As the coronavirus pandemic quickly escalated last month, networks pivoted their marketing strategies away from normal promos and into special, supportive messaging for its viewers.

“Broadcasting is the great unifier… We have the ability to bring people together and that is what we are trying to do right now,” said Garen Van de Beek, executive vice president and creative director at CBS Marketing Group.

“They’re turning to us to both learn about what’s going on in the world, but also to connect with [us]... That’s a really powerful relationship and something that we have a great amount of respect for. As things affect our audience, we need to change and adapt to get the message out to them in ways that resonate,” said Steven Rummer, senior vice president, strategy and creative partnerships at NBCUniversal, on Thursday.

Both marketing execs joined president and CEO of Promax, Steve Kazanjian, during the entertainment marketing association’s live webinar, “Marketing for Networks: PSAs to Promos During a Pandemic,” where they discussed their networks’ recent messaging, spots and campaigns in response to COVID-19.

NBC partnered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a new “The More You Know” campaign, which reveals talent such as Mario Lopez, Savannah Guthrie and Carson Daly addressing viewers in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

As soon as NBCUniversal received their work-from-home orders, the company worked with the Ad Council and the CDC to develop an informational campaign within 48 hours, Rummer said.

“That very quickly transitioned into conversations with senior leadership on our side about how we take the storied brand of ‘The More You Know’ and continue that work with our talent,” he said.

In less than two weeks, NBCUniversal gathered 55 talent and created 22 spots in both English and Spanish. But despite the fast-moving timeline, the biggest challenge wasn’t getting everything filmed; it was collecting and editing everything, he said.

CBS, on the other hand, launched its “In This Together” campaign, which finds talent such as LL Cool J, Phil Keoghan and Annie Potts reminding viewers that they’re not alone.

Van de Beek said CBS also received plenty of interest from its talent; however, many of them had technical questions such as what to say or how to hold their camera. Therefore, the network created storyboards for its participants as well as a broad script; however, they also wanted to keep things as authentic as possible.

“Even though there were some public service messages [or] ‘stay at home’ type of lines, we also wanted them to be optimistic. We didn’t want them to be dour,” Van de Beek said. “We wanted them to hold their kids, hold their cats…We used all of that to make them feel more natural.”

Van de Beek said that throughout this process, CBS has internally termed a new phrase that has been applied more than once: “adaptive creativity.”

For example, in addition to the “In This Together” campaign, an idea sparked to create do-it-yourself (DIY) promos in which cast members from The Neighborhood, and later, other programs, improvised their own promos and shot them themselves. However, some were slightly uncomfortable with filming inside their homes, so they first shot themselves on their sound stages, Van de Beek said.

“When we cut them all together, [these] just didn’t feel right. So we went back to them and said, ‘We understand it’s very strange to be bringing a camera into your private residence, here are some examples of what other people have done,’ and that convinced them.”

And since there’s no “playbook” for what to say or how to say it, adaptability is key to the messaging itself.

“Sometimes what feels like a good message on Monday doesn’t feel like a great message a few days later,” Van de Beek said. “For example, ‘we’re in this together’ started feeling like a slogan, so we started backing off on that.”

After all is said and done, both Rummer and Van de Beek believe that many of the lessons learned will translate once things go back to normal.

“The lessons we are learning creatively and technically will be valuable to us no matter what happens,” Rummer said. “The ability to be really agile has expanded the way the team thinks creatively.”

“We’ve had to learn that we don’t have to have these big budgets to be effective ... It’s all about the emotion and how authentic the message is. It’s putting our customers first and trying to figure out what they need to hear and how we can serve them better. After this is all over, we’re still going to be thinking about that,” Van de Beek said.

Promax’s next live webinar, “Driving Creativity in Uncertain Times with Richard Holman,” will stream on Tuesday, April 14 at 12 p.m. PT. Registration is now open.

Check out Van de Beek and Rummer’s full session below:

Tags: cbs coronavirus covid-19 nbc promax connect

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