At the recent Promax Europe conference I posed this question: where are the brands in online TV? I previewed it with an earlier blog post, which was prompted by the provocative statement from the new boss of WarnerMedia Entertainment, Bob Greenblatt, that “Netflix doesn’t have a brand. It’s just a place to go to get anything”.
I made the point that, while I don’t feel that’s a fair statement about Netflix specifically, compared with the strength and clarity of so many of our TV network and channel brands, so far there are very few true brands in online TV. Only a handful are differentiating themselves with innovative design and a creative approach to promotion.
For example, I dug out a clunky Netflix commercial from 2012 and discovered that a huge number of current campaigns for online TV services follow an almost identical template: here’s our vast library of TV and movie titles, here’s where you can watch them – any time, any place, anywhere – it’s only X.99 a month and you can have a free trial.
Looking at the products themselves, a staggering number look almost exactly the same as Netflix did seven years ago. The image above includes 42 different examples from 21 countries, including some of the biggest global names. As Henry Ford once (allegedly) said, “any colour, so long as it’s black”.
As competition in this sector rapidly intensifies, how are a minority of online TV brands creating differentiation? At Promax Europe I suggested 5 ways:
1. TALK ABOUT PRODUCT FEATURES IN A DISTINCTIVE WAY
The best brands in the sector manage to talk about the virtues of their product in their own brand voice.
For example, Hulu’s marketing is generally fresh, entertaining and full of personality. One of their most recent campaigns was bold enough to warn people not to get Hulu because, once you have experienced it, it will ruin normal TV for you for ever.
Telling people they can watch content on your player any time, any place, anywhere isn’t a new strategy. But, in some cases, it’s still a relevant message for your target audience if you can execute it in an entertaining and unexpected way, as TV2 Sumo have done in Norway.
And sometimes you can’t beat a good old-fashioned product demo – again, if you can do it in an entertaining way that your audience can relate to. Amazon Fire TV in the US proved that by demonstrating its voice activation and reflecting what we all know the experience of trying to concentrate on a box set with other people in the room can be like.
2. PROMOTE YOUR CONTENT IN YOUR BRAND’S VOICE
Probably the most common element of all campaigns is to show off their huge selections of TV shows and movies. In this arms race to the biggest and best libraries of content, the brands I warm to most are the ones that tell us they have lots of stuff to watch in a way that also helps to build a distinctive brand personality.
At Red Bee we recently worked with TVNZ on the strategy for a campaign to encourage their audience to think of TVNZ OnDemand not just for catch-up. Their talented team went on to create a campaign featuring New Zealanders talking enthusiastically about the rich diversity of content they love to watch on the service.
We’re also seeing a few emerging signs of innovation on the online TV players themselves. For example, fans of Stranger Things will know that it features a parallel dimension, the Upside Down. When Netflix launched season 2, they embedded an easter egg in the poster image. When you hovered over the hotspot and clicked, the UI flipped into a Netflix version of the Upside Down. Innovations like this help to convey the sense that your online TV brand is into your favourite series as much as you are. And another way to do that is to…
3. CELEBRATE BINGE VIEWING
Netflix has run several campaigns over the years showing it understands its viewers, and recently teamed up with TV manufacturer LG to promote a “B&Binge” competition for viewers to prove that they’re the ultimate fan in order to win trips to locations inspired by hit Netflix shows like The Crown.
4. CREATE AN OWNABLE ICON, MOVEMENT OR SOUND
One of the things the TV marketing and creative community has been brilliant at over the past twenty or so years is giving TV channels their own identity with distinctive iconography, signature movement and/or audio branding. This is an important element of our craft. So I don’t understand why these principles have been applied to so few online TV brands.
An obvious and notable exception is, again, Netflix. Its brand identity is so simple but, perhaps influenced by HBO’s classic “static” audio branding, it has established its own audio signature and logo movement to brand the opening of its shows, which was recently updated.
Channel 4 has just launched a new visual identity for its online TV service All 4. The classic 4 logo has been reimagined with the cross stroke taking the form of a streaming bar icon. This isn’t just a logo device: it now forms the actual streaming bar in the app and is used across all media and platforms to link content and text.
A further example I showed in Amsterdam was a project Red Bee has been working on with Discovery Networks for their online TV brand, dplay, in the Nordic region. We created an evolved version of the logo, brought it to life as a responsive, active guide with its own audio mnemonic and also developed a signature brand expression based on a finger swipe motion, which helps to give dplay an infectiously enthusiastic brand personality.
5. BUILD A BRAND THAT AUDIENCES CAN RELATE TO
Ultimately, it’s hard to see how any brand is going to succeed over the long term in the online TV market unless it develops a magnetic brand personality that’s in tune with its content strategy. As we have seen, Hulu promised to ruin normal TV for ever and one of the reasons was its superior coverage of live sports. Recently they recruited NBA stars for a campaign that was equally provocative, on both TV and in social media, making it clear that the players were only doing it for the money. A campaign like this is entertaining, gets noticed and shows respect for the audience.
Finally, the latest campaign from Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Germany has everything. It features signature hit shows. It demonstrates that you can watch anytime, anywhere, on any device. It celebrates binge viewing. And, most importantly, it shows a real understanding of the audience and the emotional, lasting impact that our favourite shows can have on us.
Differentiating brands in the ways demonstrated by these examples is going to become absolutely essential in an increasingly competitive, “app-driven” online TV market.
Andy Bryant, Managing Director