Scot Safon (pictured below) knows better than most Chief Marketing Officers how the day's headlines can elicit strong emotions in viewers. After years heading marketing at CNN, he has been applying an antidote to the weight of the day, happily marketing the more "uplifting" stories of UPtv. Their newest network campaign netted some headlines of its own, but more for its cheeky promise to, literally, "turn frowns upside down." Safon recently shared with MediaVillage the specifics on the evolution and the application of the elements -- from custom emojis to sponsor opportunities.
E.B. Moss: We know UPtv has a strong brand position as "Uplifting," but how is the new brand campaign taking it to the next level?
Scot Safon: This campaign was largely driven by the idea that there's too much anger in the world, and audiences had specifically told us they'd craved a content destination that would just be optimistic -- a haven. With shows like Gilmore Girls and Home Improvement and Bringing Up Bates, they just liked the vibe and the tone. That really was what we had been betting on for years -- that we could be more of a contrast to so much of what we are seeing on TV and social media. So, we built a campaign around promising to uplift, expressed with emojis that evolved from anger to joy, promising that we'd "Fix Your Face America."
Moss: How did that go down within the company and with audiences?
Safon: We were a little nervous about that line, wondering, "Is it too aggressive to say to people, 'You need to fix your face'?" Would they understand it as an empathetic and encouraging thing, rather than a judgmental thing? So, we started testing the campaign formally and got a tremendous response. Consumers said things like, "I think it's totally right for you to say" and "It goes along with your programs." It's just the way we were hoping people would take this. And then, right after we premiered the campaign, a viewer on our Facebook page posted, "Thank you, UPtv, for fixing my face every Wednesday night."
We're still in the early phases of building it into the fabric of the network in terms of packaging and promotion -- the early stages of a rebrand, actually -- but it's been nice. It's not too soft an idea, but actually a quite strong idea right now.
Moss: What other legs will this campaign have for the next phase? Where else will the emojis appear?
Safon: That's a great question because, clearly, it has to be an initiative based in social media. Emojis are a social media construct for how people express all the emotions they don't know how to show otherwise, so our brand wants to encourage more upbeat emojis. We're targeting early summer for this when our "life's biggest moment" shows like Crazy Beautiful Weddings and Our Wedding Story come back. We also have a bunch of original movies premiering and some big acquisitions coming up.
Moss: There are so many emojis today that allow for variations or avatars that reflect gender and race options. Are you going to do variations within your campaign?
Safon: This is something that we have talked about in a lot of depth. And believe me, it's a strange meeting, deconstructing the semiotics of an emoji! We're going to see where this goes, but the sort of orangey, generic emojis are meant to be universal in the representation of age, gender or race. We've also been very careful that it doesn't become a happy face campaign. That retro happy face was more of a feel good, "telling" people to put on a happy face -- a little like "shut your mind off and just smile." But we want this to be about feeling optimistic, entertained and uplifted.
Moss: And where do you go with the campaign?
Safon: We had a lot of fun with the spot we just premiered around the show Expecting, where we went into other emojis that are just adorable. It looks totally like a part of this campaign, yet it shows that we're going for the emotional value of each one of these little pictograms, and how they're deployed and their intention. As we move forward, we'll tie the campaign more to specific programing or holidays, or to reflect the lives of our audience. We're really challenging ourselves to explore what the emojis really are and what they might mean.
Moss: Another extension will be a programming "Uplifting Seal of Approval" of sorts?
Safon: That's a phase two or phase three thing -- that content will be something certified as uplifting. We've started a ratings system on our movies, evaluating each premiere on certain uplifting categories like, "you can watch it together" or "you'll laugh." We know that this is a bigger idea and we've got more stuff to come. We want to be experts on uplifting.
Apropos his background in news, Safon suggests that a web destination could be a place for a more authoritative and encouraging editorial stance from UPtv -- about what's uplifting and where to find it -- like naming the ten most uplifting cities in America or even, say, the most uplifting news story of the week.
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