When The CW wanted to craft a fan-forward brand campaign, it turned to one of its most established creative partners, Compadre, to help it fully develop the concept.
During a SXSW panel of CW shows on which The Flash star Candice Kristina Patton talked about her experience as a woman of color on shows with mostly White casts, a fan stood up to the microphone and told Patton how inspired she was by her and how she saw herself in her. That exchange inspired CW marketer Mark Evans to take the concept a little further.
“Candice was so passionate about it,” said Evans, The CW’s senior vice president, on-air brand/design and print advertising. “That was definitely what kickstarted the campaign.
“The next step was to take it and see if we could tell our fans’ stories, so we went back and developed a campaign in which you hear true stories from the fans and you see how fans are inspired by some of our characters. The stories are out there, it’s just finding the fans to talk about them. We’re the only network that can do that with our long history of superhero shows where we have all of these passionate fans.”
Compadre Co-President and Founder Robert Blatchford and Director of Creative Strategy Mika Saulitis have been working with The CW since the network launched in 2006, so they fully understood what The CW was seeking.
“We knew it was a big swing,” said Saulitis, “but it didn’t take any convincing to get us to do it.”
Ultimately, Compadre convinced The CW to take the leap and create a truly fan-focused campaign that only featured fans and did not include any network talent. Prior to the pandemic, Compadre delivered a “proof of concept” piece and The CW was sold.
From there, Compadre needed to find fans of CW shows who had authentic stories to tell. This meant leaving Los Angeles, where putting out casting calls typically results in responses from hundreds of aspiring actors. To avoid that, Compadre hired a casting agency that began scouring the country.
“This was not the easiest campaign to do,” said Rick Haskins, The CW’s president, streaming and chief branding officer. “One of the things I am most proud of is that we made sure that every one of the people we talked to were authentic, and that they weren’t actors hoping to get a role on The CW. We went through a lot of people and if they were on IMDb or had any acting aspirations, we didn’t want them.”
“The casting process was the toughest part but it was also the most rewarding,” said Saulitis. “We talked to more than 200 people and wanted to hear their stories. They were inspiring, heart-breaking, motivating and everything in between.”
Saulitis personally watched hundreds of videos to find the final group of people on which the team would focus. The team also identified core themes it wanted to address, including mental health, BIPOC representation, overcoming physical challenges and LGBTQ equality. The CW, whose tagline is “Dare to Defy,” has long been out in front on these issues and has led all of broadcast television in LGBTQ+ representation for the past four years, according to GLAAD.
“It was more footwork than you would ever do sitting in on a casting session,” said Blatchford, ”but the success of this was really contingent on finding the right people.”
To gather the stories, Compadre sent a director of photography and assistant to such cities as Atlanta, Las Vegas, and St. Louis during the pandemic to spend time with potential subjects to help them get comfortable revealing themselves in front of the camera.
“The small size of the crew was intentional,” said Blatchford. “It allowed us to keep the quality and the authenticity. We got to spend the day with each person and really get a sense of who they were. The intimate shoots really worked out for COVID because the content was inherently built for that.”
Of course, that also required a lot of Zoom time for everyone else working on the project.
Each video was shot in black and white to increase the feeling of intimacy, and accompanied by a simple motion-graphics package in The CW’s signature teal.
“These stories aren’t just about why they love these shows,” said Saulitis. “It goes way beyond that into how their favorite characters have substantively empowered them to live their truth.”
The CW began rolling out the spots on-air, online and and across its social media channels on Friday, April 16, beginning with the video starring Rain (above), a dancer who, due to being in the wrong place at the absolutely wrong time, was shot eight times and faced with a grueling recovery. Rain found encouragement in The Flash’s Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), who was struck by lightning and lost both of his parents but persisted to become a superhero.
From there, The CW will roll out Shantel, Shunteria and Saje through May 12. As part of Pride Month, it will roll out James, a transgender man inspired by Supergirl’s Nia Nal (Nicole Maines), on June 4, and Julia, a bisexual woman inspired by Riverdale’s Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), on June 11. This phase of the campaign will conclude on June 30 with Jordon, a man who found his way out of homelessness through basketball and relates to the show All American, in which a Black quarterback makes his way out of poverty through football.
“Every one of these was my favorite,” said Haskins. “I’m so proud to be part of a company that allows us to do these types of things.”