The identity parade

In the ocean of multichannel television, broadcasters have to work hard to differentiate themselves. Larissa Bannister asks a client, a brand consultant and a TV viewer what they think of the channels' branding offers.

THE CHANNEL: BBC

Even the BBC admits its current set of idents is looking a little tired. Its forthcoming review of channel branding looks likely to involve a theme that will be rolled out across all the channels in its portfolio.

Since March 2002, when it ditched its famous globe, BBC1's idents - which are designed to reflect modern Britain's multicultural society - have featured a series of basketball players, Bollywood dancers and martial arts experts, all dressed in signature BBC1 red and white. BBC2, meanwhile, has stuck with its popular animated 2 campaign; BBC3 features a gang of alien-like characters called "The Blobs" and BBC4 favours scenes of lakes and flocks of birds.

THE VERDICTS

OLIVER CLEAVER - EUROPEAN MEDIA DIRECTOR, KIMBERLEY-CLARK

The BBC1 idents are so familiar by now that they almost pass you by. They are slightly annoying and in need of refreshment but at least they're not objectionable. BBC2, on the other hand, is a classic and always has been. The spots are intelligent, witty and don't try too hard. As a marketer, you know the trick is to get your brand in your ad as much as possible and BBC2 - along with Channel 4 - follows this rule very well.

MICHAEL JOHNSON - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, JOHNSON BANKS

The main BBC idents now seem over-familiar. We seem to have been looking at red people jigging about in various degrees of undress for an eternity now. Given that some of them began to grate after two showings, you can see why we're big fans of the PVR in my front-room. I'm personally finding the whole "red" thing really tiresome: we have dark red logos on bright red bumper screens, we have newscasters against red - BBC1 has become the colour of blood. Maybe a research group somewhere in deepest Croydon told them this was good, but I can tell you, in my focus group, the colour drained from my cheeks long ago.

BILL GLOVER - FINANCE CONTROLLER AND FATHER OF TWO, BIGGIN HILL

The BBC1 idents have distinctive images of young and old people, perhaps symbolising that the channel appeals to all ages. The music differentiates it even more and I felt they were so diverse they should be for different channels.

BBC2 is quirky, amusing, cutting edge and absolutely brilliant. I was immediately aware of being on BBC2 and they made me expect something original from the programme as well.

The BBC3 red blobs left me a bit cold despite being quirky. They are a good idea but something is missing and they didn't make me want to watch the channel.

BBC4 has seagulls and office windows and are nondescript, too long and quite odd. I wasn't sure what was happening in the office ident at all; it gave me the impression that BBC4 wasn't ready yet. BBC2 is head and shoulders above the rest.

RATING OUT OF FIVE: 3

ITV

The new branding for ITV's entire portfolio - designed on the back of extensive viewer research - is designed to move away from the generic blue-and-yellow look that previously ran across the board and create a defined personality for each individual channel. ITV1's idents are designed to provoke a range of emotions - from happiness to embarrassment - in its viewers; ITV2's are supposed to convey fun, excess and over-the-topness; ITV3's are designed to portray mystery and escapism; and ITV4, the broadcaster's newest channel, has created idents based around "a collision of opposites", with the aim of changing male viewers' opinions about TV generally.

OLIVER CLEAVER - EUROPEAN MEDIA DIRECTOR, KIMBERLEY-CLARK

I can understand why ITV needed a change - its current image is vague and unspecific. Unfortunately, I don't think these idents do the job. The overwhelming mood is melancholy, I felt a bit depressed watching them and that's not my normal state of being. There's a lot of slow motion and dark lighting and a bit of prissyness about them. They also look too much like advertising - every advertiser will be saying: "Enough of this, let's get to the real ads that we've paid good money for." They need to go back to the drawing board. I would expect this to be a transitional campaign and that the focus in the future will be on promoting specific programmes.

