USA Gets Character-Driven

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New York— For USA Network, it is all about characters.

The general-entertainment network, following extensive consumer research, took the wraps off a new logo, sans flag, and the tagline, “Characters Welcome,” at a rooftop party at the Hotel Gansevoort here on June 20.

The network’s first branding campaign will tee off around 6 p.m. following its coverage of the John Deere Classic golf tournament on July 8 — the night that also marks the fourth-season premiere of quirky detective show Monk, according to senior vice president of marketing and brand strategy Chris McCumber.

Series star Tony Shaloub, who attended the party, will be front and center in a series of show and branding spots slated to run on USA, as well as its NBC Universal sister services, including the NBC broadcast network.

The campaign’s initial thrust will also encompass out-of-home media in Los Angeles and New York.

The new look and logo will also infiltrate all of the network’s communications materials, including its Web site, which is inviting users to send in their own character statements in the way of photos, videos, music and other forms of expression. These efforts, currently being targeted virally to the site’s user base, will be encouraged with an extension of the overall brand message: “Show Us Your Character.”

Work on the umbrella branding campaign began immediately after Bonnie Hammer added the presidency of USA to her role at Sci Fi last summer.

“It’s something USA has never had, and something I had always lobbied for when I worked there previously,” she explained.

McCumber said that through a variety of research, USA, it was determined, offered “human, relatable and down-to-earth characters that were odd and funny, and that the old brand look was more cold and official. That was a signal to us to make the brand about people, rather than a place or an official symbol.”

Hammer dismissed a query about the network not taking a defined brand stance by likening USA to a baked good.

“We have a huge pie of good stuff, the crust, the berries, the ice cream, the whipped cream. Why should we limit ourselves to just the berries?” she said. “Viewers come to shows for the characters and how they relate to them, to movies for the emotions evoked. We’re claiming an unclaimed area with this approach.”

As for the new logo, research recommended that USA “ditch the flag.” McCumber said the U.S. flag is “used by many brands. It’s so ubiquitous that it was not a differentiator for us.”

The executives were on the same page about the face of the new logo.

“Chris and I both wanted clean, understated elegance, with a lot of negative space. The lower case letters are not cold, they’re relatable,” said Hammer of the work from former USA head of print advertising Todd Fedell, now principal of Atlanta-based Peloton.

The logo will be presented in nine different shades, which will be rotated to match the mood and tone of certain shows, according to Hammer, who also spoke to the campaign’s flexible structure that allows for character addition, expansion and deletion as schedules change.

Coming out of the gate, USA has 60- and 30-second versions of its inclusive “Anthem” spot, which showcases a host of people — from a rollerblading mom and nuns playing basketball to a wheelchair-bound man going down a vertical ramp and a guy, adorned with a horse’s head galloping through his office — with the WWE’s John Cena, Shaloub’s Monk, Anthony Michael Hall’s Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone, cast members from The 4400, tennis star Serena Williams and golfer Tiger Woods.

The spots end with the copy: “Here’s to those who make the world a richer place. Here’s to the characters. You’re the ones who make us USA.”

McCumber also said there are a trio of promos for each of the aforementioned original series, plus 10-second IDs, featuring the characters. The spots were created by Minneapolis boutique shop Mono.

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