On Air Promos
BRANDING AND DESIGN THEORY perspective and positioning


Vintage remote control

Here's the world's longest intro:

What's good branding? What makes good design? What makes good television presentation? To be honest, that's up to your audience. If you know who you are after, if you know who they are and what connects with them, then you'll know if you are on the right path and doing the right thing.

I have to start by telling you I really hate the word 'branding'. It was a buzz word years ago that unfortunately a lot of tv folks have made part of their vocabulary. A lot of people talk about branding but very few of them actually know what it is. Here's my take: branding is not your channel logo. Branding is what that logo actually stands for, not in the minds of the people who work at your television station or who sign the checks...but in the minds of the viewers who are watching it.

The fundamental here is to look at EVERYTHING you do from the viewer's perspective. They don't know your marketing strategy, they don't know how long it takes to make a graphic, they don't know your rollout plan, they don't care...all they know is what they are seeing up there on the screen. If they like it or if they don't. You've always got to ask yourself the basic questions about everything you put out there on the airwaves. What does this mean about my channel, whats this really saying to my viewers, who the hell am I really talking to here? And a zillion other questions. Its all perspective and perspective is part of positioning.

There are some channels out there that will launch or re-launch with a look or a new look that will end up meaning nothing (except cost) because they are more concerned with what they consider to be the 'bigger picture' items than what everything combined together actually says and means to your audience who is going to be (hopefully) watching it. Now if your audience doesn't see your big picture, then you don't have one. That kind of thinking is superficial over substance and without substance, you die. So here is the nitty gritty of good television design: focus, clarity of the vision, seeing through of the positioning strategy. Make sure you are always presenting a clear, concise message to your audience. It doesn't take much to screw that all up, but that shouldn't stop you from challenging yourself and your audience.

Advertising 101 Lesson #1: It's a mistake to believe that you come up with a catch-phrase slogan or a snazzy logo and the world falls at your feet. That is superficial over substance and as you know, without substance you die.

This is not a high concept. Art, movies, books, music, tv...if its celebrated then there is a reason for it...there's something there that connects with its audience, that unsaid little thing. That little bit of soul. To create something of substance, something that works, you have to connect to your audience. Not through your packaging, not through your logo, not through your promotions...but through the ideas of what those same things stand for.

Theres a hell of a lot to maintaining that level with your audience, and it all comes down to just two things...positioning and co-ordination. Without them, you have a mess.

Everything is derived from positioning. Positioning is what people think about your product, your channel. Its that simple little picture that they carry around in their heads of what you are. If its the right picture, then your chances for success are terrific. If its a confused picture or no picture at all, then there's trouble. Think of Disney, MTV, Discovery and just those names should bring to mind some idea, some picture, some representation of who they are. They should otherwise they haven't done a very good job in your market. Once you understand who you are, who you're going after, it makes it much easier to get a design sense of what is right and what is wrong for your channel. Again, think of Discovery...they don't use MTV style graphics or music mixes. And MTV...they don't use Discovery style, they can't. It's not reflective of who they are, of who their audience is.

Your channel's visual style should be derived from its positioning. The positioning becomes a theme that drives the look of what your channel is. If you're optimistic, then you don't look pessimistic. That means bright, excited, enthusiastic colours. But it doesn't mean Hello Kitty. It might mean you can kill Hello Kitty because you're also fun.

On-air, all of this is essential, especially with things like your channel ids. Ids are a lot more than 5 second clips. Each and everyone of them are mini positioning statements to your audience. They are there not only to drive home the name of who you are, they are there to celebrate your diversity, they are snapshots of who you are, simple thoughts underscoring your image. They should be driving home all those layers to your audience at the same time.

Pretend were designing a new channel from scratch. Getting outside help isn't a bad thing by the way. There's lots of design companies and individuals (like me!) who do a lot more than just design. They are strategists, television specialists. If you don't have these kind of people in your organization, get them...but until then, rent them. Find the kind of people who make you hammer out who and what you really are, who you're really talking to, who you're after and help you chart a path to get there. There's links below for a good start.

Anyway, we're designing a channel. Its a new concept, a new market, whatever. One assumes that you have a target market picked out, you know who you're going after. So first and foremost, you work on the concept of building and solidifying the brand identity for that market. Remember, that's not the logo, its what it stands for. Answer the questions...what is the channel, what does it stand for, what is it's personality, what do you have that will make people want to tune in, how do you showcase that stuff?

Does it work better for your audience than what is already out there? Are you really going after the right market? What's it going to be like 6 months, 2 years from now? What other factors does it depend on, what other forces could affect it?

Make sure everyone involved in your channel understands and believes in the underlying principals of what you're doing. If they don't then maybe there's something wrong with it...or them. Never do anything just because a manager tells you to. Do it because its right or don't do it at all.

