Survival lessons from Down Under

This issue we look at TV brand extensions, or we try to. Except for a few contenders, overall, there doesn't seem to be a lot of strategy or urgency behind many Canadian TV networks' brand extension activity - or inactivity, more...

This issue we look at TV brand extensions, or we try to. Except for a few contenders, overall, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of strategy or urgency behind many Canadian TV networks’ brand extension activity – or inactivity, more accurately.

I could go on at length on the many clever antics U.S. nets get up to on this front, such as exclusive merchandise deals with mass merchants (Animal Planet/Toys ‘R US), but folks airing on this side of the border, pointing to the 1/10 market size inequalities, would consider the examples unrealistic. To be sure, even some of the U.S. initiatives, such as Nickelodeon’s venture into retailing, did not survive despite the larger wallet-grazing territory.

However, even with the difference in size – which matters – there is room for a lot more offscreen brand-building here. The success of Much and YTV proves it can be done. And the fact that kids in Canada are more simpatico with Fox Kids than any Canadian block on the national broadcasters (outside of specialties), proves it should be done.

As evidence, I submit a case study from Australia. Domestic TV in Australia, similar to Canada, has historically been under siege from American programming influences, and many of the U.S. specialty nets now air there.

The public broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), like ours, does not have the same resources to play with as local commercial casters, let alone U.S.-based cable nets, whose line-ups and ancillary activities are amortized globally. However, it is a lot feistier, and has maxed existing brand equity into a much larger presence, utilizing licensed merchandise with a retail and flyer presence to shore up revenue and visibility. ABC creates revenue (about US$42 million in 1999 – close to US$6.5 million in profits) via its ancillary activities through licensing arm ABC Enterprises, which covers both adult and children’s licensing activities. In doing so, it has literally left no stone unturned. Merchandise for ABC’s popular Gardening Australia show included nematodes (‘good’ parasites that eat the grubs in the grass). Again, a way for consumers to interact with the brand in a new and positive (albeit bizarre) way.

Another way Australia’s public broadcaster is increasing visibility is via its retail shops, as well as in the ABC Centres set up in high-end bookstores, and ABC-designated areas in mass retailers like Kmart. Research about brand perception showed that ABC’s Kid brand meant quality, education and safety, and as the most important issues for parents and caregivers are what kids are exposed to, the pubcaster responded with the ABC for Kids Club, a successful book-club-type venture purveying video and audio as well as print offerings, and its own kids’ magazine.

Measures in which ABC fought back against a bevy of contenders to protect and strengthen its audience ties ran the gamut from show-based merch to the quest for theme-park presence. One such tactic was road shows, mounting various live events to get the stars of its programs up close with local kids and moms. No mean feat, that. With vast reaches of unpopulated land separating urban and rural communities, the crippling cost of travelling with a show has claimed many overseas tours as victims, such as Rugrats Live last year. ABC Events solved this challenge by creating three different levels of theatrical shows, from mall-based to big theatrical numbers, allowing the unit to fit community scale.

Today the gloves are off in the fight to reach more viewers in different venues and through different media. If you want to win you have to play every card that leverages the home turf advantage.

This issue we also look at the brand extension potential and pitfalls for Canada’s lifestyle brands – or again, the lack thereof. Often extension plans can sound like quite a stretch, like Indian Motorcycle radio, but as I write this and reflect on the brand’s core, it makes some kind of (gutsy) sense. Indian, like any good branding, is all about forging an emotional bond. A sepia-toned pic of my husband’s dad with his Indian comes to mind, and evokes a sense of simpler times – and fun. The theme of hip-retro, leisure and winding down that the clothes embody also comes through via the bar/restaurant iteration of the brand. Curiously, you can see how this could translate to Internet radio with a fun retro format.

Sometimes the connections are logical, but still don’t click with the consumer. Reebok and Clearly Canadian teaming up to do a sporty beverage makes strategic sense, and yet, when samples were sent to Strategy’s office, no one wanted to try the ‘sneaker water.’

Brand extensions and product innovation can be fraught with peril, but not trying seems the more dangerous option, because ultimately, there’s a whole lot more to lose.

cheers, mm

Mary Maddever, Editorial Director