20 Lessons from the TV Brand Builders (Part Three)


In the first two parts of this post we summarized lessons 1 to 13 from our new book The TV Brand Builders: How to win audiences and influence viewers, based on interviews with 50 leading practitioners of TV marketing, promotion and design across 8 countries.  In this final part we’ll turn our attention to social media and the future of TV marketing.  Also, recognizing the ever-changing nature of our industry, we’ll round off with two lessons inspired by last month’s PromaxBDA Europe conference.

Lesson 14 is to create social buzz with live experiences.  Here’s a great example from Bravo in the US, a channel that really understands the power of social.  To launch a new show called Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce they spray-painted luxury sports cars with messages from scorned women – ‘we’re over’, ‘you suck’, ‘I’m leaving you’. They put the cars on tow-trucks and drove them round the streets of Manhattan. In the words of Bravo’s top marketer Ellen Stone, from our interview with her, the social media reaction was insane.

When Channel 4 in the UK launched their new drama Humans, which is about artificial intelligence, they initially ran a campaign on TV with no branding launching a new brand of artificial humans called Persona Synthetics. And they created a real flagship storefront in London’s main shopping district, where you could interact with the synths and supposedly place an order to buy one of your own, long before they revealed that this was in fact a campaign for a new drama.  Again, this generated millions of social media impressions.

Those last two examples showed clever ways to use live experiences to drive social media coverage, but one of the biggest things we learned from our TV Brand Builders about social was that, for established shows, the only place to start is the core fans.  That might seem counter-intuitive.  Surely the show’s biggest fans will always tune in?  Yes, but they are also the people who love the show the most, so lesson 15 is to treat fans as friends and build your social media marketing out from them as your focus.  For example, when AMC launched the final season of Mad Men they created the Mad Men Fan Cut, an online project in which the original pilot episode was cut up into short sequences and then offered to fans to ‘claim’ them, shoot their own home made versions and upload them to YouTube. The result was a lovingly crafted cut of the first episode, created by – and, in many cases, starring – Mad Men fans. Only a true friend of the show would go to this much trouble.  (The official Fan Cut may be geo-blocked in your region but a YouTube search will reveal many examples of the fans’ contributions). 

Our final lesson about social media is that TV brands shouldn’t be afraid to join the conversation.  If you try to control social it will eat you up.  The smartest TV marketing teams keep a close eye on what is being said about their brand and respond in the same spirit.  A great example is from truTV in the US: as they would admit, not the world’s best known channel.  As a result, every year when they screen the March Madness college championship they know that thousands of basketball fans are going to tweet comments like this: ‘What channel is truTV?’, ‘and now begins the long, perilous journey to find what channel truTv is on’ and many less polite comments.

So in 2015 the channel decided to launch a preemptive strike by introducing the hashtag #HaveUFoundtruTV. They set up a social war room during March Madness and crafted individual responses to people posting those comments on social media – e.g. ‘congrats, you’re the 10,000th person today to tweet that joke’ - in a way that showed they got the joke.  They reached over 32 million people with this campaign – not bad for less well known network.

In the final chapter of The TV Brand Builders we attempt the challenge of making predictions about the future of TV marketing.  One of the key observations from our interviews is that, in a world of new competition from online TV, we believe it will become more and more important to (lesson 17) feed your masterbrand.  It is going to become a world of fewer, bigger, better…and broadcasters are going to find it more difficult to maintain portfolios of many different individual sub-brands.  Both FX in the US and Channel 4 in the UK are examples of networks that have channels and services targeted at different audiences under the banner of an overarching proposition. For FX it is Fearless and for Channel 4 it’s Born Risky.  In both cases these propositions are intended to work across the whole brand portfolio.  Now, saying your masterbrand is “fearless” or “born risky” means that you have to prove it by taking risks with your marketing, as Channel 4 have proved in recent years with their brand communications.  A recent example is their ‘True Colour TV’ film.  

The growth of online streaming is changing the TV landscape and the new on-demand brands are exploring new creative territory.  Lesson 18 is that, in this new world, it will become more and more important to give your on-demand brand a personality.  In the early years most on-demand services have all looked and felt like generic aggregators, but Netflix and Hulu in particular are working hard to differentiate themselves and develop their own brand personalities.

Most readers are probably aware of the Netflix campaign from a couple of years ago based on the line ‘Watch Responsibly’.  Well, last year they took this a stage further and encouraged viewers to ‘Binge Responsibly’. If you watched more than two episodes back to back, stars from some of their leading shows, like Michael Kelly from House of Cards, appeared, encouraging people to go outside…or take a break or eat some food.  Really smart thinking from Netflix, demonstrating that they understand the role they have come to play in popular culture.  We talked to the marketers at rival on-demand service Hulu and they also recognize that success in this market isn’t just about winning the arms race to the best library of content.  They recently launched a campaign with the line ‘Come TV With Us’ to show that they love TV as much as their subscribers.  Faced with new competition like this, broadcasters with on-demand services need to be thinking about developing brand personalities that work consistently across all platforms and all devices.

For our last two lessons we looked beyond our book The TV Brand Builders and sought insight at the PromaxBDA Europe conference last month in Barcelona.  Many sessions underlined the seismic change the TV industry is undergoing and two thoughts struck us in particular.  The first was inspired by Jill Gray, Head of Facebook’s UK Creative Shop:  to use her words, ‘optimize for feed.’  She showed a clip from what is thought to be the world’s first ever ‘motion picture’ - a locked off camera on workers streaming out of the Lumière factory in 1895 - and eloquently made the point (with just a hint of exaggeration) that creativity for Facebook’s News Feed is roughly at the same place now as creativity for moving images was back then.  Emphasizing in particular the creative potential of Facebook’s 360 Video tool, Jill challenged the assembled TV marketers to tailor their work much more to the ways in which our audiences are now consuming content in a multiscreen world. 

Our 20th and final lesson was drawn (with some relief for the authors of a book with “TV” in its title) from a panel session called ‘Why Do We Still Call It Television?’. Illustrious future media gurus from Swisscom TV, Sky Italy and Telefónica debated the near-term impact of such things as content in the cloud, predictive search, content discovery and user experience but concluded, emphatically, that we’ll still call it TV.   That panel discussion reminded us of one of our favourite quotes from our book.  As the US essayist and journalist Michael Wolff wrote in his book Television is the New Television, far from being trampled by digital challengers TV has become one of the fastest-growing business sectors, where consumers and advertisers are prepared to pay for ‘the influential, the prestigious, the culturally significant, a business and medium of value, need, originality, and exclusivity’.  And TV marketers will continue to play a big role in creating that value by bringing big audiences to hit shows and building distinctive and powerful TV brands. 

Andy Bryant (Managing Director, Red Bee) and Charlie Mawer (Executive Creative Director, Red Bee)

The TV Brand Builders: How to win audiences and influence viewers by Andy Bryant and Charlie Mawer was published by Kogan Page on 3rd April 2016.  Buy a copy.