Lifetime Put Brand on Female Demo

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

It may be hard to remember, but Lifetime was not always “Television for Women.” For the first half of its 20-year history, the channel offered an eclectic blend of alternative programming aimed primarily at parents and physicians (remember Lifetime Medical Television?). The rebranded Lifetime did not show up until the 1995 Western Cable Show, when the channel unveiled a fresh look, supported by a national advertising campaign.
The decision to change necessitated a true leap of faith. Critics warned the channel would likely lose half its audience.
“You have to remember that, at that time, television was still dominated by general entertainment networks, but looking back, it was the smartest thing we could have done,” said Rick Haskins, executive VP and general manager, Lifetime Entertainment Services, and the guy in charge of building the Lifetime brand.
Since honing its focus on females, Lifetime has developed into one of the strongest brands on television, especially among its target audience. The Lifetime mission, Mr. Haskins said, is to entertain, inform and support women on issues that are relevant to their lives. Lifetime, he added, wants to be a woman’s best friend. It’s a message that appears to resonate well.
“Among the 82 networks that we analyzed, Lifetime ranked eighth for overall brand equity,” said media analyst Jack Myers, who just completed a research project on network branding. The results, to be published in late April, show the Lifetime brand to be among television’s leaders in viewer loyalty and among viewers who say they are more likely to pay attention to commercials on the channel.
Lifetime employs one of the industry’s most extensive ongoing research schemes to stay on top of what women think.
“There is not a week that goes by that we don’t have some kind of focus group with viewers, talking to them, understanding them and listening to what they have to say,” Mr. Haskins said. In one recent week, the company listened to viewers in Orlando, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo., talk about programming and marketing topics.
“Our groundwork is that people know if it’s Lifetime, it’s going to be heartfelt, honest, true-to-life and relatable,” Mr. Haskins said.
Lifetime’s brand strength has enabled the successful launch of two additional television channels-Lifetime Movie Network in 1998 and Lifetime Real Women in 2001-and a Web site, Lifetimetv.com. The company launched Lifetime magazine in April 2003.
“We don’t look at these as disparate or different products. They are all part of the Lifetime brand, and each of them has a consistent brand statement,” Mr. Haskins said.
Brand extension can be a dicey proposition, and Lifetime has at times stumbled. Mr. Haskins pulled the plug on a branded credit card in 1999 and later put the kibosh on plans to develop a series of health spas that would carry the Lifetime moniker.
The real success of Lifetime’s brand extensions will be measured in how well the company can convert brand strength into advertising dollars. Having a presence in television, print and online opens the door to the development of integrated marketing packages that can grab a bigger share of an advertiser’s budget.
As media choices grow and audiences become more fragmented, brand strength will become ever more important to advertisers looking to reach fickle consumers.
“Fragmentation is forcing advertisers to use other metrics, so over the next few years, things like loyalty and attentiveness are going to take on a much higher value to them,” Mr. Myers said.
Lifetime has a lot at stake. Competitors such as Home & Garden Television, TLC, E! and Oxygen are all trying to lay claim to a portion of Lifetime’s audience. The Lifetime TV network shot to the top of the Nielsen household ratings in 2001 but has fallen back of late. Season-to-date (through March 21), Lifetime has drawn an average household rating of 1.5 in its coverage universe.
Though household numbers have flagged somewhat, Lifetime remains the top-rated network among women age 18 to 49 in both prime time (1.0 rating) and total day (0.8). Lifetime Movie Network is not far behind (0.4 prime time/0.3 total day).
Mr. Haskins sees brand strength as a key component to attracting the next generation of television viewers.
“Having that strength elevates you into a position where viewers are going to be more likely to try you out. It gives us a step up in a crowded, competitive marketplace,” he said.