Politically Interactive

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This political season, football fans have been waving foam fingers reading “CNN=Politics” toward a stadium Jumbotron featuring a tune-in message from Wolf Blitzer.

Partisans in two dozen markets have also mixed peaceably while waiting in line to record “shout-outs” on their own political views. And some viewers have attended parties with faux versions of John McCain and Barack Obama.

Those are a handful of the strategies CNN crafted this election season to showcase its brand while also letting local affiliates interact with viewers. Several of the campaigns were new: In 2004, the news network relied mainly on the “CNN Express Yourself Tour,” a mobile marketing initiative set up in schools, malls and festivals across the country to interact with viewers with the “shout-outs,” trivia-quiz competitions and a chance to design personalized election memorabilia.

Express Yourself remains a “crown jewel” of the network's promotional strategy, said Turner Network Services vice president of marketing and operations Gary Brockman. The 24-city tour will conclude in New York's Times Square for a results-viewing party on Nov. 4.

But this season, the network added other forms of outreach, which the channel may expand upon in the future. One such effort took place at the Oct. 12 Atlanta Falcons-Chicago Bears National Football League game, held in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

A significant portion of CNN's ratings success has come from attracting African-American viewers, said Brockman, so executives sought the partnership with the Falcons to further promote viewership in that audience segment.

The event, with pregame tailgate parties, also gave local operator Comcast a multicultural marketing opportunity. CNN also conducted a straw poll during the contest, asking the fans to text in their choice for president. (Obama won.)

The promotion was “by all measurements, a great success,” so Turner will pursue more sporting-event partnerships for CNN and its other networks, from youth sports to the NFL, Brockman said.

Another election promotion was centered on a hot-button political issue: gas prices. In the “Pump Up the Vote” promotion, CNN provided participating affiliates with $10,000 in gas cards to distribute per market. Affiliates had a chance to promote products, such as election coverage in HD, at local parties which featured the candidate look-alikes, patriotic party decorations and co-branded signage.

“This is the Super Bowl of presidential elections,” said Brockman. “It's a great HD driver.”

The promotions continue through Election Night. CNN has provided participating systems with a complete viewing party kit: a 42-inch, flat-screen LCD high-definition television, $150 in “pizza cash” and patriotic party favors. Systems had the option of staging their own party or using the pack as a local sweepstakes prize.

Brockman said the Express Yourself Tour will become a permanent campaign-season marketing fixture for CNN.

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