The fledgling network, owned by Time Warner Inc. and CBS Corp., intends to run ads for "Gossip Girl" that use quotes from the Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that has criticized the program for its frank and candid depictions of teens having sex and using drugs. In one ad, to begin appearing Aug. 1, two of the teen characters are shown cuddling in bed together, below a blurb that reads "Mind-blowingly inappropriate!" -- and identified as being from the PTC. The new season of "Gossip Girl" makes its debut Sept. 1.
"It really reeks of desperation," said Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the group. The network's decision to "position the show in opposition to the Parents Television Council speaks both to the trouble they've had attracting a decent-sized audience for the program and the fact that they have had to sort of cling to an image of this show as being raunchy, salacious and envelope-pushing in order to lure viewers."
Be careful, Ms. Henson, or you might just give CW another reason to use your quotes as a promotional blurb. Indeed, another promotion in the series of "Gossip Girl" ads quotes the New York Post as saying the program is "a nasty piece of work." One can imagine the network picking up on Ms. Henson's quote and running a poster saying that CW is "raunchy, salacious and envelope-pushing" sometime soon.
Use of the hyperlicious quotes is meant to reach out to the show's young-teen audience in a "provocative" fashion, both with pictures and words, said Rick Haskins, CW's exec VP-marketing.
"We looked for what I thought was the best headlines and the most clever writing," he said. The PTC "just happened to have what I thought was a really interesting quote that fit hand in glove with the campaign and where we were going." The campaign was created by the Wongdoody agency.
Using a criticism of the show to get people excited about it seems the ultimate in counterintuitive thinking, but many TV networks are getting increasingly brazen about how they burnish their entertainment offerings. Once content merely to show clips from coming episodes in brief "promo" fashion on their own air, networks have gotten more aggressive in tone and in use of other kinds of media. Mr. Haskins said "Gossip Girl" ads will also run in celebrity weeklies such as People, Us Weekly and In Touch, as well as on CW and a variety of national cable networks.
CW has a lot at stake -- another reason for using a campaign with an outre tone. While "Gossip Girl" is fast becoming the network's flagship program, its ratings have been lackluster at best, a testament to the difficulty of trying to get young consumers to watch TV when they are fast becoming accustomed to getting more of their entertainment online and with mobile devices. In fact, CW decided not to stream the last five episodes of "Gossip Girl" when they originally aired, in the hopes of sparking better ratings for traditional TV broadcasts of the show.
Mr. Haskins and "Gossip Girl" have fueled controversy in the recent past. In April, the network ran ads featuring Serena, Nate and other characters from the program locked in passionate embraces, with the text message "OMFG" superimposed on top (one suggestion was that the letters stood for "oh, my freaking goodness," but that's hard to believe).
Some critics expressed dismay and shock. Mr. Haskins said the network believes strongly in trying to talk to fans of the show in language that's relevant to them.