The Name Game: Branding 'The CW,' Defying Conventional Wisdom

What goes into a new network name? Apparently, five days of work.

That's all the time Lou Goldstein and Bob Bibb, co-president of marketing for the WB, had to come up with The CW. "We came in very late in the process," said Goldstein.

In an effort to keep the whole deal secret, Goldstein and Bibb hired an outside marketing firm to come up with the name for the marriage of the WB and UPN networks to begin airing this fall.

Admittedly, they would have liked more time--and more options.

"There were other names we liked as well, but they were already taken, or for other reasons we couldn't [use them]," said Goldstein. Both Goldstein and Bibb will be kept on for the new network, but it is still undetermined whether the WB marketing group would be left intact.

Speculation has been mounting over whether the CW name would be changed, given the speed of the deal. The CW was seen as just a placeholder until some extensive research and marketing work could be done--as with most network launches.

As to the question of whether the name might change later, "as of now, the answer is 'no,'" said Goldstein. He added that they might tinker with the look of the logo and perhaps eliminate 'the' from The CW. The CW does have a working blue-and-white logo that was sent out on the day the announcement was made.

Discussions started in December--with only a handful of senior CBS and Warner Bros. executives with knowledge of the project. This left Goldstein and Bibb with much less time than they had in creating the WB. "For The WB, we took six months to develop the brand and three months to find the name," said Goldstein.

Many marketing executives have taken a stab at the new name--saying that 'The CW' isn't as descriptive as many new cable network names such as Spike, Oxygen, and Logo.

"I would argue that they made their work a lot harder," said Hayes Roth, vp of worldwide marketing and new business for WPP Group branding agency Landor Associates. "It's an opportunity missed. Why would you go with an acronym [like other broadcast networks]? Why not set yourself apart?"

Regarding the CW name, Mary Durkin, a vice president at media analysis firm Delahaye, asked: "The Country and Western Network? "People will have their opinions," said Goldstein. "What we look like now will not be what we are in six months. It will be totally different."

Marketing executives admit that branding names for companies are tricky situations--and that what first appears problematic can actually be an opportunity.

"It's not impossible," said Roth. "It's an empty glass. 'The CW' has no meaning. Now they need to fill it up." Many marketing executives have also touted this refrain: People watch TV shows, not networks. "When it comes to general entertainment channels, the name is less important than 'I know my favorite show is on that channel,'" said Larry Gerbrandt, senior vice president and senior corporate analyst at Nielsen Analytics.

Stations are now concerned about what to do with their branded station IDs such as 'WB 11' or 'UPN 5.' "The branding aspect at stations will get worked out over time," said Gary Weitman, a spokesperson at Tribune Broadcasting, which owns WPIX and 16 CW affiliates that were announced as the original affiliates of the network.

The new network and its re-branding will have reverberations at Nielsen Media Research, which needs to read diary entries accurately--otherwise, Nielsen could miss valuable new CW viewers.

For example, the traditional "WB 11" entry would likely be recorded as "CW 11"--and that could lead to confusion. "Anytime something like this happens, we think about how it affects how we measure and report the data," said Laura James, a Nielsen Media Research spokeswoman.

Nielsen has "a three-way check in the diary [system]. We ask [viewers] to fill in the channel, the call letters, and the program name," said James. "If it said, 'WB 11,' we would know it's Channel 11."

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