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Eye on people, pens & more

NEW ORLEANS — It has been a more common sight here this week than gumbo and beads, more ubiquitous than jazz bands.

Indeed, the “eye-con” logo of the new CBS Eye On People cablenet has been driven down the collective throats of those attending this National Cable Television Assn. convention like nothing anyone here can remember. It’s a scorched-earth campaign that some have dubbed The Big Teasy.

It is everywhere: on fishermen, on bicyclists, on mock flight attendants, jugglers and motorcycle riders, on ersatz Army drill sergeants riding down the street bedecked in the yellow-and-blue logo, on Roller-bladers, on trash cans, lampposts, sidewalks, the sides of buses, and even in taxicabs, where the driver is liable to hand you a receipt with the Eye On People insignia.

Restaurants will bring the check with an Eye On People pen and set drinks on an Eye On People coaster. Mobile billboards trumpeting the logo are driven down the street.

Eye on People, by the way, is CBS’s entertainment-information net-work that starts up March 31.

Jessica Levith, a 17-year-old student at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, has been hired to wear a CBS Eye On People mask while performing as a mime. Other young would-be actors — Gerard McMurray, Wesley Davis, Diana Chauvin and Christina Burton — wear the logo masks and hand out business cards for the fledgling channel near the convention hall, all while wearing full cap-and-gown.

“They told us to hand out the cards and say, ‘CBS Eye On People,’ so that’s what we’re doing,” Burton said. “We have to do it eight hours every day, and it’s a little hot in the outfits, but they’re paying us good money for it.”

This kind of blanket promotion is borne of the realization that getting anyone’s attention in the kind of ultra-competitive environment presently facing the industry requires practically a carnival barker’s intensity and sense of showmanship.

Guerilla marketing tactics become necessary when new networks like M2 and ESPNEWS launch to a chorus of yawns and are quickly ignored. Hence, CBS decided the best way to make those who count in the cable business take notice of its new network less than two weeks before launch is to get it in their faces and keep it there.

Welcome to the future of cable network marketing. In a 500-channel universe, he who treads quietly suffers an equally silent and ignominious death. If the result is sometimes a tad grating, well, that’s a risk you have to take, said Steven Yanovsky, VP of marketing services for CBS Cable.

“You simply have to raise your profile in an environment where you find yourself fighting for attention,” Yanovsky said. “You have to take it up to the point where you’re everywhere, but not to the point where you’re annoying.”

Just what would qualify as truly annoying is open to interpretation. If not logo-emblazoned mimes and jugglers, then what?

“That’s just all part of gaining awareness,” Yanovsky said. “I really don’t think we’ve pushed it over the line here, though I can’t necessarily tell you where that line is. You need to maintain a certain decorum. But you also have to remember this is an intense situation. We have only four days to put ourselves into people’s heads, and trade ads aren’t enough. They are just the ante in the poker game.”

CBS Eye On People prexy Geoffrey Darby contends that the feedback on both the network and the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, though there have been grumbles about the shamelessness of it from operators, programmers and the media alike.

“We need to establish with people from the get-go that we are here and we are real, and this kind of marketing strategy is a large part of that,” Darby said. “We need to be taken seriously.”

That presumes, however, that it is possible to take seriously a new competitor that slaps its logo into the T-shirts of buxom Rollerbladers. One over each breast.

More important to Darby is the idea that the network will be launching on schedule and with some 2 million subs on board.

“There was a level of skepticism that we were really going to happen, and that has all gone away,” Darby said.

And anyone who doesn’t believe it need only take a look around.

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