Heres the only really, really hard part. The continued success of all of this always comes down to dedicated, motivated people. Your channel needs people who actually believe in what they are selling to the audience, actually love their channels, love their jobs, love what they do for a living. If that attitude doesn't exist, then its going to show up on-air...or rather, not show up on air. You'll still get the fundamentals, but what you won't get is that little bit extra...that little bit of soul, blood, sweat and tears. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Sorry...went on there for a bit. If you've been reading the previous pages, you'll know the history of how now your station needs to project an image, a personality, an environment in everything you do. You can over do it, so be sure you know who you are speaking for (on all levels) before you do it.
The best bad examples were pushed in our face on a daily basis up until the internet winter. Loads of www. companies had the exact same mandate in pushing their sites to you. The mantra of 'Weird and wonderful are rememberable'. All they needed to do was push their name in a manner that you would remember, without giving you a real idea of who they were. Kind of true, because they were a completely different medium...but they were all advertising on your medium, on tv. And as they were all coming from different niches, it got very confusing in the end. Don't get me wrong, some of the spots were great and made me laugh...but for the life of me, I can't remember who was who. And that is a massive branding failure.
Branding successes would be things like Coke and Virgin. Say what you want about Coke, but they 'own' a primary colour for cryin' out loud. And Virgin is genius. In a short time, it has become a ubiquitous banner brand covering over 100 different products...but the name brand 'Virgin' creates an immediate image in the consumer's mind of who and what Virgin is...what it represents...what it's about. It has priceless cachet as the role of David taking on Goliath with the intent of becoming the best instead of the biggest. How did they do that? They took the consumer's point of view as their own and they embrace it for profit. They have an extremely positive emotional bond between the consumer and themselves. Their positioning is high quality, value for money, innovation and fun. With that mix, they are seen as being for the people instead of profit, morality vs money, informal vs suits, novel vs conventional and so on. And these guys understand how to use their brand in marketing and publicity...they know how to control it, how to protect it and how to keep the smoke and mirrors moving. That, my friends, is a brand.
With that out of the way, it becomes obvious that no one is going to be able to tell you exactly how to create your own great television brand. You are going to have to figure it out and feel it out for yourself and for your market. Take a look around the net, there's some fantastic examples of what I think are great television design out there. Go to www.promos.tv and become a member. They have an incredible data base of award winning television design work from all over the world. Also, www.bda.tv The Broadcast Design Association is the ultimate home or what you're looking for. Through their site you'll be able to get references for tapes, books, seminars...the whole kit and caboodle (does that really mean anything?). If you're working in a smaller tv market, chances are the big design houses aren't sending you demo tapes on spec. But they will if you ask them to. Again, members and companies from all over the planet can be sourced from BDA. Failing that, go to the library, the museum...pick up a magazine. There's great design all around you.
It's no offense to 'borrow' from what you see out there. Its all part of being a good promo producer. A good producer is going to be screwed up for the rest of their lives. Never again will they be able to watch a movie without studying the editing and effects and wondering how they can use that. never again will they be able to look at a magazine without wondering how they can get that graphic look. Never again will they be able to watch commercials without scorn for their high budgets and low production values.
So now, here's some branding rules:
Branding in your promo spot: Always concern yourself with how the channel image is being portrayed. If you are fortunate enough to work at a place where you can play with the logo, make sure whatever you do fits with the message, the positioning you are selling, the marketing points. If it's x-mas can it wear a Santa hat, if it's Aids Day can it wear a condom? Figure out how far you can push the line without crossing it.
Channel IDs: These are much more than a place to stick a channel logo. The logo should be used as an exclamation point. Remember, an id is a sneak peak at your channel's personality, make sure it fits. Ask yourself, what purpose does this serve, does it fit, what is this saying?
Colours: The world is your oyster, but that's one hell of an ugly colour. Use colours to help push what it is you are trying to say. And always remember, grunge does not equal cool.
Endorsements/PSA's: You'll be making a lot of these things in your life so get used to them. Everything from Engelbert Humperdink talking about hairspray and ozone to some guy from the Rotary club talking about buckling up. How you shoot them, how you place them, how they look add subtle convience to the message. And again, can you use your logo as an exclamation point? Can you animate it? Have it spray its head with hairspray and choke to death while being burned to a crisp with UV rays or hit a wall at high speed and fly through a windshield?
Show packaging: If you are working at a place where you have to design a show open, the bumpers, the logo...great! Use everything you know and stir it all up in your head. Packaging can be narrative (showing pretty much what the show is about) or evocative (the artsy way). Up to you how you do it, but it will all come together with that show logo. And that logo will have to be used in print as well. Will it translate well? Do you have to somehow get your station's logo in there as well? How can it blend without looking like an add on? Think a little deeper and you'll be all right.
Know who you are going after and target them. If it's a special product for a special audience, it requires a special touch. Audiences everywhere may be different culturally...but no matter what culture, there is a vast difference between 14 year olds and 18 year olds, between singles and married couples, between the sexes. If you have a research department, ask them who really watches when. If you don't, someone at your channel should be able to lay their hands on that kind of information for you. When you lock on target, then the investigation begins. Track down other materials targeted to that group (magazines, products, programs) and study what is successful and what isn't. Absorb what they do, what they use, what they look like. I don't mean for you to rip them off, just take their knowledge on board. It just comes back to looking at everything you do through the eyes of your audience.



For excellent branding examples, join the www.promos.tv web group