USA Creates Book of Characters


USA Network is taking its “character” campaign in a new direction this year.

Cable's highest-rated network has launched the “Character Project,” a multipronged artistic initiative to pay tribute to people from all walks of life across the United States. In line with its “Characters Welcome” brand, USA enlisted the support of not-for-profit photography organization Aperture Foundation to assemble 11 world-class shutterbugs to create a book, American Character: A Photographic Journey, with a foreword by Tom Brokaw, released by Chronicle Books this month.

Many of the images from the book will be on display in a touring exhibition, co-hosted by Vanity Fair, beginning in New York City on March 12-14 at Stephan Weiss Gallery and making stops in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The effort is also being supported by affiliate initiatives from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

As part of a community affairs outreach, USA has created a companion curriculum to work in conjunction with the book and exhibition, giving the opportunity for local schools to submit their own Character Project entries online. The winning photos will be showcased at the exhibitions.

All proceeds from Character Project and the book will benefit Aperture Foundation and Characters Unite, USA's new pro-social platform dedicated to combating intolerance and promoting acceptance and understanding.

“USA is a network that celebrates characters and this is a great opportunity to capture the American character,” said USA executive vice president of marketing, digital and brand strategy Chris McCumber. “No other network is documenting this important time in American history, with a new administration and the economic challenges, this is a pivotal moment for our nation.”

The photographers include established artists Mary Ellen Mark, Sylvia Plachy, Dawoud Bey, Jeff Dunas, David Eustace and Eric Ogden, as well as emerging talents Marla Rutherford, Anna Mia Davidson, Joe Fornabaio, Eric McNatt and Richard Renaldi.

“Usually, photographers get very specific assignments from clients. This was a chance for them to find American characters,” said McCumber. “I thought the project would be good, but the photographic results are amazing.”

Turning the lens on affiliate activities, operators receive invites to the exhibits' opening, which includes a reception and meet-and-greet with the photographers. These can be extended to local government officials — in the case of the April 2 opening night at Edison Place Gallery that coincides with Cable Show '09 in Washington, USA has sent out letters to several Congress members — and VIPs, or against customer acquisition and retention efforts. Affiliates, committing to run 150 taggable promo spots to drive awareness and traffic to the exhibits that are open to the public, get their name or logo on the invites and on a “sponsor wall” at the events.

There is also a local ad sales component, including sponsorable “photographer profile vignettes.” Brian Hunt, senior vice president, marketing and sales strategy, TV Networks Distribution, NBC Universal, said that with auto and financial clients feeling the economic crunch, there may be opportunities with members of the professional and medial communities to step up.

USA is also encouraging affiliates to work with schools on field trips to bring students out to the exhibits. “Character Project, which helps USA as a brand beyond linear TV, was designed with affiliate flexibility in mind,” said Hunt. “Each market affiliate has committed to the program and can integrate the tactics they think will work best for them.”