged that the ads, particularly the ones that initially obscure the photo, could be seen as "invasive" and "polluting the content experience" though said he has seen some GumGum-powered ads that he described as "beautiful and elegant" because they "synced with the image." He was more concerned with how GumGum is able to scale the ads since they are rich-media banners tied to photos.

"Our forecasting tells us there will be more than enough inventory to capture this opportunity for The CW with excess inventory given the types of traffic we're anticipating for this list of keywords," Mr. Tanz said.

GumGum was unable to provide specific inventory projections but said a campaign of this nature for a film or TV advertiser averages around seven million impressions. Ms. Burgess declined to say how much The CW is spending on the campaign.

Ms. Burgess described the campaign as an awareness driver ahead of "Reign's" October premiere. "We wanted to make sure we're reaching as many people who are interested in royalty as we could," she said, adding that the network will expand the show's marketing closer to the premiere.

But Mr. LaVecchia wondered whether an awareness campaign run in August would stick in consumers' minds when the show finally airs this fall. "Are they going to be able to connect this campaign to the show in October?"

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