Guest Commentary: Clear, Concise Branding Can Help in Tough Times

Mar 29, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Harsh economic times, coupled with the surge of content distribution across multiple platforms, may have you wondering if network branding still matters.
Network executives cutting budgets may find themselves asking what is truly necessary. In tough economic times people want to escape, and what your entertainment brand has to say could make the difference in where they escape to.
What is necessary? An extensive traditional branding campaign may seem a stretch in this economic climate, but silence can be deadly and relays a message as well—likely the wrong message.
On the flip side, over-promising and not delivering on a brand message may be worse than saying nothing. Once a viewer has been disappointed, it’s much harder to get him to sample your network again, especially with so many other outlets for entertainment.
The inherent challenge posed by consumer defection to broadband and multi-device television-to-go makes finding a balance crucial. So how can entertainment brands compete effectively?
One thing that hasn’t changed with regard to brand messaging in today’s tight economy and multiplatform environment is the value of a simple, concise brand message:
Say it clearly. Say it often. Say it consistently.
A successful example of clear, consistent messaging is the Showtime brand. With original series like “Dexter,” “Weeds” and “Californication” becoming breakout hits, Showtime defines itself as the home for edgy, quality original series.
The network puts a lot of energy into branding these series as Showtime Originals, supporting that effort on-air and online with the message “TV. At its best.” This was instrumental in establishing Showtime’s reputation as a consistent source for original series with an edge.
So you have a message that is simple and clear—what next?
It is also critical that the brand message be expressed in a unique manner that is relevant to the viewer.
The recent Cartoon Network rebrand embraces the essence of cartoons by focusing on the characters in a fresh way. This branding effort works on a variety of levels and incorporates characters like Tom & Jerry and Cow & Chicken, appealing to a broad range of viewers.
Going a step further, Cartoon Network collaborated with Kid Robot, a retailer of limited-edition art toys and apparel, to integrate the “Nood” as the brand vehicle. The effort brought together cartoon characters from shows without competing with or detracting from their identities. This fresh approach created a quick, simple statement that expressed Cartoon’s essence.
If we know what we’re saying and how we should say it, the next question is where we want our voice to be heard. No network brand should ignore the opportunities of today’s multiplatform landscape, but how can that be done without cannibalizing traditional audiences?
The key lies in creating a circular relationship that will direct and feed viewers back and forth from one platform to another.
ABC’s “Go” campaign, for example, succeeds in communicating to viewers that the network’s programming is available both online and on mobile devices. ABC also has taken the lead in engaging viewers with its shows through text messaging and SMS voting applications. ABC’s multi-device messaging approach finds equal appeal among adventurous, tech-savvy consumers and traditional TV viewers.
Another example of effective circular movement is NBC’s campaign for Hulu.com. Using self-deprecating humor, the spot reminded viewers that TV softens the brain and Hulu.com can help you soften your brain faster, for free. It effectively drives viewers to and from multiple entertainment sources that feed and support each other.
Where your brand lives in today’s environment and who it is talking to plays a major role in determining its best messaging strategy. The key is to always have something to say to your viewer and make sure they are talking about you.
Elaine Cantwell is founder and creative director of the Los Angeles-based Spark creative group.


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