ITV, it has to be said, does not have a huge amount of heritage when it comes to station idents. Not in the 21st century. Not as a national network - or family of networks. Odd, really, given the fact that ITV is supposed to be one of our biggest-hitting broadcasters.
But this is a legacy of the brand's fragmentary, often chaotic history as a federation of independent regional broadcasters. In fact, most of its classic idents from bygone years inspire just as much laughter as moist-eyed nostalgia. The most bizarre was probably the rotating tin-plate knight on a nag that formerly graced the Anglia output.
The final wave of consolidation, across the 90s, hardly brought instant clarity to the network identity of the flagship channel, ITV1. The yellow-and-blue ITV1 onscreen logo seemed the product of cultural compromise in the run-up to the merger of Carlton and Granada. And when ITV2 was joined by ITV3 and ITV4, their onscreen idents emerged piecemeal.
Well, all of that changed as of Monday, when the ITV family unveiled its new onscreen identity, the end product of what the network calls "a comprehensive and wide-reaching project" called Brand 2010. It involved hot-housing sessions with viewers (6,000 were canvassed to various degrees) and company-wide staff workshops overseen by MindShare and M&C Saatchi.
The ident creative work was carried out by Red Bee Media.
The result, the network believes, is a dramatic modernisation of the brand that underlines the evolution of ITV from a single channel to a family of channels. It also promises to bring out the channels' different personalities.
The ITV1 idents will convey the fact that the channel's programming can capture a range of emotions. ITV2's will alert us instantly to the vibrant stylishness (and, therefore, addictive quality) of the ITV2 schedule.
ITV3's will aspire to filmic quality, underlining the fact that storytelling is at the heart of its offering. When we see ITV4's, we will think automatically of a collision of opposites - a rich dialectic that will provide food for thought, particularly for male viewers.
Was the money, time and effort well spent? Michael Johnson, the creative director of johnson banks and a former president of D&AD, admits he is not inclined to be charitable. He says: "The marketing psychobabble that accompanied the relaunch was disappointing in some respects and just hilarious in others. Obviously, it is a difficult brief, but if ITV is unashamedly populist in its programming approach - and, supposedly, it is - why not be unashamedly populist in its idents? Instead, it's trying to be designer-cool, which would be worrying in itself, but if you are determined to be designer cool, at least try to do it well. If you look at what MTV has done over the years and the BBC and, latterly, Channel 4, you have to make the idents come alive. I'm afraid ITV's new idents just look dowdy."
But Enyi Nwosu, the TBWA\Connections managing partner, cannot agree with Johnson's analysis. He comments: "The thinking behind this makes sense, especially if it is born out of true viewer insight and an understanding of how the channels were perceived with the previous idents. The purpose is to clarify what the programming is on each of the ITV channels and to give them a look and feel that allows them to stand out in a multichannel marketplace. I think this achieves that purpose."
Andy Bolden, the UK media director of GlaxoSmithKline, isn't so sure.
He states: "I've seen the rationale behind this and I'll have to say it seems somewhat heavy on marketing-speak. What the TV audience at large will think might be another matter. Like any other organisation, ITV needs a strongly focused marketing programme and it needs to create more awareness of what it's trying to achieve. You could argue other broadcasters have been better at that in recent years. So you have to applaud the fact it is doing something, but you also have to question whether these idents will stand out or will merely merge into the hundreds of other channel idents out there."
But Jerry Hill, the UK group chief executive at Initiative, says these changes appear to be informed by solid research. He concludes: "I do think ITV is right to rethink, given the profound impact of making the transition from being a single channel to a wider entity. It needs to create a seamless and contemporary context to facilitate the diversity of output that comes with this vital move."
NO - Michael Johnson, creative director, johnson banks
"What I've seen so far seem pretty dire. Look at what Channel 4 did - its idents won gold at D&AD last year. ITV1 needed to get rid of the yellow-and-blue idents, but to replace them with something even dumber is weird."
YES - Enyi Nwosu, managing partner, TBWA\Connections
"If it clarifies in viewers' minds what each channel is about, then it is a success. If you have a perception problem, you have to address it - so, yes, this is good. In a crowded market, differentiation is something that we all strive for."
MAYBE - Andy Bolden, UK media director, GlaxoSmithKline
"ITV should have the confidence to be dominant in this area but other broadcasters have been so much better. If it succeeds in cutting through all the clutter, then it will be judged a success. But I am far from convinced."
YES - Jerry Hill, UK group chief executive, Initiative
"It is important for any media business constantly to reinvent itself. I never liked the previous look, so a fresh approach will be welcome. That assumes there is something in the middle worth watching. But that's another story."
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