If ITV were a soap powder, the marketing team would lead its entire programme development. There would be no point launching a new series of ITV daytime detergent tablets, for example, unless the marketing director agreed that there was a profitable enough market for them and they proved to be a good fit with ITV soap’s carefully-guarded brand values.
TV is not in the consumer goods market. Yet as media fragments and several new channels come on air, senior TV executives have started to realise that in order to survive, they need to adopt the characteristics and management practices of strong brands.
However, there is still resistance at ground level and a distinct lack of dialogue between programme makers, schedulers and marketers. Programming creatives in the media world are still suspicious of branding and the British media also retains many of the cottage industry characteristics of its origins.
Most media brands are under-used, and many are not developed brands at all, just channels or programmes. Some recent research we conducted shows that few brands stand out, with notable exceptions including the BBC, Channel 4 and Disney. Those which don’t score highly include ITV and the regional ITV companies.
At its most basic, a distinctive image is an important factor which helps audiences choose one channel over another. This is where niche channels score highly. For example, it is clear that MTV is synonymous with music TV and that Nickelodeon means kids with attitude. In both cases, programming reinforces these channels’ core brand strengths and images.
ITV, with its attractive new logo, may think of itself as a strong brand. But it is more difficult for mass terrestrial channels, such as ITV, to achieve strong branding. The main reason is the pressure they feel under to be everything to everyone while, in fact, satisfying no one.
ITV has strong awareness, but does it have a clear image? At channel level, ITV is not a strong brand, and until recently, its programming has not reinforced it. In fact, both ITV and the BBC could be said to be guilty of developing bland programming – docu-soaps being a good example – which does little to build brand values. With a more centralised and audience-focused management that may change. A new logo is merely icing on the cake.
Brands sustain success over a long period of time as a result of the vision of their management, plus the commitment to realise that vision. That is why Disney is a strong brand. Disney’s management seeks to reinforce its image and impress us in the same way time after time, through its programming, its channels, its merchandise, its theme parks, even its engaging logo – those ubiquitous Mickey Mouse ears. Disney is a brand that reaches us in many ways. However, ITV struggles to be anything more than a TV station.