By Stuart Elliott
A TELEVISION network with modest ratings is hoping that audiences are holding out for a hero or, better yet for network executives, scads of them.
The network, CW, is beginning to promote its new shows and returning series for the 2014-15 season, which starts this week. CW will begin presenting its fare Oct. 2, following a strategy to step back while its bigger broadcast competitors — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — introduce their programming first.
CW is using a new theme to promote its coming season, “Heroes Within,” which will be the centerpiece of a campaign that includes, in addition to television commercials, radio spots; online ads; ads in magazines, movie theaters and transit systems; billboards; and social media like Facebook and Twitter. CW’s marketing department is working with Troika, a brand consultant firm and creative agency in Los Angeles that specializes in assignments for entertainment clients that also include ABC, CBS Sports, CNN, HBO, Hulu and PBS.
The theme is meant to “refocus the CW brand around its current programming,” said Dan Pappalardo, chief executive of Troika, and appeal to people who, according to Troika’s research, prefer certain types of viewing experiences — for instance, shows with morality that is more gray than black-and-white and themes that are more supernatural than realistic.
Several CW series seem tailored for those preferences: returning hits like “Arrow,” “The Originals,” “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Diaries,” and newcomers for the fall and midseason like “The Flash,” a spinoff of “Arrow”; “iZombie,” based on a comic book; and “Jane the Virgin,” a comedic drama inspired by a Venezuelan telenovela.
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A 60-second commercial fleshes out the theme. Words on the screen, superimposed over scenes from CW shows, declare: “Within each of us is the power to be more than we are, to be strong, to be wise, to be passionate, to be brave, to become something legendary. This is your moment. Rise to the challenge. Heroes Within.”
The goal, said Rick Haskins, executive vice president for marketing and digital content at CW, which is owned by CBS and Time Warner, is to express “a feeling of optimism” and the idea that “you really can reach inside yourself and find the hero within.” Those concepts resonate with the CW’s target audience, primarily ages 18 to 34, who “feel like they want to change the world,” he added.
Susan Kresnicka, an anthropologist who joined Troika in June to lead its new research and insights group, said the agency’s research included “a good bit of social listening and observing online conversations” about television.
“The heroism we identified wasn’t about a simplistic hero but about a complex hero, about antiheroes who struggle but come to do the right thing, about perseverance,” she added.
CW is using a theme of “Heroes within” to promote its coming season. The campaign includes TV commercials, radio spots and social media.
During the upfront week in May, CW announced a schedule for 2014-15 that sought to build on the success of shows like “Arrow” and “The Vampire Diaries.” The new fall series, “The Flash” and “Jane the Virgin,” are being singled out by critics as among the most promising of any on the five networks — surprising for CW, whose shows rarely draw such praise. In fact, both series have already received orders for three additional scripts each, a rarity before a season starts.
“Keeping in mind that it has only two new series this fall, CW has also turned out two of the best with ‘The Flash’ and ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ” said Ed Martin, television and video critic for MediaBizBloggers. “Not since the premiere of ‘Arrow’ three years ago has a new series on CW been at the forefront of fall season coverage.”
Still, CW faces intense competition in appealing to viewers seeking heroic fare. Other shows fitting that bill include “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, “Gotham” on Fox and “Constantine” on NBC.
“The broadcast networks over all, and CW in particular, may be overloading their schedules with too many fantasy shows with superheroes, vampires, zombies, monster-hunters,” Mr. Martin said. “I don’t think ‘The Flash’ will be the one that brings about a reversal in the genre, but sooner or later that is going to happen.”
Although CW’s 2013-14 season was its best in three years, challenges remain for the smallest of the five English-language broadcasters, partly because of the fragmentation embodied by streaming video and other alternatives to linear television.
“The consumer has spoken and said, ‘We want to watch TV how we want it, where we want it, when we want it,’ ” Mr. Haskins said. “For us, a screen is a screen; the important thing is that people are watching.”
Campaigns for CW and other networks arrive with a growing sense that the traditional fall season is becoming an anachronism. Mr. Haskins acknowledged that many perceive it as “an old-fashioned way” to introduce shows, but described it as useful as “a rallying cry” for the networks that helps generate “a sense of excitement for the full season” to come.
Ms. Kresnicka said: “There’s a bit of a cultural ritual to the fall season. It’s when we expect and allow ourselves to get excited about television.”
Mr. Haskins described the spending for the CW campaign as “ballpark-y” with previous budgets. According to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, CW’s spending in the last five years ranged from a low of $25.6 million in 2010 to a high of $30.2 million in 2009; spending in 2013 totaled $26.7 million.
That would buy heroes a lot of tights, capes and masks.
Originally published in The New York Times.