CBS Marketing Chief on How the Network Will Utilize the Super Bowl to Rebrand For The New TV Age

CBS is upping its game this Sunday. The Eye network’s coverage of Super Bowl LV comes slightly more than a year after the corporation’s re-merger with Viacom, as well as the arrival of Mike Benson as the network’s new president and chief marketing officer. Not only is priority one promoting their relationship with the NFL and getting viewers to the big day, but there are also several internal initiatives to be had — including a rebrand of CBS and the launch of new streamer Paramount Plus.

Now, it’s kick off time.

Benson and CBS have worked together with their ViacomCBS siblings and the NFL to craft a media plan around the Super Bowl that included promos across networks including CBS, MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, Comedy Central, BET, Paramount Network and TV Land, as well as AVOD streamer Pluto TV.

In recent days, Super Bowl LV countdown assets, promotions about social issues and tune-in spots targeting casual football fans have been running, leading to Sunday’s programming. “Super Bowl LV on CBS” bugs have also run across those networks, and talent from across the corporation have been enlisted to help with the marketing.

“What you’ll see on Sunday is I’m hoping just sort of a culmination of what we look at as just a really great inspired partnership with the NFL,” Benson said. “That was not just about marketing the game but also really sinking out a lot of their pro-social activities as far as racial injustice and small business support.”

But as viewers tune into the Super Bowl, Benson is also focused on giving audiences a different image of Eye network. CBS is famous for pounding its chest as the TV’s most-watched network, but Benson is pulling back on that tubthumping to position CBS as an upscale brand in an ever-more competitive (and challenging, in the case of broadcast TV) landscape.

There will be spots devoted to new series “The Equalizer” (which premieres after the Super Bowl) and “Clarice,” as well as returning reality entry “Tough as Nails” and key franchises like the network’s “FBI” series and “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” But most of the spots will focus more on the entire network, including its news, entertainment and sports divisions, with larger branding promos.

“It will be much more focused, promoting fewer things, using longer spots,” Benson said. “We’re not just looking at the Super Bowl as like, ‘Let’s just market everything that we’ve got.’ We are going to lean heavily into a couple of different things. Number one is ‘CBS Originals’, you’re going to see that brand, that moniker come out in a really significant way. Number two is, you will see the idea of’ live, on demand and streaming’ come out in a much like more focused way. We want people to understand that CBS is a brand that has evolved and that you can you can watch CBS when, how and where you want.

“But then the third piece is just from a creative perspective,” he added. “I feel like we’re really working to elevate the brand and make a broadcast brand feel premium. It’s free premium.”

For CBS Sports, the network hired musician Rickey Minor (the “American Idol” and “Tonight Show” vet who also directed Whitney Houston’s famed National Anthem performance at the 1991 Super Bowl) to score the sports brand campaign. The network has also licensed Sia’s track “Together” for an entertainment spot, Bishop Briggs’ “Hold On” for a news promo, and songs from Brandi Carlile, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and San Feldt feat. Kesha for other spots.

“I’m hoping that everything that we’ve done makes a statement about CBS to make the brand more relevant, more modern and surprises some people in a good way,” Benson said. “So they’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that from CBS.’”

The three new brand campaigns for entertainment, news and sports to be revealed on Sunday will all tie into the “This is CBS” tagline. “We’re really trying to evolve things so you really think of those brands that we have as being content brands rather than distribution brands and so that’s kind of a big shift that we’re making,” Benson said.

As for expanding the “CBS Originals” moniker, Benson borrowed the idea from his previous gig at Amazon, where the idea of branding shows as “Amazon Originals” was necessary to explain that this was original content that came with your subscription to the digital giant.

“At CBS we’ve been the original content creator for years, long before Netflix was even invented,” he said. “The research that we did, we weren’t getting credit for having that original content. People love ‘Survivor’ and they love ‘60 Minutes’ and they love these other shows that we have. But they never really associated it back to CBS. So it helps people understand and give us the credit that we need.”

Important to all of this, Benson noted, was reflecting the mood of an audience perhaps looking for a different type of sell during these pandemic times. “I don’t want to be tone deaf to what’s going on in the world,” he said. “So we want to make an emotional connection with the audience. We don’t want to be depressing because television is a great escape in the middle of a pandemic. And we also want to make sure that people see our brand is being spirited and energetic and authentic. You’ve known CBS to be like, ‘America’s number one network’ and ‘most watched.’ That’s important to us from a B2B perspective, but I don’t think it’s what people need to hear from us right now. I think they need to hear that we’ve got something we can all gather together and do together. That’s really kind of the mood and the spirit with everything that we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, expect to see plenty of mentions of Paramount Plus throughout the day as well, as ViacomCBS aims to bolster awareness of the product a month before it morphs from its current existence as CBS All Access.

“We’ve been working very closely with that team,” Benson said. “You will see a significant presence from Paramount Plus all day and throughout the game. It’s one of our company’s biggest priorities and so when you are watching Super Bowl Sunday, throughout the pregame, in game, postgame and into ‘The Equalizer’ and Steven Colbert, it’s really all about Paramount Plus. It’s getting the service recognized, having customers understand what it’s all about, the value that you get in it. And that CBS is a significant part of that.

“As we get closer to the launch, it will be building up specifically what you get in the service,” he said. “Between Paramount Plus, ‘Equalizer,’ ‘Clarice,’ ‘Tough as Nails,’ that’s the focus.”

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