THE VERDICTS

MICHAEL JOHNSON - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, JOHNSON BANKS

I hadn't seen all the new ITV work, having previously condemned it without a fair trial. Guess what? My kangaroo court had it absolutely spot on: apart from ITV4, which is a neat adaptation of an old magazine ad trick, the rest of it is hopeless, gooey, lifestyle nonsense that leaves me completely cold. In fact, it makes me want to throw things at the telly, it's so naff. The "real people" brief is hopelessly obvious, the typography already out of date and it has only just launched. If ITV is about being unashamedly populist, why can't it be just that, I wonder?

BILL GLOVER - FINANCE CONTROLLER AND FATHER OF TWO, BIGGIN HILL

ITV is now almost identical to the BBC apart from the commercials. The ITV1 idents have good music but are quite homogeneous, there's nothing revolutionary, nothing to offend, just ordinary people in ordinary situations. ITV2 has a very likeable balance and plays on the words two/too. They make you want to watch the channel. ITV3's images are melancholic and puzzling but timeless and quite pleasing on the eye - but I didn't really understand what it was supposed to be portraying. ITV4: I liked the split screens merging, it's a terrific idea and concept (almost too clever), I especially liked the wagging tail. It reminded me a bit of Channel 4.

As both the BBC and ITV now have four channels apiece, maybe something is needed to differentiate them?

RATING OUT OF FIVE: 2

CHANNEL 4

According to the broadcaster, Channel 4's idents have an informational role: credit squeezes, menus and promo endpages all exist to let viewers know about upcoming programmes and their primary function is to carry voiceover announcements and disclaimers. But what is their function beyond that?

Polly Cochrane, the director of marketing at Channel 4, says they have an additional role - to distill some of the cleverness and humour of the programmes into 30- to 40-second bits of film. "They also provide clear visual branding in a sea of competing channels," she says. "In a world of PVRs, they have the added advantage of reading almost equally well when fast-forwarded."

THE VERDICTS

OLIVER CLEAVER - EUROPEAN MEDIA DIRECTOR, KIMBERLEY-CLARK

Channel 4 is the master of channel branding. The big thing about the 4 idents is the suspense, the waiting to see how the 4 is going to be created. The music is fantastic, it's not familiar but you suspect it's from some cool new band that you ought to know about. The tone is optimistic; it makes you feel good about the fact that you're watching TV and, like the best of advertising, it rewards you for watching it. It's an iconic campaign and the idents for the other channels also fit well with their positioning. Like all good campaigns, this could go on forever because there's a core central idea that's very flexible.

MICHAEL JOHNSON - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, JOHNSON BANKS

The 4 franchise is a tough one to call really - let's face it, without the transcendental gorgeousness of the slow-pan-reveal-the-logo stings (especially that fabulous motel one), the family would appear pretty dysfunctional. E4, to my eyes, looks like a purple blancmange mixed up with Express Dairies, and More4 a weird mix-up of my More Th>n logo and the Shockwave animation. But their slow-pan gong-winners have raised the bar for the whole genre and are probably bang-on for Channel 4; a bit odd, a talking point, absolutely not "red dancers" and, if they're slice-of-life, they're a very weird take on it.

BILL GLOVER - FINANCE CONTROLLER AND FATHER OF TWO, BIGGIN HILL

I love the Channel 4 films that form the numeral 4 out of various images. You find yourself being drawn in time after time, even when you know what is coming and how the 4 is going to be formed. The films are extremely clever despite being similar. I immediately knew it was Channel 4, though I'm not sure what image it made me think of - adult upmarket American imports perhaps. The idents make you think the channel is upmarket - until I saw the E4 ones.

I disliked the E4 idents immensely, mainly because of the treatment.

Some brilliant ideas were wasted on cheap animations. The More4 ones are pretty basic. There is a strong common brand identity going across the channels, but some of them need refining.

RATING OUT OF FIVE: 4

FIVE

Five recently launched a new channel identity designed to connect emotionally with viewers through its use of the "five" mark. The twist comes with the four characters of the five logo being replaced by inspirational words: "live", "fast", "hope", "risk", "dare", "play", "free", "rush", "love" and "life". At no time does the channel logo appear on screen - a first for a terrestrial broadcaster.

