Big sponsors flank 'War'


NEW YORK -- PBS has launched its largest marketing and promotional campaign ever for Ken Burns' 15-hour, seven-episode World War II documentary "The War," entering the engagement with General Motors, Bank of America and Anheuser-Busch.

PBS and its corporate sponsors are spending some $10 million on media including significant broadcast, cable and cinema ads from PBS as well as radio, print, online and billboard ads from PBS and its corporate partners, who also helped finance the production costs of the docu.

The campaign also includes such nontraditional marketing tactics as tune-in messaging on 25 million oranges and 623,000 dozen-eggs -- both items were rationed during WWII -- on 17,000 Bank of America ATM screens and on Budweiser beer cans and packaging distributed at military bases nationwide.

An outreach campaign to WWII veterans and their families by more than 100 local PBS stations nationwide to record their wartime experiences as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project also is expected to raise awareness for the docu.

"War," which premieres Sept. 23, tells the story of WWII through the personal accounts of veterans from four American cities -- Sacramento; Luverne, Minn.; Mobile, Ala.; and Waterbury, Conn.

"Without a doubt, this is the largest marketing effort ever undertaken by PBS corporate underwriters, which is also a complement to this unprecedented national effort by PBS," said Lesli Rotenberg, senior vp brand management and promotion at PBS. "The level of commitment by our local stations is also unprecedented in terms of what they're doing with outreach.

"It goes beyond just dollars. It's the most effort in terms of creative energy, mobilization of people and resources to support a program on PBS."

General Motors has been the sole corporate sponsor of Burns' films since his acclaimed "The Civil War" docu in 1987. Burns said he thought it was important to bring in additional corporate sponsors this time.

"I find that too often in public television we preach to the choir through limited resources," he said. "We felt we had a film like 'The Civil War' that had the possibility of reaching beyond the traditional public television audience and that required a little more muscle than we had, and GM was more than happy to share the spotlight in helping to spread the news.

"In 'The War,' we're focusing on real and recognizable people, so-called ordinary people. That sort of approach connects to people. I think it's appealed to our underwriters, and they've really pulled out all the stops, as has PBS. I couldn't have made this film in a few years. We're losing 1,000 veterans each day in America. I think there's a shared urgency about this film and telling this story, which led to this unprecedented outreach and cooperation."

For the corporate partners, the association with "War" and Burns is an image builder.

"A program like this, given its content and subject matter, allows us to create a serious and emotional connection with our customers when they know we're getting behind preserving a seminal moment in our history," said Rena DeSisto, arts and culture executive for Bank of America.

Bank of America is promoting "War" with tune-in messaging on its Web site, the checking statements of its customers -- who number 57 million -- and on its 17,000 ATM screens nationwide. Bank of America also has purchased outdoor media in Boston, New York and its hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and print ads in the New York Times, the Boston Globe and Newsweek.

Anheuser-Busch is promoting "War" with vignettes on the company's Times Square digital display and on and with advertising on Budweiser delivery trucks, signage in its theme parks and with the special edition Budweiser can and packaging. Bank of America and Budweiser also are sponsoring premieres in the four towns where the veterans are interviewed in the docu. And Bank of America is sponsoring a New York gala premiere Sept. 17 at the Museum of Modern Art.

GM is buying print ads in the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and Automotive News and radio ads on XM Satellite Radio and in six spot markets including Los Angeles, Miami and Washington. The automaker also is running online banner ads on beginning Sept. 22 and sponsored a screening of the film with Burns for more than 400 guests at the Library of Congress in June.

"Ken has sort of become America's historian, and at GM we feel it's an advantage for us to be associated with these stories of the American experience because of our position in society and our place in American popular culture, even though none of the films has been about GM at all," said Ryndee Carney, manager of advertising and marketing communications for GM.

In additional to all its traditional media buys, PBS on Sept. 1 began running ads for the docu in more than 4,300 movie theaters nationwide. It is distributing bingo cards branded with "The War" to bingo halls and postcards with tune-in messaging to Jewish community centers, American Legion halls, Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations, VA hospitals, Shriners and Rotary Clubs in PBS' 16 media markets. PBS also is targeting college students with posters in history departments on 300 campuses.