For the past 18 months, the brain trust at USA Network has been focused on finding a solution to a marketing dilemma: How to freshen the brand of a general entertainment channel in an on-demand world.
The team led by Alexandra Shapiro, marketing and digital exec VP for the entertainment group at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, did extensive market research about the cultural mood of its target audience and focus-group testing of numerous concepts before settling on the cabler’s first new tagline since 2005: “We the Bold.”
The branding campaign and tagline launches today with on-air blurbs and a big digital push with an emphasis on social media. The tagline will be introduced in spots narrated by the characters of various USA series, leading off with Rami Malek’s angsty Elliot Alderson from “Mr. Robot,” in a spot that features unseen footage shot during the show’s first season. The phrase “We the Bold” will not be voiced but rather displayed in various fonts and fashions in all marketing materials.
The brand refresh is designed “to allow people to understand the kind of content they can expect from us,” Shapiro told Variety. “Crystallizing our voice and point of view on the world is even more crucial in an on-demand world. … ‘We the Bold’ is the North Star for us as a network and a brand.”
The tagline replaces “Characters Welcome,” which was launched in 2005 by a team that included Shapiro and her boss, Chris McCumber, who headed marketing at the time and is now president of USA and Syfy. The “Characters Welcome” phrase has not been used on-air for about a year in preparation for the rebrand.
“Characters Welcome” heralded USA’s headlong dive into the original scripted series business. But it was born at a very different time for media and for the country at large. Millennials are now a bigger demographic sector than baby boomers, who have aged out of the 18-49 demo, and technology has dramatically altered the way they surf the dial and sample shows.
USA’s qualitative research found that the national mood among the demographic that the network most covets — the span of the twentysomething millennials through the fortysomething Gen-Xers — is darker and grittier these days than it was in 2004-2005. The immediate post-9/11 years left USA’s core demo “weirdly optimistic,” Shapiro noted.
Today, in comparing cultural research done a decade ago with contemporary data, the USA team was surprised to find how deeply the trauma of the economic meltdown has lingered in the culture. There’s also a deep-seated distrust of governmental institutions and big business — themes reflected in USA’s buzzy hit “Mr. Robot.”
The USA team knew that all of those indicators meant they had to shift their programming focus away from the action and blue-sky dramas that kept the channel No. 1 among entertainment cablers for a decade. A new image campaign was part of that process, but the brand refresh couldn’t happen until the channel had the programming to back it up.
” ‘We the Bold’ speaks to the kinds of stories we tell at USA Network,” McCumber said. “It reflects our programming, our characters, our audience, and most importantly, our values as a network.”
“Mr. Robot,” which returns for its second season this summer, and futuristic thriller “Colony,” which wrapped its first season March 17, are the advance troops in a wave of series featuring anti-heroes and earthier settings than USA’s past hits. The programming and marketing strategy is informed by the research into the qualities and attributes that millennials prize most: authenticity, resiliency, bravery and innovation.
USA turned to several outside agencies to crack the tagline code. The winning property came from BBH Global. They settled on the slogan just after Thanksgiving and began working up the materials launching this week right around the new year. Most of the spots and digital assets have been created in-house by Shapiro and her team of about six execs. Shapiro made special mention of the research spearheaded by NBCU Cable Entertainment’s in-house “brand culturalist,” Lamont Swittenberg, who is VP of strategy.
“With so much competition, your brand needs to stand for something,” Shapiro said. “ ‘We the Bold’ is better aligned with the new mainstream. Viewers want more of a wild ride. This firmly plants our stake the ground on a very specific but flexible and broad genre of content.”
USA intends to plaster the “We the Bold” tagline across all of its VOD and streaming platforms. Getting it affixed to non-USA controlled outlets a la Netflix, Amazon and Hulu will be a bigger challenge, Shapiro acknowledges.
Despite the tagline makeover the decision was made not to immediately change the network’s core logo with its chunky U-S-A lettering. The “We the Bold” tagline may at times appear in marketing materials without the logo, Shapiro said.
The first wave of image spots includes one narrated by Sarah Wayne Callies’ resistence fighter Katie Bowman from “Colony” and one voiced by grappler Roman Reigns, the newly crowned WWE champion.
The spots will be seen in heavy rotation on USA’s air. But unlike the strictly linear world in which “Characters Welcome” was introduced 11 years ago, USA will also draw on a wealth of audience data to target the digital and social push.
“Micro is the new macro,” Shapiro said. “We now have the ability to scale (digitally) in a much more effective way than to just spray it out there.”