Made using a combination of film and CGI, the idents feature visually arresting scenes: the roll of the dice on the craps table, a night-time cityscape from space and a haunted scene. Each is intended to touch on a different feeling or emotion that complements the range of the channel's programming.

THE VERDICTS

OLIVER CLEAVER - EUROPEAN MEDIA DIRECTOR, KIMBERLEY-CLARK

These are the worst of the lot, which is a shame because five's programming has come on in leaps and bounds, but I don't think their idents reflect that. It just feels like a junior Channel 4. The music reminds me of daytime TV. I can just see the meeting where they were conceived: lots of people sitting around in black T-shirts, saying: "I know, it'll be great, we'll have loads of four-letter words in it." My question is, why four-letter words if the station is called five? The only five-letter word I can think of that's relevant is cheap. This does nothing to differentiate the channel and I'd sack the agency that came up with it.

MICHAEL JOHNSON - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, JOHNSON BANKS

I'll admit that my knowledge of five's branding was limited almost entirely to the little clips either side of that Hugh Laurie show that I find oddly appealing. So, looking at the idents, I'm pleasantly surprised by some of them, although some seemed in need of a bigger production budget. But I can't really match them to the channel somehow - they're a bit like a car salesman dressing in Richard James rather than Marks & Spencer, a bit too good really. Channels seem to want to trade up from where they are - why can't they be what they are and reflect reality, not aspiration?

BILL GLOVER - FINANCE CONTROLLER AND FATHER OF TWO, BIGGIN HILL

I liked these, the clips showed a lot of potential, lots of different camera angles and digital manipulation of natural phenomena, the pace and length was just right. I especially like the lightning and darkened corridor clips - there was nothing to dislike at all.

Five does feel like a station in transition though. It was originally branded as an adult channel full of sexy stuff, but now it seems to be trying to change its image. The idents don't make you think of the channel and I'm not sure what five's image is: these wouldn't make me more likely to watch it.

RATING OUT OF FIVE: 2

SKY

Simplicity is the key across the range of Sky's idents, with the majority opting to feature channel logos across plain backgrounds. This has been the broadcaster's policy since 1999, when it rejigged its marketing department to focus on investing individual channels with their own brand values.

Sky One is the exception to this rule. The channel revamped its identity in August 2004 in an attempt to attract more viewers, ditching its traditional orange colour scheme in favour of modern images and calligraphy-style script.

THE VERDICTS

OLIVER CLEAVER - EUROPEAN MEDIA DIRECTOR, KIMBERLEY-CLARK

There's not a lot to say about these: they're quite functional. For Sky Sports, they show sport, for travel shows they show travel - to be honest, I almost dozed off halfway through watching them. Idents have a different role in paid-for TV in any case - and Sky One needs to improve its product before it even starts to think about marketing itself.

MICHAEL JOHNSON - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, JOHNSON BANKS

Sadly, my Sky disk wouldn't open so I can't really give you a decent crit of that work, apart from saying that I don't dislike the idea of the transparent identity. The notion of looking through an ident into the channel behind is a fair one, let down for me by the slightly clunky, can-see-the-joins execution. But B+ for effort.

BILL GLOVER - FINANCE CONTROLLER AND FATHER OF TWO, BIGGIN HILL

As another well-known ad says, it does exactly what it says on the tin. These are basic and easy to understand, with the minimum of creativity.

They make you think of America.

I liked all the sports, travel, jazz, classic, movies and cinema ones but on Sky One, I didn't like the way "One" was depicted (as an O with segments missing); I felt it didn't create the right effect.

The idents are readily identifiable as Sky and they fit the image of something brash and bold. Sky was the only one to create an identity across its channels, but this is easy for it to do because each channel already has a clear identity (movies, sport etc), so all the ident had to do was announce and reinforce that.

RATING OUT OF FIVE: 3.

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