Branding Sacred Cows 

1 July 2002

Andrew Bowden sees all change at ITV in this article written back in early 2002

It can’t have escaped many people’s notice that ITV hasn’t been particularly been doing very well of late. Its fall has been a particularly steep one, and in an attempt to raise its fortunes the network has announced it will be pumping more money into programming and giving the network a facelift.

To the world of the marketer, branding is everything. Get your brand right, and you’re half way there. ITV’s Head of Marketing Jim Hytner, recently poached from Channel 5, has laid his cards on the table: ITV’s brand is weak and ineffective.

In 1998 ITV unveiled its second attempt at a generic corporate identity, with a new ITV logo introduced.

Not long after, a new ident packages appeared with regional names appearing above the new ITV logo on idents, although disappearing from trailers and adverts.

In an amazing fit of irony, the increased emphasis on the ITV brand coincided with some of the worst performances by the ITV companies in history, as ratings plummeted, viewers switched over to BBC One, and advertisers stayed away in their droves.

To add to the problems, there was the failed rebranding of OnDigital as ITV Digital, which ended in the closure of the Carlton and Granada company, leaving thousands of its pay TV customers without their extra channels and out of pocket.

ITV’s name had been dragged through the mud and the network needed help. It was make or break time, hence the announcement that the new Head of Marketing had decided to scrap the dual branding approach for the network, moving instead to pushing just the ITV1 name.

The regional names will continue to be seen on screen, but only before regional programming. As one ITV spokesperson put it “it will either be Tyne Tees or ITV1, but never both together”. The new regional idents will even be standardised, being designed as part of the whole package to fit in with the generic ITV1 idents.

Whether this is the right move for the network is another matter. Opponents to the scheme can easily point to be sorry state of the ITV brand, combined with the fact that the regional names it is set to replace have been much stronger.

Supporters could simply point to ITV’s mish-mash of brands over the years, which, it is claimed, means it is difficult to advertise programmes nationally in the press and on billboards.

Not that this particular issue has ever been a problem before – the viewer has never had a real problem with associating Tyne Tees or LWT with ITV, with most people using the ITV name and the name of their regional contractor interchangeably, never really noticing, yet alone questioning the difference. Of course the marketing people think it matters, and in an industry which now seems to hold branding in higher regard than programmes, it is not surprising that this is an argument that has been discounted.

However, its fair to say that you can design whatever clothes you want, but you can’t always get people to wear them.

Despite what many in the media seem to believe, ITV is more than just Carlton and Granada. Whilst the two giants seem very keen to push ahead with the single brand, its less clear what the independents – SMG (owner of Grampian and Scottish), UTV and Channel – will make of using the ITV1 name.

None of these companies were particularly impressed with the 1999 ITV revamp – SMG and UTV did their utmost to ignore it as much as possible. Channel did take the 1999 branding, but refused to introduce the ITV1 brand name later. As ITV2 wasn’t then available in the Channel Islands, the company decided the move made little sense.

Hytner’s original plan was to scrap regional names altogether, but due to ‘political reasons’ within ITV, this option wasn’t taken up. However it is still difficult to see how Scottish, Grampian and UTV can all become ITV1 overnight, after years of ignoring the ITV brand name.

Whilst recent events have seen ITV2 arrive in Scotland and Northern Ireland, replacing S2 and UTV2, this has mainly been down to cost savings rather than the companies signing up with enthusiasm to the ITV family brand.

There could even be problems from outside the realm of television. The devolved governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland may cause a fuss at what would look like the loss of their own broadcasters.

A similar problem could arise in Wales where Carlton baulked at the idea of rebranding HTV under the Carlton name, citing HTV’s role as a national broadcaster as the reason for the company keeping its own identity.

The problem isn’t particularly clear cut in England either. Using regional station names in front of just regional programming only really makes sense when that name has some strong regional links – something it’s not easy to claim for Carlton-owned Westcountry and Central.

The Carlton name popping up only before Westcountry Live doesn’t seem to make much sense, and it’s more than possible that the two regions will have their original names restored.

Over at Granada Media, there’s less room to argue. With continuity for six of the companies coming from sites in Southampton and Leeds, a single ITV1 brand name on screen suddenly makes life at the two transmission centres much easier.

Why play out six lots of different announcements, when one could do instead. The move could see a reduced role for Southampton, with all continuity coming from Leeds instead. Or vice versa.

If any company is likely to buck the trend within Granada Media, it’s LWT. The London weekend franchise owner has shown a great deal of independence since its ‘merger’ with its Manchester-based rival, and the company quickly dropped the 1999 rebrand in favour of its own take on the corporate look. But there is also more at stake for the station – its necessary individuality.

The scrapping of the regional names would lead to LWT looking exactly like its weekday rival. Whilst LWT has always been keen to play the ITV card in the past, it has been able to do so in the full knowledge that its own brand name is highly visible onscreen.

With a change to using just ITV1, London could be about to loose its weekend contractor completely.

Whether the rebrand will have any effect at all is another matter. A cynic would rightly say that the quality of the programmes are far more important than what label you stick in front of them.

Given that ITV1 has been increasingly relying on a few stock favourites like Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire to pad out the schedules, ITV should probably spend more time thinking about making television programmes that inspire people to watch, rather than how they’re going to brand it all.

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