Stephen Arnold Music, WGNO Get Religion

[vzaarthumb:830588]Stephen Arnold Music and Tribune’s WGNO New Orleans won Promax gold for God Bless Louisiana, a rare exception to the unspoken commandment “Thou shalt never mix promotion with religion.”

Unlike the daily street fight of promoting local news and syndicated gossip shows, station image campaigns are a genteel affair. Like refined dinner conversation, they’re clever, polite and steer clear of politics and religion. The exceptions are extremely rare and they had better be good. Here’s one.

God Bless Louisiana is the name and tagline of a powerful series of image spots that debuted this year on Tribune’s ABC affiliate WGNO New Orleans (DMA 52). The campaign was just honored with a Promax Local Gold award for best “Music Package/Post Score or Instrumental Theme.”

In a concise “creative brief,” WGNO Creative Services Director Kelly Donnell was clear about the campaign’s focus and style. “Louisiana has had its fair share of setbacks over the last few years, after suffering through Katrina, the Gulf oil spill and beyond. And we want to produce a campaign that will inspire and encourage the residents….”

Musically, this called for a pitch-perfect blend of promotional savvy and New Orleans authenticity. Donnell wisely recruited Stephen Arnold Music, the man and company behind Spirit of Louisiana, a beloved and long-running image campaign for market leader WWL. Donnell, who has since moved on to head marketing for Sinclair’s WGME in Portland, Maine, also supplied a creative postscript with a musical specificity that was heaven-sent.


“The music should have the soulful intensity of an altar call at a tent revival,” Donnell told Arnold. “Like listening to a sweaty preacher under the heat of the bayou under a tent in the swamp.” Donnell buttressed this vivid, moist imagery with samples of New Orleans music that approximated the right feel.


Usually, promo music takes its cue from the visuals. “But in this case, the voiceover was actually the creative that was driving the whole thing,” Arnold recently told a Promax audience in New York City. “To me, the voiceover was the melody and all I had to do was come up with the chords.”

The spoken “melody” is delivered by New Orleans native Wendell Pierce, the actor famous for his roles on HBO’s The Wire and, currently, Treme, which is set and shot in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Working with Chad Cook, VP of creative services at Stephen Arnold Music, and a couple of staff musicians, Arnold tried out several tracks by literally playing along with the voiceover. That right sound soon emerged, which Arnold describes as a “bluesy, crunchy, low-fi sound that had kind of a tremolo to it.”

To ensure authenticity, Arnold grabbed his guitar and flew to New Orleans, where he’d already booked some of the top local players he knew from previous sessions. Nothing too fancy, just bass, guitar, drums and a Hammond B3 organ. “We didn’t even have a chart,” Arnold says. “We just told the musicians: ‘We want to have your DNA on this.’ ”


It was almost going a little too smoothly and sure enough they hit a snag. “The ending just wasn’t making it,” Arnold says. “It just sort of stopped. There was no real payoff for the voice and no real signature to it.”

But “sonic stamps” are a specialty of Stephen Arnold Music. So Arnold and Cook went back into their studio in Dallas and created a distinctive downward run of guitar and gospel piano — that perfectly closed the :30s and also worked for :10s and station IDs.

Even in the music categories, says Cook, “about one-third of Promax awards are based on meeting stated marketing objectives. In this case the goal was to make an emotional connection with local viewers.” According to the high volume of viewer comments, mission accomplished.

Now there are all sorts of ways this highly spiritual campaign could go wrong. Both atheists and evangelicals might bristle when a mere TV station invokes God’s blessing. The imagery could strike some as too sentimental, given the enormity of Katrina and the oil spill, or too condescending. But work it does, thanks to a respectful blend or word, picture and music.

Like the voiceover says, as we glimpse the intersection of New Orleans and Hope, “This is a place worth believing in. And when we believe, miracles happen.”

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bart meyers says:

September 13, 2011 at 9:24 am

Great article Arthur. And nice job to the folks at Stephen Arnold Music. Does take me back a little to the Spirit of Louisiana, but this campaign has its own style and sound. Both are good examples of what a stations image campaign could be, and it doesn’t just have to be in Louisiana.

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