First Look: MSNBC’s New “Lean Forward” Brand Marketing Campaign


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Starting this week, number 2 cable news channel, MSNBC will begin to formally unveil a new 2 year marketing campaign revolving around MSNBC’s new brand position “Lean Forward”. Our friends at MSNBC have given me access and a preview of the new on-air spots, which are a component of a multi-million dollar rebrand effort to raise awareness with viewers, advertisers, and distributors.

MSNBC "Lean Forward" Rebrand

The rebrand and advertising push is led by Minneapolis-based creative branding agency Mono (whom you might remember as the agency who developed the tagline “Characters Welcome” for #1 cable channel USA Network). The new image spots (directed by Spike Lee) will air on other television channels- expect to see more billboards to pop in major metros as well as The New York Times, Slate, The Daily Beast and Huffington Post.

Sharon Otterman, CMO for MSNBC, tells me that she decided to go with Mono because of their “passion in simplicity of storytelling”. In addition, MSNBC has reported on itself on the new rebrand by saying “With the addition of left-leaning anchors including Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz, the network increasingly became identified with a rising tide of progressive political sentiment. The new branding campaign, while not overtly political, implicitly embraces the network’s progressive identity.”

Unfortunately, I can’t publicly share a lot of what I have on the new rebrand yet. The :30 Spike Lee directed spots will be an interesting talking point. One involves Rachel Maddow working, shuffling papers on the floor of her office (with pen in mouth of course). Her VO explains that “News is about stories. It’s about finding facts and their coherence. Doing this requires vigor and a devotion to facts that borders on obsessive. At the end of the day, this is about what’s true in the world”. As the spot builds, she is surrounded by what we assume to be other reporters, a wipe board, and eventually Rachel herself seated in her anchor chair. The rough cut I saw had a very chunky transition from the new “Lean Forward” tag line into the MSNBC logo.

Other spots revolve around network headliners Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough. If you’re desperate to see the roughcuts, and you are indeed from a broadcaster or agency, drop me a line- and not from your CNN or Fox News emails please 🙂

Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC sums it up: “In its simplest form, it’s a tagline. You will see it on-air, in promotions and in advertisements. In the broader sense, however, Lean Forward captures the spirit of everything we do and everything we believe.  It’s about celebrating the best ideas, no matter where they come from;  that tomorrow can, in fact, be better than today.  Lean Forward is our message.”

Here’s Phil talking about the new positioning:

What do you think of the rebrand? Share your thoughts, join me on Twitter or drop me an email.



Filed under branding, channel identity, ident

4 responses to “First Look: MSNBC’s New “Lean Forward” Brand Marketing Campaign

  1. Andrew Irving

    This campaign is a blatant plagiarization of A&E’s “Leanforwards” trade campaign, that has been around for a couple of years now. The cable television world is relatively small, and I don’t believe that no one at Mono or MSNBC ever saw A&E’s trade ads or website. Putting that aside, the print ads are weak, as Jon Stewart pointed out: Rachel Maddow is picking up something that she has apparently dropped on the floor, and Keith Olbermann is leaning BACK in his print ad.

  2. peg

    I love, love, love the ads. News is so depressing on a whole. Watching these ads made me think….yes, we are ok, we are going to be fine, America is a great place. It made me feel pretty good about where we are now and how far we can go. I could go on and on. I also like just …MSNBC… shown at the end. No talking. Just seeing MSNBC was louder than any talking. Impressive. Thanks, Peggy

  3. Simon

    I absolutely disagree with Andrew Irving in his comments above. Do you honestly think every on-air/brand idea is entirely original and unique? The execution and core philosophy behind MSNBC’s campaign is significantly different than the A&E campaign you’re referencing.

    Leanforwards is a sales proposition within a very specific part of A&E’s business strategy. You are comparing that to a widecast consumer campaign which takes a different approach to it and you call that blatant plagiarization?

    Sorry mate, but I respectfully disagree.

  4. Art

    Interesting ad campaign, we’ll see how they fare over time with it.

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