Spankin’ the competition – Muriel Solomon, director of marketing, dramatic networks, Alliance Atlantis

Muriel Solomon is the saucy lady behind all those naughty Showcase ads. But, she's quick to point out that it's not all her. 'I'm not the exclusive dirty mind around here,' she says, laughing.

Muriel Solomon is the saucy lady behind all those naughty Showcase ads. But, she’s quick to point out that it’s not all her. ‘I’m not the exclusive dirty mind around here,’ she says, laughing.

Whatever she and her cohorts are doing at Alliance Atlantis, it’s working. Since Solomon, 35, assumed her position as the director of marketing, dramatic networks (overseeing Showcase, Showcase Action, Showcase Diva and IFC) in 2001, her campaigns have won numerous awards and ratings have gone way up.

In June, her channels took home 13 Promax awards (which honour TV’s best marketing and promotion,) including gold for funniest cable channel promotion for its in-house ‘Thanks, Showcase!’ branding campaign, and tied for gold with HBO in the cable channel’s best program promotion category for, ironically, HBO’s own series Six Feet Under. And, the Six Feet Under campaign, developed with her agency FCB Canada, has made it into this year’s editions of Applied Arts and Communication Arts.

A large part of Solomon’s success at Alliance Atlantis can surely be chalked up to her keen ability to think outside of the black box. ‘She’s always looking for non-traditional ideas…thinking about how we can create some impact,’ says Sunil Sekhar, VP, accounts at FCB. ‘In today’s environment, that’s essential.’

Her upcoming campaign to promote fall TV this season is no exception. It’s not a straightforward programming push: it has three goals – to promote the brand, the 10 p.m. timeslot and the shows. The resulting effort, ‘Showcase at 10,’ hits all three messages, most notably through an innovative guerrilla tactic developed with Montreal-based Gearwerx.

Showcase will brand a fleet of vehicles in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa that will chauffeur people home in time for the 10 p.m. lineup. The fleet will be equipped with TVs running promo reels of the fall programs, which includes premium cable shows picked up from HBO and Showtime like Rescue Me, Weeds and The L Word.

‘She was determined to find a solution – she wasn’t willing to accept something that didn’t hit all three messages and as a result we have a great campaign,’ says boss Heather Conway, EVP, corporate affairs & international channel development at Alliance Atlantis. ‘She has a great strategic mind and she’s great at execution – often people don’t

have both.’

Solomon honed her strategic thinking skills working in CPG as a baby food brand manager at Heinz, where she was responsible for launching a cereal for infants. It was her first marketing job, and her first job in Canada after moving here from Paris when she was in her 20s. She developed her business chops while earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in business management from the British Chamber of Commerce and Bordeaux’s Superior School of Commerce respectively. During her five-year tenure at Heinz, she saw her brand generate double-digit growth, and take home an industry award for creativity and innovation.

Her CPG experience taught her to always be thinking about strategy and brand identity. Following the remarkably successful campaign promoting Six Feet Under that saw the show become the top-rated drama on specialty networks in Canada, she worried that the campaign’s success overshadowed the network’s identity; she didn’t want Showcase to simply be known as that channel that carries Six Feet Under. ‘There was a bit of erosion of brand equity,’ she recalls.

To fight this, Showcase undertook a branding campaign to re-affirm the network’s position as ‘boundary pushing.’ A few agencies were asked to pitch ideas, but the winning pitch came from the in-house team. ‘It spoofs the feel-good bank ads – we wanted to get our viewers to thank us,’ Solomon explains. The result, ‘Thanks, Showcase,’ depicts viewers expressing gratitude to the network for inspiring them to be a little more risqué. One execution features a sweet looking grandma-type saying: ‘I used the F-word today. Thanks, Showcase!’

The edgy ads garnered some complaints, as expected. ‘If we got no complaints at all, then we would know we hadn’t gone far enough,’ Solomon explains. ‘We stand for boundary pushing.’ Solomon worked closely with the internal media team from the beginning, and ensured the creative was pre-approved by vendors like the TTC.

Thanks to Alliance Atlantis’s own self-policing efforts, everything was approved – Solomon and her team have sharpened their ability to weed out potential snags. For example, an early version of the ‘I got spanked last night’ execution featured a woman (instead of the executive-looking man wound up depicting), but, after realizing that it could be interpreted as condoning violence against women, it was immediately re-jigged.

The ‘Thanks, Showcase!’ campaign also featured stunt executions, including motion-sensitive audio ads in washrooms at bars. At urinals, men heard a man announce: ‘I got spanked last night,’ while women were treated to the sweet grandma cussing. This scored Showcase a lot of buzz and even some free press in the National Post.

Another strategic move overseen by Solomon was the re-branding of the IFC in 2004. She found the descriptor, Independent Film Channel, to be restrictive in terms of programming and viewer expectations. So, it was replaced with the tagline: ‘Where all the cool movies go.’ Solomon and her team worked with FCB to create a rebranding campaign spoofing cheesy Hollywood blockbusters.

Sekhar credits Solomon with cheerleading creativity: ‘She makes sure the entire team is jazzed about the project – not many clients do that.’ Looks like it worked: After rebranding, Nielsen ratings showed that in the 25-54 demo, average-minute audience grew 52% and reach grew 39%. And the campaign won two Promax awards this year.

Meanwhile, Solomon’s other channels, Showcase Action and Showcase Diva, are also enjoying consistently strong ratings. Nielsen shows Action is consistently the number-one-rated digital channel in all adult demographics except for the 55+ crowd. And, Diva is consistently ranked the number-two digital channel among its primary target, women 25-54.

The upcoming fall TV campaign should live up to Solomon’s impressive track record. On top of the branded fleet driving viewers home, other tactics up her sleeve include a complete domination of Toronto’s busy Yonge and Bloor subway station.

Perhaps the best indication of Solomon’s success is the fact her porfolio is growing – HGTV has just beed added to her remit.

FIVE QUESTIONS

Favourite movie:

The House of Flying Daggers – visually stunning just like Zhang Yimou’s other movie Hero. To me this movie combines lots of art forms: opera, painting, ballet, photography. Just breathtaking.

Favourite TV commercial of all time:

The most impactful would be for the Citroen C4 [with a dancing car]. It’s one of those spots people love instantly.

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase:

A little sign near a Starbucks that said ‘You’re so close you can almost smell it.’ Very simple, but very impactful.

First job:

Developing strategies for cultural events at the Louvre when I was 17. I was very lucky.

Favourite way to unwind:

Playing with my kids – when they’re in a good mood.