There’s very little that’s remained constant in Red Fabbri’s job since starting as the VP of fan engagement and social for Spike TV in the fall of 2016. The biggest change, of course, has been the network’s transition to Paramount Network, which will be official as of January 18. His challenge was to devise a strategy that would engage Spike loyalists as well as the broader target audience for Paramount Network.
The result was the #GoodbyeSpike campaign, which played out across social media as a tongue-in-cheek drama where the personification of Spike goes through the seven stages of grief upon learning of his imminent unemployment. Here, Fabbri shares how the campaign came to life and how the network is engaging fans through the rebranding.
V by Viacom: To start, what was the impetus for creating a campaign that was as much about Spike as it was about Paramount Network?
Red Fabbri: A big reason for the rebrand is this move towards general entertainment for Viacom. At Spike, as [Paramount Network President] Kevin Kay said in the Emmy magazine interview, the only thing holding it back was the name.
To make sure the campaign was effective, we had to invent what “authentic” meant for Spike. The original mission was a network for men, so combining that legacy with new research into what’s going on in social right now was a good way to start that process. You shouldn’t wait until you’re rebranding to do competitive or audience analysis of course, but because of it we were able to put an action plan around the end goal raise awareness for the rebrand versus, ‘Hey, remember us? We’re fun.’
V: What early insights guided the strategy and creative?
RF: Through our research we found that Spike has an incredibly positive sentiment with its audience. That was a little bit of a surprise, which I say as someone that has not been with Spike for the long haul, because we think of the audience being more fans of shows than the network. The example I’ll use is Bellator, the mixed martial arts league that we’re really excited to bring to Paramount Network. There’s a lot of positive sentiment around Bellator which leads to people thanking Spike for bringing it to them every week. That led us to make the campaign a tribute to Spike versus a death of him.
V: How would you describe the persona of Paramount Network as a brand?
RF: The tone of voice, to us, was something that had to feel like a network born today, to use one of [Paramount Network CMO] Neils Schuurman’s phrases. It’s something that feels like a 2018 brand that pays tribute to the legacy. We built some real pillars around what this brand stands for. We really worked on this from top to bottom—working with our creative, marketing, press, development, and digital teams.
Right now, some of the most valuable companies in the world are social media, or at least digital-first brands. Developing a tone of voice for Paramount Network wasn’t about deciding the social tone of voice, it was about developing the brand tone of voice.
V: How do you prioritize the platforms when you’re thinking about how to develop that tone of voice?
RF: The way I look at it is we have two tiers of platforms. Our top tier, which we’re on at least daily, is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. We added Giphy to that, as well, because we know that GIFs are a very equitable format for visual storytelling. It’s also what you’d call “dark social”—we can’t measure it as much as an in-feed post, we can’t control its distribution like an in-feed post, but it’s as direct to consumer as possible.
The way that we utilize Giphy as well as possible, is by creating a bunch of beautiful, branded and fun GIFs, uploading them to our page, tagging them properly and then allowing for the audience to really take them and run with it. It’s more than just going, ‘We want to find a way to fit John Taffer into a GIF.’ It’s going, ‘What are the most trending topics and tags on Giphy, and how do we find the best content in our library to match against those?’
V: Did you get any responses on any of the platforms that surprised you, as well?
RF: One of the phases of Goodbye Spike was giving out an email address and a phone number for Niels as our CMO. In response, we got people calling back to TNN, which is what Spike was the rebrand of, and calling back to shows that have been off the air for 10 years. People got it. They didn’t respond to us being mad at their cable company for dropping Spike. That’s the best case scenario when you’re doing something like this.
V: What were your KPIs for the campaign, and can you share any early results?
RF: The KPIs we set for ourselves were awareness, or can we turn on our audience to the fact that this rebrand is happening. We’re marching towards that right now and feel really good about how much community management we’ve done to affect that. The second was sentiment. We wanted to see a positive sentiment from Spike translate over to a positive sentiment for Paramount Network, and we’ve seen that definitively. The third was overall engagement; to me, video views is too limiting of a KPI. Engagement has been solid, but that’s where the next two phases will really push us over the goal.
That being said, I am not a KPI monster. I think that the nature of social media is that it is direct reflection of your audience and is a people platform. You can quantify everything but that doesn’t mean that you should.