Attempts to brand television networks, a practice that became most important in the multi-channel era, have been fascinating – and sometimes amusing (Syfy?). Undoubtedly some network brands are more successful than others: USA, TNT and Bravo seem to have successfully re-branded in the past few years.
The network re-branding that I find most interesting right now is AMC (“Story Matters Here”). In trying to shake its image as the place to see generally low-rated, and older skewing “classic” movies, AMC dropped its use of the name American Movie Classics and began airing original series: Mad Men (2007), Breaking Bad (2008), Rubicon (2010), and the upcoming The Walking Dead (2010). But what is the thread tying these shows together, or the brand identity being forged? How do shows about a philandering advertising executive, a meth-dealing chemistry teacher, a conspiracy-ridden intelligence analyst and a zombie-fighting police officer – each of which seems to mobilize different stylistic conventions – create a cohesive brand image for a network? Is the concept of “Story” enough to tie these programs together into a consistent brand that will connect with audiences?
Perhaps AMC’s branding doesn’t have anything to do with identifying a cohesive image for viewers, but rather is about creating a brand image for advertisers, which, despite the shows’ low ratings, has imparted AMC’s ad time with brand equity. AMC has forged an identity around its ability to reach young, upscale, male viewers through its branding campaigns (see the attached promos), its original programming, and its experimentation with psychographic data. The story that matters at AMC becomes clearer: television that allows advertisers to reach men. Not just all men, but men who don’t usually watch television. Women may be along for the ride (just as men are on Lifetime’s Project Runway), but the focus is on male viewers and male consumers.
Audiences are increasingly moving away from watching television on TV networks and are instead downloading their programming or watching on DVD. They may not even know that Mad Men and Breaking Bad air on AMC. So it makes sense for branding efforts to focus more on advertisers than viewers (a phenomenon that John McMurria took note of several years ago). Does AMC’s branding strategy simply bring to light that, in this post-network era, it really is the support of the industrial structure itself that network branding campaigns need to nurture, leaving individual programs to chase the loyalty of distracted viewers.