When launching a May sweeps campaign at WPIX, John Zeigler wanted to break from the family photo/Colgate ad approach, long standard fare when plugging the late news. Another shot of anchors looking like team captains in a yearbook photo wasn't going to distinguish the station in the crowded New York market.
TV anchors and reporters may not be ink-stained wretches like their print colleagues, but they don't just show up Armani-clad and then read a teleprompter. They make calls, they're gumshoe watchdogs, they hit the streets, Zeigler said.
He and his colleagues wanted to offer up some of that old New York muckraking tradition - to "convey a little more sense of honesty and transparency," he said.
When the lightbulb went off, darkness was the result. Enter a campaign with a nighttime background - a sort of "Law & Order" hue, but darker -- where some of the reporters and anchors are not so much posing as probing. They're on the phone, looking through a notepad. There are loosened ties and withering stares that almost beg a public official to deceive them.
"Four good-looking anchors in a very pristine environment, we're trying to move away from that," said Zeigler, vice president of creative at the Tribune-owned station, which has been around since 1948. .
Being that this is TV news, not all the reporters and anchors look as if they've returned from hurricane coverage, where they pulled their hair out to file on deadline. There are some pretty well-dressed and well-coiffed folks, too.
But one execution may exemplify the bulldog message. With a pile of papers and two old TV screens, stand a quartet featuring a no-nonsense Howard Thompson, who as "Help me Howard" fights injustice for viewers, and reporter Greg Mocker in jeans seemingly ready to flat-out run after a story.
(Mocker frequently does his reporting dressed-down. On Thursday, he did a segment bouncing around with his shirt untucked.)
The campaign, with on-air spots and on panels in subway cars, won an award earlier this month in the consumer category from the trade group Promax/BDA.
As newscasts struggle to attract younger viewers, WPIX turned to a 21-year-old Jeff Pinilla as the photographer (he's also a writer/producer), hoping he'd bring a new-guard sensibility.
He's representative, Zeigler said, of "who hopefully will be my news viewer in the next five to 10 years."
WPIX is the CW affiliate in New York and competes with the Fox station during hour-long 10 p.m. newscasts. To bes sure, not every station is sticking with the four-anchor portrait. WNBC in New York, for example, has used a campaign focusing on personalities and what they provide during a broadcast.
But that plays into what Zeigler said underlies some of the WPIX work: viewer hunger to be on top of things. “News and information are the new rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.