Is rebranding just squaring a circle?

The BBC has rebranded its two main channels, and now Channel 5 and ITV1 are following suit. Is all this activity necessary? asks Amanda Wilkinson

By the end of this year, we will have seen identity changes at four out of the five UK terrestrial channels. BBC1 launched its new look with groups of red-dressed dancers earlier this year, to cries of political correctness gone mad. BBC2 has also had a makeover.

And last week, at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Channel 5 unveiled its first new onand off-air look since its launch in 1997. The rebranding of Five comes at a time when the channel’s majority shareholder, Luxembourg-based RTL, is planning to boost the programming budget in a move designed to keep chief executive Dawn Airey from defecting to ITV. The channel’s old logo – a brash, five-colour bar below a circle containing the figure 5 – and its cheeky image will be replaced, from September 16, by a clean and “contemporary” look, using a palette of 25 colours based on the five primary colours of the original identity, and a new logo.

Fifteen channel idents have been created, featuring people doing everyday activities such as driving and doing push-ups, designed to create empathy with viewers. On-air programme promos will use copywritten type overlaid with soundbites from the shows and music to add warmth and mood. Off-air print and poster advertising supporting the channel’s autumn programmes will adopt the same look and feel, using the tagline “see five”. The campaign has been created by TBWA/London with copy being written by Trevor Beattie and Bill Bungy.

The industry is also awaiting ITV1’s new look, due to be unveiled by marketing and commercial director Jim Hytner in October. The heart-shaped idents carrying the names of the ITV regions are expected to go, with some reports suggesting they will be replaced with a “talent-led” look, featuring the stars of ITV’s programmes. The relaunch will be accompanied by a major marketing push for the autumn schedule. ITV1 will advertise for the first time on satellite channels, to attract young people and light viewers of the channel.

Before his move to ITV, Hytner was in part responsible for the image that Channel 5 has projected in recent years, building on the five-colour bar devised for the channel by its launch marketing team of David Brook and Polly Cochrane, both of whom are now at Channel 4.

Channel 5 marketing and communications director David Pullan, who joined from MTV at the beginning of this year, has made it clear that he wants to steer away from the “in your face” approach and to introduce an identity that reflects the fact that the entertainment channel’s programming has grown up.

While films and sport continue to make up a significant part of the schedule, the soft porn has been played down under new director of programmes Kevin Lygo. US crime dramas such as CSI have been introduced and a greater emphasis has been placed on documentaries.

But one industry insider says of Channel 5’s new look: “I think there’s quite a lot of Channel 4 here. Strategically, it’s about being street smart. It feels very cool and youth-oriented, but I don’t know what that will mean to the channel’s older viewers.”

It is no surprise that Channel 5′ s new identity is, in some people’s eyes, influenced partly by Channel 4’s. The same design agency – Spin – was responsible for both looks.

The only channel which is not changing its look this year is Channel 4. Its current branding was created more than three years ago.

Cochrane, who is now managing director for marketing and 4creative at Channel 4, says: “Changing your look simply because everyone else has done it is not a great idea, particularly in a climate when we are trying to ensure the maximum amount of money goes into programming.

“The identity should and will evolve. It’s something that we never stop questioning. But we haven’t got anything in development.”

She adds that there is little point in changing an identity merely for the sake of it, while, by contrast, there is definite merit in producing a look that achieves longevity.

Some argue that change for the sake of it is what BBC1 has done in moving from the globe to the balloon and then to the dancers – the latter having been described as “irritating”, “patronising” and “contrived”.

But BBC marketing and communications director Andy Duncan says the idents reflect real people in multicultural Britain and are designed to stand out in a complex multi-channel environment while fitting in with the BBC’s corporate branding.

He adds: “We are trying to achieve real integrated thinking at the BBC, with a single BBC master brand, out of which come TV channels, radio and the Internet.”

Elsewhere, industry observers are agreed that Channel 5 has good reason to adopt a new image, but some are doubtful about ITV1’s move.

Carat broadcast planning director David Peters says: “I think Channel 5 has genuinely changed in the past 18 months in terms of content. It is appropriate, when the content has changed, to rebrand.

“But I would be deeply cynical about ITV1’s new identity unless there is a shift in what it is doing as a channel. The content is not good and as a result viewers are moving away.”

Content might be primarily responsible for attracting audiences, but in a multi-channel world it pays to remind viewers which channel they are watching. On-air trailers and idents play a crucial role in doing just that. Their value is extremely difficult to quantify, but one industry source, using a valuation for all adults based on average deal prices, estimates that the level of exposure on BBC1 and BBC2 is worth &£220m, on Channel 4 &£50m, ITV1 &£162m and on Channel 5 &£29m.

To achieve brand recognition in a multi-channel world, it pays to have a distinctive look that can be evolved easily and creatively to reflect a channel’s content and positioning.

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