Spike Lee Directs for MSNBC’s ‘Lean Forward’ Campaign

Part of a broader push to reemphasize the network's identity

MSNBC unveiled a new chapter in its “Lean Forward” campaign this week with a series of videos directed by Spike Lee.

Lee shot hours of footage of each of the network’s prime-time hosts—including Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell—many on location in front of a variety of backgrounds (Maddow is filmed talking about infrastructure in front of the Hoover Dam, for example, and Matthews is seen standing in front of the White House). In each video, which MSNBC executives say were all unscripted, the hosts sound broadly progressive notes on various political topics. “It’s got to be about the people, it can’t always be about the profit,” said Ed Schultz in one clip, filmed at the counter of a coffee shop in his hometown of Norfolk, Va.

In all, MSNBC executives say that Lee filmed two days worth of footage for each host. The network plans a gradual rollout of the campaign—airing the television spots now and planning interactive online, radio, and print ads which will start showing in coming weeks. Prefilm commercials will begin airing in movie theaters this summer.

In addition to Lee, MSNBC had Matthew Libatique, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer for the film Black Swan, shoot the campaign.

Though the network has been using the “Lean Forward” tag since last fall, the latest iteration of it is part of a broader push to distinguish the network from its competitors, underlining its brand as a hub of left-leaning commentary and personalities. This month, MSNBC returned to second place—behind Fox News Channel—after falling into third place behind CNN in March when coverage of the ongoing Egyptian revolt drove the Turner network's audience upward.

“They’re each part of our brand in how they articulate their views, articulate the issues,” said Sharon Otterman, MSNBC’s chief marketing officer, about the hosts. “This is advertising. This isn’t a promo. This is not ‘tune in at a day date and time.’ [We’re trying to build] an emotional connection with fans.”