How do brands stand out in an age where media is coming at people from every corner?

The answer is different for each of the four brands that took part in Wednesday’s panel, “Marketing in an Age of Distraction: Brands Matter,” but they all agreed that maintaining a strong, healthy brand is imperative in this era of short attention spans.

Hallmark Balances Legacy with Progress

Legacy brand Hallmark, which is owned by Crown Media, kicked off the session. For Susanne McAvoy, executive vice president of marketing, creative and communications, the advantage is having such a well-known brand. The challenge is keeping it relevant in a world swamped by brands, with newer, buzzier brands popping up nearly every day.

One way the brand has leveraged its strength is by leaning in – way in – to holidays. In 2009, Bill TKTK became CEO of Hallmark and he noticed that Hallmark did well with its wholesome, family-oriented holiday programming, but that it didn’t package that programming up. With that observation, Countdown to Christmas was born, said McAvoy.

Hallmark then underwent a two-year brand project in which it determined that it stood for emotional storytelling. Brand expert Lee Hunt asked the relevant questions: Where do your emotions come from? They come from your heart and thus the brand’s new tagline was born: Hallmark: The Heart of TV.

In 2012, Hallmark joined the original content evolution, launching a two-hour daily lifestyle show that’s shot every day at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. It also slowly but surely started adding original series, starting with Cedar Cove starring Andie McDowell and based on best-selling novels by TKTK.

As part of that initiative, Hallmark also started to really invest in Countdown to Christmas, both on the programming and the marketing side. As a result, this year Hallmark will air more than 80 hours of original content, 20 original movies and four holiday specials.

“That’s a lot of Santa and a lot of Christmas, “said McAvoy.

Along the way, Hallmark also started counting down to other holidays in its wheelhouse, including Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. And it started changing up its marketing tactics, doing such activations as lit Christmas tree maze in New York City’s Herald Square that also broke the Guinness World’s Record for most lit Christmas trees in one place. And it took over OK! Magazine for the holiday, with all of the ads in the magazine pointed toward Hallmark, among other things.

As a result, the channels – which include the revamped Hallmark Movies & Mysteries—have seen growth over the past five years. The Hallmark Channel is up 18 percent among its key demographic of women 25-54 in an environment where cable networks are more likely to lose distribution than to grow.

Tailoring Food to Global Tastes

Serving a similar demographic, Scripps Networks Interactive includes such popular lifestyle brands as Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel.

“How do we build brands, what are we doing in this dying industry? At Scripps, the strategy is simple: we know who we are and we stay who we are so we can be stronger and more relevant,” said Kevin Chorlins, senior vice president, content and brand strategy, international, Scripps Networks Interactive. “In this environment, strong brands really win. We have a strong brand.”

For this panel, Chorlins specifically discussed the Food Network, the mission of which is to “connect everyone to the power and joy of food. Our brands are happy places in an increasingly dark world. Why not eat a delicious meal with someone you really like?”

Over the past several years, Scripps has been expanding Food Network around the globe. Today, it’s in 160 territories with its latest launch in Italy in 2015.

“How do we maintain brand integrity while expanding globally?” asked Chorlins.

As an example, Chorlins said he recently found himself in the hot and muggy city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was looking for a way to get out of the heat, so he went to a local shopping mall. As he was descending an escalator, he saw the bright lights of a Burger King and he went in for a break and some comfort food.

On the menu —besides standard American offerings like Whoppers and fries – he also found the Beef Rendong Burger. “They put a dollop of that, put it on a cheeseburger and served it,” he said.

“Burger King is doing the same thing that we are doing. If you walk into a Burger King anywhere in the world – UK, Malaysia, Florida – you know where you are. It’s the same with Food Network – you know what it is anywhere in the world.

“We have our Whoppers—our Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and our Barefoot Contessa. But we also produce content locally with local faces so consumers can see themselves reflected on the screen.”

Nickelodeon ‘Makes the World a More Playful Place’

Shifting gears, Michael Waldron, senior vice president, creative director at Nickelodeon, showed off the kids’ channel’s recent brand refresh, executed by 2017 PromaxBDA design partner Superestudio.

RELATED: Nickelodeon Refreshes Its Brand with Help From Superestudio

Nickelodeon has had a difficult few years as kids made the switch from purely linear viewing to a much more on-demand model. But Nickelodeon seems to be adapting to the change and has recently found itself back on top of kids’ viewing.

“We are a kids’ first brand,” said Waldron. “Our promise is to stay true to kids.”

Along those lines, the brand refresh made a point of showing kids being kids, with photography specifically enhanced with filters to make it look more authentic – less deeply saturated bright colors and more rough and grainy portraits.

“We started to shoot photography in a new way, capturing kids in a documentary way. Kids running, jumping, gossiping, laughing – we really wanted to incorporate real-life kids,” said Waldron.

The network also dimmed its electric bright palette a bit, keeping its signature orange but toning it down from neon to burnt.

The refresh just launched in March, so it’s a bit early for metrics but Nick is already seeing some results. In a metric known as “heartshare,” Nick comes in third with kids aged 6-11 behind YouTube and Netflix. It also boasts six of the top-ten kids’ 6-11 series, including the top-two animated series.

SyFy’s Still Genre But No Longer Niche

Last but not least, is NBCUniversal’s SyFy, which will reveal a rebrand on June 19. The network already has released a sneak peek of its new logo, below.

RELATED: Oxygen, Syfy Launch Brand Reboots Ahead of NBC Upfront

“You need a well-defined brand identity in what is a cluttered landscape,” said Jason Holzman, senior vice president and head of creative, entertainment networks, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “In this age of distraction, you have to superserve your fans and reflect things they are talking about and thinking about.”

To that end, SyFy is revealing a new look for the network, assisted by Loyalkaspar, as well as relaunching online portal SyFy Wire. It’s all an effort to ride the wave of genre popularity that’s currently engrossing the entertainment world.

“Science fiction and fantasy has taken over entertainment—13 of the top 20 most popular shows worldwide are genre,” says Holzman. “The Walking Dead, the most popular show on TV, is genre.

“The perception of the audience has changed. Now people of all kinds are embracing their inner geeks. Genre has 50 million core fans – that’s people who watch at least one genre series a week and engage with it social. The larger audience for all genre content is a much bigger 165 million people. These people are young, diverse, metropolitan and have a lot of money to spend. And they are passionate and passion is a hallmark of genre fandom.”

Headed into its brand relaunch, SyFy has set ambitious goals for itself: “There’s a big audience for this content and we think there’s no one better positioned to own this area than us,” said Holzman.


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