The TV medium gets the message

You're nothing without personality, and these days every product from toilet paper to text-messaging has to have it.
TV channels, perhaps more used to being the vehicle for other people's messages, have known this for years. But movement on the branding front indicates that on-air branding has recently been upgraded from 'desirable' to 'necessary.'

You’re nothing without personality, and these days every product from toilet paper to text-messaging has to have it.

TV channels, perhaps more used to being the vehicle for other people’s messages, have known this for years. But movement on the branding front indicates that on-air branding has recently been upgraded from ‘desirable’ to ‘necessary.’

WTN just rebranded itself (for a second time) to a younger, bolder W; CBC overhauled its entire on-air package this season; Global has recently refreshed its look; and ROBTv will unveil new graphics and music, courtesy of CTV, on April 29.

That, along with the flurry of last-minute branding as the 50-plus digital specialty channels launched this past fall, and everybody’s talking on-air branding.

‘You hear it all the time now. It’s the vocabulary everybody tosses around,’ says Brian Neal, director of creative services for Global Television Network.

However, it’s not just fragmentation and increased channel competition behind the push, says Slawko Klymkiw, executive director, network programming at CBC Television. ‘It is also personal video recorders, direct to home satellite, the explosion of the Internet and the whole issue of the information age. Choice became dynamic and the issue became more important.’

These days, says Klymkiw, ‘stations have to very carefully define themselves – their essence or soul – so that people can quickly understand. If you can’t do it, given the oppressive number of choices out there, survival becomes a question.’

That’s fine for specialties, like the Food Network or HGTV, which are narrowly themed and therefore easy to brand, but does it make sense for mainstream broadcasters?

‘Specialties by definition are a destination,’ says Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle. ‘However, it is difficult for over-the-air broadcasters to promote themselves as a destination, because they are obliged to be all things to all people.’

Rick Lewchuk, senior VP, program, planning & promotion at CTV, agrees. ‘The Comedy Network is very vertical and to identify it as comedy is pretty easy, compared to the horizontal nature of a network. Different viewers come to us for different things – news, drama, sports. It is very difficult to brand horizontally.’

Difficult it may be, but CBC had to at least give it a shot. ‘We took a long hard look in the mirror,’ says Klymkiw. ‘Over the last 10 years, we saw our share [of viewing] going down and down – even with simulcasts, even with popular American programming – although in the last two years it started to rebound.’

Along with introducing themed nights for information, drama, comedy, sports, arts and children’s programming, the CBC branding team went through a formal process with branding specialist Razorfish of New York. This was where branding attributes such as ‘high impact,’ ‘highly distinct,’ ‘nation-sharing,’ and ‘responsibly challenging’ were refined.

They were also looking for consistency across both channels (CBC and Newsworld) and sub-brands (news and sports). The big ‘N’ for Newsworld is gone. The station is now called CBCNewsworld and uses the same logo in red, blue and white as the network’s master brand. CBC unveiled its sports version of the new identity at the beginning of hockey playoffs April 17, and a new look for children’s programming is underway.

CBC creative director Mary-Jo Osborn adds that the broadcaster is also adopting leading-edge technology to produce ‘animating tabs’ over the program content that will be able to flag what’s coming up ‘to keep people tuned and help the flow.’ It will be launched with the new fall season.

While CBC adjusts its horizontal hold and fine tunes its offerings, Klymkiw sees broadcasting in general getting narrower when it comes to style and demographics.

Global’s youth-skewing programming is an example (see ‘Who’s got personality?’ on page 18). The broadcaster recently updated its on-air package in-house, while staying true to basics established in a package developed by English TV brand specialist Lambie-Nairn in 1997.

The fishes and loons turning into the crescent-shaped logo have been replaced by silhouetted male and female figures running, jumping and spinning with a red ball that turns into the logo. Neal says the IDs are designed to be ‘entertaining pauses,’ keeping with the net’s fun and entertaining image.

Theresa Treutler, SVP, broadcast investment director at Starcom Worldwide in Toronto, embraces the added value that multi-platform branding provides (see page 18), but she has doubts about the branding efforts of mainstream broadcasters.

‘From a broadcaster’s standpoint, I completely understand the tremendous need to brand their product and differentiate it from the crowd, because it is closely linked to viewer loyalty,’ she says. ‘However, from the consumer’s standpoint, viewers watch programs, not networks.’

For instance, Treutler recalls that respondents filling out BBM diaries would get the name of the program right, but often miss or mistake what network it was on. ‘So you wonder just how effective network branding is.’

CTV’s Lewchuk agrees that people generally watch by show – so that’s how the network branded itself. The well-established IDs feature Hollywood stars from the shows interacting with the red circle from the CTV logo. (In all the promo spots, red is for entertainment and blue is for news.)

When Baton Broadcasting bought CTV in 1997, the net conducted cross-country research and Lewchuk was one of the execs behind the glass mirror. He learned, for instance, that less than 6% of those interviewed could identify ER as a CTV program, seeming to bear out the show-versus-network conundrum.

After working with television branding specialist Pittard Sullivan, based in New York and Los Angeles, the network launched the visual brand that we see today. This includes the flowing red silks over grand Canadian vistas (wheat fields, the Rockies, etc.), dubbed ‘hero IDs.’

CTV then went back into the field eight months after the launch with the same base questions in order to measure the brand’s effectiveness. The recognition level jumped sky high, from 6% to 60%. ‘It happened that fast.’

So the answer is yes, says Lewchuk. You can brand a network successfully.