Brand X 

1 August 2001

ITV has become ITV1, SkySports.comTV has reverted to being known as Sky Sports News – two recent examples of just how important the correct brand is to television stations and networks. But branding isn’t just the station name, it’s also everything that identifies the station as being what it is. So, just why is the brand so important?

One reason is to help viewers build a familiarity with the station. Westward’s brand was a very strong one in the South West of England, and indeed still is, despite the fact that it disappeared from our TV screens at the end of 1981. Why is it so strong? One reason is that although Westward changed their idents a few times, they never changed their symbol – it was always the Golden Hind – and the continual use of this symbol for 20 years meant that people built a familiarity with it. Every time that ship appeared on the screen, you knew you were watching Westward. Another thing that helped build familiarity was the regular team of station hosts, otherwise known as Continuity Announcers. When Roger Shaw told you that now on Westward was The Avengers, again, you knew you were watching Westward, because his face and voice became associated with Westward, and many years later, TSW as well. Familiar faces, familiar voices and a familiar symbol, amongst other things, helped to create a very strong brand for Westward, one which survives almost 20 years of disuse. By way of an aside, in the United States, consumers regularly rate General Electric second out of 10 manufacturers for Blenders. The company stopped manufacturing white goods of this type more than 20 years ago. A powerful and quality brand is self-perpetuating.

Another reason why brand is so important is that it helps identify the sort of programming you can expect. Cartoon Network shows nothing but cartoons, Discovery Channel is all about documentaries, Disney Channel is children’s and family entertainment, brands like that are familiar and give a good idea what the station is about. But what about a brand like Boomerang? Now what kind of channel is that? It sounds like something to do with Australia or thrown weapons. In fact, Boomerang shows classic cartoons, such as Tom and Jerry, Droopy and Barney Bear. But again, if you’d never heard of the channel before, would you know that it showed classic cartoons? Possibly not, which is why it was initially introduced to the viewing public as a strand of programming on Cartoon Network, before it was launched as a separate channel.

Getting brands associated with whatever the channel wants you to associate it with, has always been a problem. Before 1956, would anyone have associated the word Granada with the North or North West of England? Possibly not, but it is now, and has been for quite some time, associated with the north. On the other hand, could you associate Rediffusion with any particular part of the country? Possibly not, because in the station name, there is no geographical indication of where the channel broadcasts or in this case, broadcasted, to. That’s why from about 1964, you saw the words Rediffusion London on screen, in order to build that kind of association. EuroNews or EuroSport have a similar kind of association, but this time you know they broadcast right across Europe, because of the Euro in their name. Other station names, such as Thames, Southern, Grampian and Ulster, are geographic names, in order to gain the respect of the local audiences. Names like that have a distinct advantage over names without any such geographic reference, such as Rediffusion, ABC, ATV or Carlton. Also names that are based on the programming that’s on the channel, such as Sky Sports 1, UK Gold, Travel Channel and BBC Knowledge have an advantage over channels where the name of the channel has no immediate reference to the programming, such as Q, Hallmark, Trouble and Bravo.

So, if you want your brand to stand out from the crowd, especially in today’s very crowded multi-channel market, you need every advantage you can get. Just having your logo permanently on screen all the time won’t cut it any more. Not distinctive enough, everybody’s doing it. You need to make your station symbol, ident or logo very distinctive, something that will grab your viewers attention. You need to have your announcers present it distinctively, you have to promo your station and programmes consistently and judiciously, so that you’re viewer doesn’t think they’ve seen everything the programme or channel might have to offer. But most importantly, the brand has to become familiar in people’s minds fairly quickly, and the brand has to be respected, otherwise your potential audience might not turn to your channel and that will prove disastrous.

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