When you’ve been the dominant station in local news for more years than most viewers have been alive, changing anchors can carry more risk than reward. So last fall, as Minneapolis powerhouse WCCO prepared its fond farewell to iconic anchor Don Shelby, continuity was the top priority. The typical promo strategy would be to introduce the new guy, but 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. anchor Frank Vascellaro was not only well-known in the market, he’s married to co-anchor Amelia Santaniello.
“This campaign wasn’t so much about introducing Frank as it was about establishing the new team,” says Jodi Oelfke, the image manager in the creative services department of the CBS O&O. Prior research revealed high audience awareness and approval of WCCO’s long history as the local news leader. But that’s a mixed blessing. “If done wrong, ‘legacy and heritage’ can be perceived as ‘old and stodgy,’” Oelfke says. “The challenge was to merge nostalgia and contemporary imagery to celebrate WCCO as the leading documenter of Minnesota’s past, present and future.”
The result was an image campaign entitled “Always” and it just earned the PromaxBDA Local Award for best General Branding/Image Campaign. Phase One of the campaign launched last November with three 30-second spots, each of which ends with the tagline “WCCO. Always” — smart, economical copy written by Creative Services Director Casey Kespohl. The line was made even more powerful by the statement that precedes it:
“More Minnesotans watch WCCO than any other source. This is not a coincidence.”
Now that’s a bold claim and on a less dominant station in a less traditional market it might merely sound boastful. But following a masterful montage of bittersweet glimpses of Minnesotan triumphs, tragedies, holidays and heroes, the lines play perfectly. “It’s a bolder statement than we’ve previously made in our advertising,” Oelfke admits. “But it’s also a true statement, based on our household ratings and our reach.” Freelance announcer Bill Lloyd “gave it the perfect mix of confidence and attitude,” Oelfke adds.
Presenting a cohesive and appealing portrait of Minnesota posed some special challenges. After all, this is the state whose polarized political landscape gave rise to Jesse Ventura, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and Al Franken. “We’re not portraying WCCO as a great uniter,” says Oelfke. “We’re celebrating shared experience, whether it’s elections, harsh weather or a bridge collapse. We’re the ones who gather these images and share the stories with you.”
The “Always” campaign was executed almost entirely in house. For two weeks, Oelfke edited and posted the three spots herself in Final Cut Studio, drawing on the station’s treasure trove of archival footage that was supplemented by Super-8 memories from station staffers. The music track was drawn from the station’s Video Helper library. Graphics and effects were added in After Effects.
To make the new anchor team look its best, the station rented a Red Camera and a full lighting package and hired a freelance production crew, including gaffers, makeup artist and videographer Mike Welkle. Promotion Producer Erica Mayer directed the talent. WCCO news shooters contributed additional present-day beauty shots of Minnesota.
“Always” has also won unsolicited praise from viewers and advertisers. But has the nostalgic campaign successfully prevented viewer defection? The answer arrived with the May ratings. WCCO showed growth in most dayparts, finishing No. 1 in five out of seven newscasts. And in the key adults 25-54 demo, WCCO 4 News is No. 1 in all seven newscasts.
Phase Two of the “Always” campaign, already on the air, incorporates interview soundbites with the main news anchors. Oelfke is now in post production on Phase Three, which extends the campaign to WCCO’s Morning News. All deliberately share the tone, style and message of Phase One. Says Oelfke: “The progression of the campaign, including the total involvement of our staff, is exciting to see.”