FORUM: Can Channel 4’s new marketer extend the brand? - As the former Channel 5 marketing boss, David Brook, begins his Channel 4 assignment, he will have branded merchandise on his mind. Is television brand extension overrated? Or is there scope

There was a time, not so long ago, when a simple question, such as ’What’s on the telly tonight?’, provoked a simple answer, not a lengthy monologue. A time when a TV listings guide was a single sheet of paper on which was printed a short list of programmes and times.

There was a time, not so long ago, when a simple question, such as

’What’s on the telly tonight?’, provoked a simple answer, not a lengthy

monologue. A time when a TV listings guide was a single sheet of paper

on which was printed a short list of programmes and times.



Nowadays, couch potatoes need the manual dexterity of touch typists to

cope with all the programming choice, and increasingly the stations are

the stars. Even before Channel 5 launched, it was happy to tell the

media about the one really important point of difference from its

competitors; no, not its programming or scheduling, more the fact that

it would have its very own marketing supremo. The station managed to

attract David Brook from the Guardian.



He got the Spice Girls and the rest is, well, if not history at least

not the catastrophic failure we have come to expect of media

launches.



Last week, Brook moved to Channel 4 with a brief to extend the brand

into other areas such as publishing, videos and merchandising. ITV, too,

has ordered its own marketing rethink, showing its seriousness by

raiding Procter & Gamble for a marketing director. But the truth is, we

have only just become used to the idea of TV stations as brands. Are we

already at a point where we can start talking about brand extensions as

well?



Channel 4’s head of sales, Andy Barnes, understandably, has few

doubts.



’None of the TV stations have done any more than scratch the surface of

this whole area,’ he says. ’The BBC has probably gone furthest, and it’s

now got 16 magazines, but the scope for all of us is enormous. There has

been such a train of cash coming through from spot revenue that we

haven’t really had to look elsewhere but, with increasing fragmentation,

that is bound to be pegged back, and we are going to see not just books

and magazines, but things like holidays sold off the screen. The

possibilities are endless.’



The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ TV spokesman, Bob

Wootton, isn’t so sure that TV companies have quite as strong a

connection with their viewers as they think they have. ’ISBA is made up

of companies that recognise the importance of branding and so we are

likely to applaud any steps that TV is making in this direction. But it

is a more complicated process than it appears. In fact, any TV station

is two different brands, with completely separate holds on the consumer.

One part is the station itself with its on-screen personality. David

Brook at Channel 5 created a distinct look, for example, but in reality

this is a weak brand relationship, only as good as the last programme,’

he says.



’The really close relationship is between the programme and the

customer. This is more like the relationship customers have with their

chocolate bar, and is ripe for the sort of brand extension - magazines,

videos and so on - that David Brook is talking about doing at Channel 4.

The relationship viewers have with the station, on the other hand, is

much less committed.’



Zenith Media’s chief executive, Graham Duff, also expresses caution

about the channel’s ability to make its own brand name add any value to

the programmes it shows.



’All TV marketing should start from the basic premise that they are

trying to attract the very best audience for their programmes -

obviously that can mean the biggest audience, but it can also mean the

best quality audience.



As the first step, all the marketing effort should be concentrated on

delivering audiences. The sort of corporate ’jerk-off’ advertising and

marketing that the channels actually do might be appreciated by the ad

industry but I’m sure it isn’t attractive to the general public. There’s

no doubt that David Brook has created a distinct brand image at Channel

5 as far as the London ad industry is concerned. Whether that extends to

the people who actually watch the station, I’m not so sure,’ he

says.



George Michaelides, a partner at Michaelides & Bednash, worked on the

Channel 5 launch and has no doubts that we are right at the beginning of

an explosion both in TV brands and brand extensions. He comments:

’Because of increasing media fragmentation, it’s getting even more

important for TV stations in general to develop themselves as cultural

brands such as Tango, Nike or Body Shop - brands with a bit of attitude

that people can relate to. Tango could launch a TV station tomorrow and

it would do well because it has those brand values. TV channels are shop

windows and the way they are dressed can make a real difference to the

success of the station. A show like Absolutely Fabulous will do half the

audience on BBC 2 as it will on BBC 1 because there will always be some

people for whom BBC 2 is just a bit much to make it their first choice.

Similarly, Have I Got News For You would probably do as well as They

Think It’s All Over if it was on BBC 1. Personally, I think there is

huge opportunity for all the TV stations to really start to exploit

their brand personalities off-screen.’



Motive’s managing director, Mark Cranmer, agrees that the opportunity is

there, even if no-one has yet succeeded in making it work. ’I think we

are embarking upon an era where the media brand will occupy an

increasingly important part of the overall infrastructure. It has to

really. There are already more media brands than anyone needs and TV is

in the strange position of being potentially the strongest of them all

and yet also the easiest single brand - and I’m not just talking about

the media now, but anywhere - for people to ditch. Brand loyalty is

resting at the touch of a button. Which is a pretty interesting

contradiction.



’So, of course it makes sense to stretch a brand beyond a single product

consumption, to take it into other areas. But I’d have to say that this

process is entirely latent in TV at the moment. There is a powerful

connection between viewers and TV stations but it just isn’t being

exploited, not even by Channel 4. I think because consumers can easily

be promiscuous with TV, it has helped foster the illusion that there

isn’t a powerful connection, but in reality it is there.’



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).