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Case study: Pitching a relaunch

Case study: Pitching a relaunch KENT SPEAKMAN

When Rare Method was invited to participate in the iMedia Entertainment Summit's Agency Shoot-out, we jumped at the chance. We're used to making pitches, but this crowd -- more than 130 senior marketing executives from across the entertainment industry -- presented a unique and irresistible challenge.

The fictional assignment was to create a digital campaign for a modern reboot of the classic TV western, "Bonanza." For the Shoot-out, we would be pitching our proposal against that of the highly talented team at Los Angeles' Visionaire Group.

The judges for the contest were Len Fogge, EVP of creative, marketing, research & digital media for Showtime Networks; Chad Harris, VP of special projects & new media for Hallmark Channel; and Patricia Galea, executive director of digital marketing & strategy for Disney ABC Media Networks.

Despite a tight timeline and an impressive presentation from the Visionaire team, we were fortunate to come out with a win, which we credit to a solid strategic base that would give viewers and fans an unprecedented level of access to the show.

The challenge
The fictional project we pitched was for a relaunching of one of TV's all-time great shows, "Bonanza." To get an idea of the assignment, here is the creative brief:

The CW Television Network is relaunching the classic, long-running TV western "Bonanza" as part of its prime-time lineup during the fall 2009 season, to air Tuesday nights after "90210".
A youth-and-family targeted one-hour "dramedy," the new "Bonanza" will air against ABC's "Dancing with the Stars", CBS's "NCIS: Los Angeles", Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance", and NBC's "Biggest Loser" on broadcast.

Relaunched with an attractive young cast and aiming for a combination of adventure, romance, and comedy, the new "Bonanza" will premiere on Tuesday, October 6, 2009.

The original "Bonanza" was the story of 1860s Nevada rancher and cattle baron Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his three sons: Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker), and "Little" Joe (Michael Landon). In the new version, Ben and Joe are given sex changes to balance out the genders of the main cast.

  • Gwen Cartwright (Heather Locklear): The matriarch

  • Adam Cartwright (Chad Michael Murray): The heir

  • Eric "Hoss" Cartwright Smith (Jonah Hill): Gentle but accident prone

  • Josephine "Little Jo" Cartwright Sullivan (Ellen Page): The youngest

The challenge: As with all tune-in campaigns, the goal is to generate excitement for the show and build a fan base of dedicated viewers. This particular campaign, however, is focused primarily on the October 6 "Bonanza" premiere. The CW wants to use the internet to drive and retain real-time viewing of the first episode in order to create an eventful first night, drive engagement with the series, get high Nielsen ratings, and provide value for the show's advertisers.

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Our strategy
We had approximately two weeks to come up with ideas and create visuals for the campaign. The rollout timeline was supposed to occur over two months, driving awareness and interest, and ultimately getting people to tune in to the show.

The primary target for the show and campaign was teens, youths, and families. Our placements were designed to go after the teens and young adults, hitting them in areas they are already familiar with. This is the most connected generation in history. The web and mobile devices aren't simply tools to these people -- they are a part of how they live. Also, we felt the need to engage viewers of the show in real time to compete with time-slot competitors "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" -- two shows that offer (limited) interactivity through viewer voting.

If we had to reduce our strategy to a single word, it would be "access;" nearly every aspect of the lead-up campaign was designed to provide it to viewers -- access to content, the show, the people, the fans, and more. The web has empowered people to enjoy entertainment like never before and to share their experience. The goal with our pitch was to get out of people's way and let them engage with the show in every possible way.

This was achieved by taking advantage of existing tools, and by creating a few of our own. We wanted virtually every piece of content created for the show to be available on multiple platforms, bringing it to potential viewers and fans where they already are, whether it's YouTube, their own RSS readers, or their mobile devices.

The aesthetics combined the fun of the CW with the grit of a traditional western in an effort to appeal to the network's core audience, while bringing in fans of the genre, who have been without a true TV western since "Deadwood".

Our awareness media plan included placements on sites frequented by the key demographics. These included YouTube and Cosmogirl.com.

The initial banners were relatively simple, designed to tease the show and its all-star cast. Subsequent executions upped the ante, using rich media placements to allow for some fun interaction. Late-stage banners used SMS gathering to collect phone numbers. The goal with these was to send users a reminder to tune in on the night of the broadcast, as well as send a direct link to our iPhone application for iPhone users to download.

Other awareness and interest drivers included a remix contest for the classic "Bonanza" theme song and a series of choose-your-own-adventure-style webisodes. These would also help set the tone for the show by telling small stories for each of the show's main characters. Filmed in multiple segments, when a viewer watched part one of any series on YouTube, they would be prompted to make a choice. Different choices would link to different videos continuing the story with multiple outcomes.


The main website was designed to feature all of the essentials -- video trailers, cast bios, character profiles, etc. In addition to this site, we also developed a production blog that would be updated regularly leading up to and after the show's premiere. This blog would offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the making of "Bonanza" through video diaries, photos, production journals from the cast and crew, and more. Content posted to the blog would also be available through various social media sites, such as Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and MySpace. Audio/visual content would be pushed to a podcast and, of course, all posts would be available through RSS and Twitter. To engage users further, comments and questions on the blog would be answered by the cast and crew, and all the content generated would be made available under a Creative Commons license, allowing fans to reuse it on their own blogs, sites, and social media profiles.

Taking content out of the browser, we also aimed to develop an iPhone application. This app would feature a fun and easy "Quick Draw" game and allow new audio, video, photos, and text to be pushed to users on their device.


Live interaction
The ultimate goal of this exercise was to get people to engage with the show in real time. To help encourage people to tune in, we came up with a few innovative ideas for interaction.

Our first idea was to allow people to actually influence a scene in the premiere episode. Leading up to and during the broadcast, viewers would be asked to vote on potential guest stars. To help cross promote within the CW family, and help capture viewers from existing shows, we decided to allow people to vote on a guest appearance by cast members from "Smallville," "Gossip Girl," or "90210." Multiple versions of a scene would be shot featuring actors from each. The winning scene would be aired during the premiere broadcast.

We also wanted to give viewers the chance to interact with each other. In essence, we wanted to create time-zone specific premiere parties, letting viewers connect and chat online or on their mobile devices during the show. As an added bonus, members of the cast and crew would also participate in the chat. We would also push trivia questions about the show (and, perhaps, its advertisers) to users throughout the broadcast. At the end of the episode, a winner would be selected and their name would be displayed on screen.

In the end, we feel our comprehensive plan would engage viewers on a level unlike any other show on television. People would truly be a part of bringing "Bonanza" back to television, experiencing both the fiction of the show and the reality of creating it.

Again, the key theme here is access. It's smart business to give people access to all the content they want. More importantly, it's essential to let them access that content the way they want, in a fun and easy manner. That's the most effective way to turn potential viewers into viewers into fans and advocates, who in turn extend your overall marketing reach simply because they want to and you've given them the tools.

As for the Shoot-out itself, we'd like to extend our sincerest thanks to everyone involved with iMedia, the judges, the audience, and The Visionaire Group. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this fun and exciting creative exercise.

Editor's note: If you are interested in seeing the full presentation and media plan, click here.

Kent Speakman is director of business development at Rare Method. 

On Twitter? Follow iMediaConnection at @iMediaTweet. 

Speakman is an innovative producer, entrepreneur and philanthropist whose experience on both sides of the camera ranges from the big screen, to the small screen and, now -- the second screen. Examiner.com has called him "one of the most influential...

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