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CNN, Affiliates Get Fit

Two years ago, CNN didn't proffer any interactive marketing opportunities for affiliates. Now, executives are looking for every opportunity to help consumers connect with the brand.

Perhaps the news network's most prominent initiative: Fit Nation, a multiplatform focus on the obesity epidemic in the United States.

“We asked first: 'What's the essential news story?' ” said senior vice president of marketing and on-air promotions Scot Safon. The network had received good feedback on health coverage, in which there is “breaking news every day,” he said, describing the campaign design process.


The initiative began in 2006, anchored by weekend morning segments by health reporter and working brain surgeon Sanjay Gupta. He filmed special reports for CNN primetime programming and interactive health segments on The cable network provides ongoing editorial content for corporate sibling Time magazine.

Gupta also hit the road, traveling to seven colleges in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Michigan and California, to discuss the initiative and share good health practices. CNN attracted drug maker AstraZeneca International to underwrite the tour.

The initiative expanded this year to include a tour of a number of major cities, selected to tie in with their schedule of major local events. For the instance, the Atlanta kick-off earlier this year was timed to coincide with the Tour de Georgia bike race and featured a CNN-sponsored appearance by seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The tour also hit New Orleans during that city's jazz festival.

Later this month, Gupta and the Fit Nation promotions team will participate in a 5K walk/run held in conjunction with Taste of Chicago, from June 29 through July 1.

At the tour stops, the network deploys a custom-designed Airstream camper, where attendees can share their lifestyle choices via video and online interaction. The vehicle also features on-site activities such as “fit photos” and health trivia games. Content generated on the city tour is streamed live on CNN Pipeline.

Another online initiative is linked to a Harvard University study, which determined that individuals could add two hours to their lives for every 60 minutes of regular exercise. Viewers were urged to put that premise to the test by visiting and signing up to participate. This year, according to the network, Web site visitors have pledged 500,000 hours of exercise. That site also includes tools for logging those extra hours of life, podcasts from the Fit Nation events and an area where users can share their success stories and suggest tips for other viewers.

This year's “House Calls with Dr. Sanjay Gupta” will also run on American Morning on Thursdays, Headline News on Friday mornings and CNN Newsroom on Friday afternoons. The network has added a “Fit/Fat Mailbag” segment to Anderson Cooper 360 on the first Thursday of every month.


Safon said this marketing initiative could play long-term: Affiliates like the public service nature of the campaign, while it provides the news network with a local touch point.

“CNN has to be in this [promotional] game very aggressively. People just love to interact with this brand,” he said.

Safon noted that recent promotions, such as a tour of the Hummer the network used to cover the war in Iraq, were very well attended. At the mid-term elections, the news network also sponsored local “Express Yourself” events, with a station where viewers could make lapel buttons and film video statements on election issues.

“We've made a commitment, in a big way [to local events]. We'll take every opportunity that makes sense,” Safon said.