Style & Arts: Studio Style & Arts

September 21, 2008

Ads That Generate a Buzz of Their Own

Pictures of pretty blond actress Blake Lively -- in the throes of passion with her dark, chiseled co-star Chace Crawford -- cropped up on billboards in April, sending bloggers and parents into a frenzy at the sexual intimacy on display. What was more shocking: that the two play high school students on "Gossip Girl," the series that the ads were promoting? Or was it the string of letters at the bottom of the ad: "OM[unprintable letter]G"?

Rick Haskins, CW executive vice president of marketing, spearheaded the controversial ad campaign, and the network upped the ante this fall. This season has four new ads featuring different "Gossip Girl" cast members in provocative situations, taken from scenes of the show -- complete with quotes from outraged critics splashed across the photos. Whether or not a shirtless Crawford cradling a lingerie-clad lover twice his age (played by Madchen Amick) is "mind-blowingly inappropriate," Haskins knows one thing: He's got your attention.

We asked Haskins to share how these ads came about.

It started with the viewers. We read blogs about "Gossip Girl" and what the viewers liked and disliked about the show. What we kept finding out was they had all these great OMG moments (Can you believe about Serena? And that Chuck and Blair were kissing?) -- and that's exactly how they talked about it.

We thought, "How do you take the OMG campaign to the next level?" We started reading some of the things critics had said about the show, and that was kind of the inspiration. Some of what we were reading was really well-written copy; a crisp few words that really communicated something that, like the show, was a little bit tongue in cheek, and the attitude we were trying to get across about the show. We were trying to capture what people so love about this show, and communicate it from a marketing perspective.

The ads are all stills from the show. We wanted to use ones that were provocative, that told a story. One of the objectives of this was if you had never seen "Gossip Girl," these pictures would be intriguing enough to tune in and see what the buzz on "Gossip Girl" was about.

We did not originally have images in mind. The copy came first . . . then we went through and found moments corresponding. Actually, I'm surprised we created this much of a storm with the campaign. We felt that the fans of the show would absolutely love them; we just didn't think that they would become news stories.

-- Interview conducted and condensed by Emily Yahr

PHOTOS: CW Images WEB EDITOR: Stephanie Merry - washingtonpost.com

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