The fall TV launch that sputtered

As fall TV schedules were thrown into the air after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, series debuts were delayed and promotional efforts took a back seat to news programs. CBC, Global and CTV have now launched their fall seasons, but with so many changes and a lack of thorough advertising, some critics feel brand messages are not always getting across.

As fall TV schedules were thrown into the air after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, series debuts were delayed and promotional efforts took a back seat to news programs. CBC, Global and CTV have now launched their fall seasons, but with so many changes and a lack of thorough advertising, some critics feel brand messages are not always getting across.

CBC and Global have both launched updated brand identities this season. Global’s new logo is red, black and white while CBC is using those colours plus incorporating some blue.

‘It seems strange to me that they have both chosen the same colours,’ says Antonia Zerbisias, TV columnist at the Toronto Star. ‘It just makes the messages really confusing.’

On Sept. 30, CBC launched the new season with a presentation of its new visual identity and themed evenings approach. Harold Redekopp, EVP of CBC TV, said at the launch: ‘In the 500-channel universe, CBC TV will stand out as Canada’s own. The new visual identity gives clarity and coherence to the look of both CBC TV and CBC Newsworld and brings the two networks into the same visual family.’

Zerbisias does agree that the new logo, which is a remodeled version of the old, gives the station a much cleaner look. ‘What CBC wanted to do was eliminate logo pile-up and they have succeeded in this,’ she says. ‘Sometimes you used to see a local news logo with CNN, CBC Newsworld and CBC TV logos all piled up together, and it was very distracting.’

CBC fell behind the other networks in promoting its new season early in the fall. ‘They devoted so much time to news coverage of the Sept. 11 disaster that it would have been quite inappropriate to start pushing their new season at the same time,’ says John Doyle, TV columnist at the Globe and Mail. However, he predicts that the new identity will be well-received.

‘CBC has a good knack of persuading viewers that if they want the true Canadian opinion, this is the channel to watch,’ he says.

Chuck Thompson, director of TV promotions at CBC, says that all advertising around the new-look network will reflect a themed approach. ‘We’re aiming to bring viewers in for the night, rather than for a particular show,’ he says.

Global’s new brand identity was launched on Sept. 1. ‘After the acquisition of BCTV this year, we wanted to create an entirely consistent on-air package that would reflect our new network and all the different types of programming,’ says David Hamilton, VP of promotions and publicity at Global. ‘So we introduced an everyman character to our on-air promotions, that everyone could relate to.’

Global’s updated look, which maintains its familiar half-moon logo and now includes a figure in black and white, is not as clear as the CBC identity, according to Zerbisias. ‘It’s pretty to look at but I don’t get what the message is,’ she says.

According to Zak Mroueh, creative director at TAXI Advertising and Design in Toronto, the one advertising strategy that set Global apart from its competitors was a videotape sent out by direct mail to promote the new season. The tape, which is a cross-promotional effort with the National Post, illustrates the new programs and links.

Some 750,000 tapes were sent out to subscribers of the National Post and other Southam publications. ‘I thought this was a good idea and it certainly made the channel stand out from the others,’ says Mroueh. However, he adds: ‘It did go on for too long. I lost interest after the first couple of minutes.’

Zerbisias argues that Global has not made a strong impression on its viewers. ‘On the publicity side, CanWest Global [doesn't] do anything to make the network stand out from the crowd.’

Randy Stein, creative director at Palmer Jarvis DDB in Vancouver, believes that all the networks are struggling to create a strong brand presence. ‘I have noticed some advertising by CTV and Global, although I couldn’t be sure what their messages are,’ he says. ‘It’s all a bit of a blur. A lot of people are confused about which shows are on which networks, and that is something [the nets] are all trying to combat.

‘All the networks are having a tough time at the moment and I really don’t know what the easy solution would be,’ he continues.

However, Stein believes that Global has made the best attempt to draw viewers in with its billboard advertising campaign, although again the messages were confusing, he says.

‘The posters really stand out and make the point that some of the shows have been moved around, although it just left me wondering why this is good for me,’ he says.

Global’s Hamilton says that outdoor advertising is an important part of Global’s strategy to promote prime-time shows. Radio spots are also used, together with occasional print advertising. ‘We are still getting back to normal after a staggered start to the season, but generally the launch has been well-received,’ he says.

Marketing efforts at CTV were completely stifled last month. TV guides were rendered redundant and advertising around the station came to a standstill. ‘Everything was in a state of flux,’ says Rick Lewchuck, SVP, program planning and promotions at CTV. Things are starting to get back to normal now, although CTV is still avoiding print and billboard advertising, to allow for day-by-day modifications.

‘We are using a lot of our own air-time to advertise, as well as radio spots in key areas such as Toronto and Vancouver,’ says Lewchuck. ‘We are very pleased with the way the season is progressing now.’

The Globe’s Doyle feels that established introductory spots, such as the bouncing ball, give CTV a slight edge in drawing in viewers. ‘These well-known spots have been used successfully to promote new shows, returning shows and specials,’ he says.

Perhaps it’s a question of the promotion not keeping up with the boundary-pushing competition. According to Doyle, none of Canada’s main networks can really hope to compete with the U.S’s Fox Network in terms of individual brand identity. ‘Fox has created a niche for itself as a wacky alternative to the other U.S. networks,’ he says. ‘It really pushes the envelope around its promotions, while the Canadian broadcasters are far more conservative in their approach.’