Just when we thought we knew how to make television, the whole screen turns upside down. And multiplies!
This week, some of the best, most creative marketing minds will be gathering in New York for the annual Promax/BDA event. Typically, attendees listen to the creative industry’s leaders talk about new directions in brand strategy, design and promotion. It’s a time to catch our collective breath and exchange ideas about how to strengthen television brands. This year there is a lot to talk about. Television brands are being influenced by a number of factors: multiple platforms, shared messaging and product placement. The opportunities — and questions — are open-ended.
Every media company now absolutely must have a multiplatform or “transmedia” strategy. How a brand is extrapolated into HD, VOD, broadband channels and Web sites, DVR, mobile and interactive is on everyone’s mind. Before, promotion on alternate screens was meant to keep the audience coming back to the linear channel. Now that the channel brand is being delivered everywhere, the new metric is to increase the take-time with the brand—wherever it is. The goal is to extend the brand experience and to create a more immersive, and maybe even an alternate, complementary experience.
To be successful, every brand manager must understand how and when the audience wants to use these new screens. He also must know what the capabilities and encumbrances of the new screens are. What can be done on the interactive platform? How small can we go on the mobile device? How should we promote from screen to screen? Most important, how do we maintain the integrity of the brand on every screen? The explorations and subsequent rules are being written at this very minute.
The popularity of DVR and podcasts is indicative of the viewers’ demands: convenience and accessibility. In its first year, iTunes sold 45 million downloads. This raises an interesting question about shows and network brands: How does the brand manager package a network so that, when shows are migrated from the network to a DVR or a podcast, the network relevance stays intact?
The network as the trusted aggregator needs to be implicit in the new viewing experience of its show, especially alongside content from other networks. That raises serious network packaging considerations. The folks at Bravo seem to be thinking about this; just take a look at a show like “Top Design” and you’ll see the show’s packaging closely reflects that of the network. Standing alone, it’s quite clear that “Top Design” originated on Bravo.
New screens aren’t the only focus today. On the linear TV screen, care is taken to provide a seamless viewer experience between programs and breaks. Maintaining the mood from content to commercial, we achieve stronger brand definition and keep the viewer for advertising and promotional messages.
When The CW launched last fall, it combined its new network look and the season premiere of “America’s Next Top Model” with breaks for which it created content about New York Fashion Week. This content was wrapped in the new CW package and included an advertiser. The mood held from show to break, and by blurring the lines between network ID and ads, the viewer got an added bit of content, all owned by The CW.
Yes, the product is changing, and subsequently the programming, promotion and advertiser roles are blurring. With any new trend comes the need for internal and external teams to re-examine their strategies and adjust accordingly. Who’s leading the new initiatives — promotion, ad sales, programming and/or marketing? Who is looking out for the brand itself, when the message vehicle is shared by additional brands? What proportion of the brand is shared with the advertiser? The internal, formerly well-defined territories of programming, promotion, marketing and ad sales are starting to get fuzzy. In addition, there are many new skill sets needed, such as Web development and interactive support, to help navigate this more complex media landscape.
A close friend, colleague and true leader in the area of brand strategy, Lee Hunt, has said the goal of brand strategy is “to find the common ground among departments—programming, advertising, distribution, etc.—and to create a brand position that is clearly defined, differentiated and relevant to all stakeholders and their constituents.” This is true for those tasked with packaging a transmedia brand today.
And there’s more to come. Just watch what happens when a brand like “American Idol” goes transmedia and advertiser messages become more embedded in the content. The lines between the program and the advertising will be more blurred than ever. Add to that the new “pro-social” or charitable trend networks and media companies are getting involved with and you’ve got even more complexities to deal with.
With all the complications the new transmedia landscape is presenting to all of us in the branding and marketing business, one thing is going to be very clear at this year’s Promax/BDA conference: We’re all going to be busy for quite some time.
Lori Pate is an internationally known television designer and executive producer. She heads Lori Pate+, which connects media clients to the industry’s strategic and creative professionals.