Video: Declaration of Forward

updated 10/5/2010 11:37:14 AM ET 2010-10-05T15:37:14

Cable news network msnbc said Tuesday it is launching a two-year, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, embracing its politically progressive identity with the new tagline “Lean Forward.”

The network hopes the campaign, featuring television ads directed by Spike Lee, will lift brand awareness and boost ratings, building on recent audience gains that have lifted it to the No. 2 news channel, ahead of CNN and behind industry leader Fox News.  

“We’ve taken on CNN and we beat them,” msnbc President Phil Griffin told employees at a series of celebratory “town hall” meetings Monday. “Now it’s time to take on Fox.”

[ is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.  Msnbc cable is a wholly owned division of NBC Universal.]

The network has struggled to define itself with its audience since it launched in 1996. In the runup to the 2008 presidential election, network programming began to coalesce around primetime anchors Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews. It branded itself as “The Place for Politics” — a description given by Tim Russert, then NBC News Washington Bureau Chief and "Meet the Press" moderator.

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.

The television ads feature dramatic music and patriotic themes, including images of American soldiers at war, the space shuttle, Martin Luther King Jr. and presidents including John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.

The campaign, which also includes print and online components, takes a swipe at the nation’s strident and divisive political culture with lines like, "Celebrate the best ideas, no matter where they come from," and "One nation, in progress."

Executives did not offer a price tag but said it would be the biggest ad campaign in the network’s history.

Even as ratings have improved and the network has moved ahead of CNN, internal research found that only 50 percent of those surveyed were familiar with msnbc, compared with 96 percent for CNN.

The new campaign, with its two-year commitment, is intended to address that.

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