Two Coasts, Two Takes on O&O Promos
It's a little over 10 years since I moved here to Los Angeles to be closer to the hub of the entertainment industry. Suffice it to say, I'm not a fan.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, but needed an asthma inhaler to acclimate to LA's air quality. The state government is dysfunctional. Driving is mandatory, but the traffic is officially the worst in the nation. And owning a home is somehow less fun in a region famous for draught, spontaneous combustion, mudslides and the near certainty of a cataclysmic earthquake. As for the year-round sunshine, Fred Allen put it best: "It's a great place to live if you're an orange."
But, even at my most curmudgeonly, I think Los Angeles deserves better treatment than it receives in KNBC's image campaign, "We're 4 LA."
Although clearly inspired by "We're 4 New York," the campaign resurrected last year by its sister station WNBC, "We're 4 LA" suffers in comparison on every level. In fact, the difference between the two is so striking that it amounts to an object lesson in the do's and don'ts of station image promotion.
Introduction and evolution: Both campaigns launched with long-form, full-vocal versions. WNBC with a series of 60-second versions and KNBC with an overlong 2:15 version, more effective when cut to a tighter 60 seconds. Over time, both campaigns increased the presence and participation of station talent and added NBC network talent.
The look: At launch, both campaigns featured iconic images of their respective markets. WNBC depicted Manhattan as a better-than-life fantasyland populated by models, each shot beautifully framed and colorfully lit. KNBC's Los Angeles was a collection of California clichés (freeways, a surfer, Hollywood Boulevard, a lowrider ...), most of them oddly colorless or washed out.
The music: WNBC's theme is a full vocal with a strong female lead backed up by superb studio singers, a full orchestra and lots of tightly-scored musical hits to accent the visuals and transitions. KNBC opted for a garage band sound with a single male singer with backup harmony only for the "We're 4 LA" chorus. Not a bad theme, but it does little to enliven the bland video.
Lyrics and imagery: WNBC chose broad lyrics that describe the personality of New York without making literal reference to landmarks or events:
The New York spirit
The New York pride
The sparkling skyline
It's magic inside
I'm 4 New York (CHORUS: for New York)
We're 4 New York (BACKUP: You've got it)
This is a smart strategy, because the words can mean nearly anything, freeing WNBC to marry the lyrics to aerial shots of Manhattan, backlit ballerinas, fashion models strutting in Grand Central station, a tattooed fire-eater against art deco architecture, even a welder/bodybuilder flexing against the skyline at sunrise. Who cares what it means? It makes you feel great about New York.
Meanwhile, KNBC's lyrics sound as if they transcribed a focus group and picked out the phrases that rhyme. Sort of:
Southern California any given day
Oh, it's not too hard to love this place
From the beach to the canyon
To the streets of Hollywood
The problem here is that such specificity requires pictures that closely match the lyrics yet still delight and surprise us. This is very hard to pull off well because the imagery must avoid both the obvious and the silly. Sadly, KNBC falls into both traps.
Millions of people, livers of life
Stayin' connected side by side
Communicating in ways we never thought we could
And right here and now, life is goo-ood.
In one version, "staying connected" apparently means "old guys having lunch." while that futuristic "communicating" is depicted by a guy with a cell phone. Besides, life isn't all that "goo-ood" here and now at the epicenter of mortgage meltdowns and unaffordable fuel prices. The net result is reminiscent of, but less successful than, 1970s era syndicated image campaigns like "Hello Milwaukee."
The KNBC lyrics also contain one line that's mighty hard to understand. I played it for eight people and we narrowed it down to three choices:
1) So Cali, so cool, so A-List
2) So Cal is so cool so hey, let's ...
3) So Cal is so cool, so gay, let's
I'm hoping it's No. 3 so I can congratulate my friends in the GLAAD media relations department on the product placement.
Talent performance: Traditionally, this is where creative services directors earn their combat pay: coaxing journalists to "have fun" on camera. In short, the WNBC anchors and reporters look like they might actually be enjoying themselves. Their vitality is helped considerably by dynamic camera moves.
The KNBC talent, some of whom have been paired for decades, look like they were posed at gunpoint. The long version ends with a shot of lead anchors Paul Moyer and Colleen Williams speaking "We're 4 LA" so flatly that it lacks only a super reading "CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION."
KNBC talent fares much better in versions that constrain them to rapid montages that display what the FCC might call "fleeting camaraderie."
No doubt benefitting from their shared headquarters "We're 4 New York" has always featured Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera and lately Al Roker. There are also two versions with the running gag that NBC anchor Brian Williams refuses to sing the jingle. Recent versions feature 30 Rock's Alec Baldwin and Jack McBrayer, with additional primetime stars reportedly on the way.
Olympic efforts: "We're 4 New York" hasn't been much in evidence during WNBC's carriage of the Olympic games, whereas KNBC's campaign has taken full advantage of the big ratings. It's even used the occasion to give "We're 4 LA" a creative restart.
"We're 4 LA Olympic Cameos" ditches the lame lyrics and scenery in favor of enthusiastic celebrities rotoscoped against an animated Jumbotron-meets-NBC-logo background.
The spot starts wisely with Ellen DeGeneris and works in Yankee-turned-Dodger manager Joe Torre, Laker star Luke Walton, Olympic skater Michelle Kwan, Paul Moyer and Colleen Williams, Angels Centerfielder Tori Hunter, USC Football Coach Pete Carroll and rival UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel — all shouting "I'm 4 LA." It's all capped off with a smiling stock shot of Jay Leno. Even if the celebrities are at times diminished by the animation, it's still a lot more memorable than the first wave of the campaign.
But perhaps the most successful version of the KNBC spots is "We're 4 LA Communities," which is assembled from an unlikely combination of news footage, digital snapshots and footage from the larger image campaign.
The full screen text may overstate the obvious ("We're for a lot of things ... events that unite a city...") but the editing is first-rate and the end result is fun, engaging and memorable.
Both the "real people" and the on-air talent even look happy to be there. Maybe this is the template they should follow from this point forward.
Market Share by Arthur Greenwald showcases innovative station promotions every Monday in TVNewsday. Share one of your own success stories by writing to Arthur at email@example.com.
Copyright 2008 TV Newsday, Inc. All rights reserved.
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