Far be it from me to interrupt someone in the middle of a global pissing contest, but I was wondering if I could get a workable definition of the word ‘Brand?’
After slogging through a 90-minute National Geographic press conference last month (in which two things were announced – the Fox partnership, and the announcement of an announcement to come…), I found myself repeating the word `Brand’ like some peyote-addled shaman of the high plains. I recovered just in time to receive a press release from Discovery in which they statistically explained that they had the stronger Brand (so there) – followed by Geo’s Brand, TLC’s Brand, the History Channel’s Brand, and a fifth place tie between the DCI Kids Brand and the Disney Brand.
For those not party to the gathering, the basic gist: the Brand (an amorphous 111-year-old entity brought about by an incredibly successful and admirable publishing endeavor), will bring viewers (another abstract term that really means you and me), to the channels by the millions because of the inherent value we associate with a gold rectangle (or, to be fair, DCI’s blue globe, or Disney’s grinning mouse).
True. But once you’ve got them there…
Kudos to Sandy McGovern, the only Geophile to actually use the term `documentary’ in all that talk of global expansion. Brand brings them in through the clutter, but with 200 channels to choose from, content keeps them there. Brand is an abstract, viewer satisfaction isn’t. If you want to see an international Brand self-destruct, look at the performance of jean manufacturer Levis over the past few years. What was once an unassailable Brand now finds itself scrambling for survival because it thought the value of the Brand was independent of how the company met the demands of the market.
Brand value will translate between mediums (publishing to broadcast, broadcast to retail….), but the endurance of the Brand is only as strong as the quality of the translation. Will the Brand developed by a century of publishing excellence make the leap to television? Certainly. But put a product on the screen inferior to the expectations created by the magazine, and the Brand – all of it – is diminished. What will happen to the value of the golden rectangle in a marriage with Fox, the people who bring us When Animals Attack? It’s hard to say. Maybe Fox has the marketing savvy to help Nat Geo make inroads into the younger demographic they’re trying to tap for the channels.
It would be an unmitigated disaster if Geo were to lose sight of what makes its flagship magazine great. A 90-minute love-in with the press about the Branding of the channels, without any discussion about what goes on them, doesn’t fill me with confidence. It isn’t the gold border that has made the magazine praiseworthy, it’s the quality of what has gone on the pages. The strength of a Brand lies in the potency of that association, not only in the power of marketing.