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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Need FangFloss or perhaps SunScream? CW is cheesing up the Vamp swag

Is America vampired out? The CW network hopes not.

CW begins an ambitious campaign this week to promote a new series for the 2009-10 TV season, “The Vampire Diaries.” The campaign includes offbeat elements intended to attract attention, which include a blood drive, giveaways of mock products like “fang floss” and online games.

“The Vampire Diaries,” scheduled to make its debut on CW stations on Sept. 10, is tailored to appeal to the network’s target audience: younger women who dote on its shows like “One Tree Hill” and “Supernatural” and were fans of series like “Dawson’s Creek” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which were from its predecessor, WB.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the promotions is the blood drive, sponsored with the American Red Cross. It is to take place on more than 230 high school and college campuses around the country, said Stephanie Millian, director for biomedical communications at the Red Cross in Washington.

Posters feature the three principal cast members of “The Vampire Diaries” — Paul Wesley, Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder — sprawled languidly under this headline: “Starve a vampire. Donate blood.”

The Red Cross is working with CW “to produce a public service announcement that will feature members of the cast,” Ms. Millian said, and there will be commercials promoting the blood drive on the Channel One high school TV network owned by Alloy Inc.

The partnership is “an opportunity to engage the younger members of our communities,” she added, noting that Americans ages 16 to 22 represent “25 percent of our donors.”

“The Vampire Diaries” arrives as TV sets, movie theaters, Web sites and bookstores are awash in all things vampiric.

On television, there already are the HBO series “True Blood” and the BBC America series “Being Human.” The popular film “Twilight” is to get a sequel, “New Moon.” And online, the Web site Crunchyroll (crunchyroll.com) is starting to stream a vampire drama, “RH Plus,” from Japan.

To be sure, when it comes to the entertainment media jumping aboard bandwagons, too much is often never enough. But can CW executives be sure they are not overestimating the American public’s taste for blood?

“I don’t look at it as necessarily competing,” said Rick Haskins, executive vice president for marketing and brand strategy at CW, which is owned by the CBS Corporation and Time Warner. The HBO audience, for instance, is “very different” from CW’s, he added.

And while each of the “Twilight” movies is “a once-a-year mega-event,” Mr. Haskins said, “The Vampire Diaries” can be marketed as “a once-a-week event.”

“One is going to feed off the other,” he added, “no pun intended.”

(Giving Mr. Haskins a moment to get all the vampire wordplay out of his system, he also offered that the CW series is “going to be on Thirstdays.”)

Matt Diamond, chief executive at Alloy, which is a producer of “The Vampire Diaries,” said he was encouraged that CW executives were selling the series as “a good show that has vampires in it” rather than as a vampire-fest.

“We’re not na├»ve,” said Mr. Diamond, whose company publishes the “Vampire Diaries” books on which the series is based and is in business with CW on the “Gossip Girl” hit series. “If vampires become yesterday’s news, there will be an element of the show that will not be as popular.”

In the meantime, “in this demographic, you want to be hitting on what’s popular,” Mr. Diamond said. “It’s not always great to try to be the trendsetter if you want mass appeal.”

Steve Sternberg, a media analyst, said he believed that “The Vampire Diaries” had the best chance for success of all the new series arriving on CW for 2009-10, which also include an updated version of “Melrose Place” and “The Beautiful Life,” a show about young models.

“The Vampire Diaries” also lends itself to the “out-of-the-box promotions” that CW is planning, said Mr. Sternberg, who recently left his post as executive vice president for audience analysis at Magna, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

Among other elements of the campaign being developed by Mr. Haskins are trinkets to be distributed in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. They include packages of dental floss bearing the words “fang floss” as well as sunscreen for vampires, relabeled as “sunscream” with a V.P.F. — Vampire Protection Factor — of 1,000, because “sun damage is the No. 1 killer of the undead.”

The online game, called “Race Against the Dawn,” will be available on the Mochi Media Web site (mochimedia.com/games). And a “Vamp Yourself” online widget, or small application, enabling computer users to create and share with friends vampiric versions of photographs, will be on aol.com and the CW Web site (cwtv.com).

Although promotional commercials for “The Vampire Diaries” are now running on CW, the myriad efforts off the network are particularly important because CW viewership falls significantly during the summer when almost all its programs are reruns.

“Fewer people have the opportunity to see network promos on CW’s own air,” Mr. Sternberg, the media analyst, said.

And coming fall shows like “The Vampire Diaries” are getting less attention than usual in the entertainment media, he added, because of the considerable coverage for new summer series like “Project Runway” and “Mad Men.”

Perhaps the next big TV idea is “The Mad Men Diaries,” about vampires on Madison Avenue. Their competitive advantage: they work nights.

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