When it was time for premium cable and streaming network, Epix, to take its brand up a level, it turned to New York and Los Angeles-based Imaginary Forces, which has previously done sophisticated image campaigns for HBO and beautiful main titles, like this Emmy winner for Starz’ Counterpart.
“When we launched in 2009, we were the first premium network to truly be available across all platforms. We were early to the game to cross-platform and emerging digital opportunities. We will always be a premium network that is commercial free, along the lines of HBO, Showtime and Starz,” said Nora Ryan, executive vice president, creative services and chief of staff, who has been at the network since its start.
As Ryan mentioned, Epix launched in 2009, making it the youngest of the premium cable movie networks. In 2017, MGM bought out partners Viacom and Lionsgate and consolidated its ownership of the service for just over $1 billion. Michael Wright, who previously headed up programming for the Turner networks and had a short run atop Amblin Entertainment, was brought on as president in late 2017.
Wright turned his attention to bringing original programming to the service in world where competition both to acquire and to gain viewership for premium series. Coming this year are new series such as Perpetual Grace, starring Jimmi Simpson and Sir Ben Kingsley; Pennyworth, the story of Batman’s butler; Godfather of Harlem, starring and executive produced by Forest Whitaker; and four-part docuseries Punk, among other things.
“What’s really exciting about the past couple of years since [CEO] Michael [Wright] got here, is the investment in original programming and the vision to become cinematic television. It’s something truly premium — we call it magic for grownups,” said Ryan. “We are going to quadruple our original series this year. We’re really shifting the messaging and the brand experiences for subscribers.”
Such a big shift required a big rebrand and that’s when Epix called in Imaginary Forces.
“The goal was the elevated premium nature for our brand packaging and it really drove and has led the way for everything we do across every platform and off channel as well,” said Ryan.
As Imaginary Forces studied the existing brand, the first move it made was toward a gold-hued palette.
“We wanted to focus on the brand positioning and what would be the best visual dynamic approach to create that,” said Ronnie Koff, creative director, Imaginary Forces. “We worked with this idea of gold as being this visual language.”
Hence the gold found its way into the entire package, from the logo that Imaginary Forces tweaked, to the starburst that starts the brand anthem, to the sparkles that illustrate the transitions.
“The new design is bold, simplified and tighter,” said Koff. “It’s something that holds up at a distance and works on different formats as well. Epix is going to have a bigger presence across a lot of different media, so we had to make sure the mark was going to hold up across all of these different platforms.”
The former logo was a combination of black and orange, and while it felt playful, said Ryan, it didn’t project the image of premium.
So Koff spruced up the logo, tightening it and changing to colors to match the new palette.
Along those lines, Imaginary Forces also wanted to match music to the new brand that takes the viewer on a journey. To that end, the agency worked with music branding agency Human to craft the brand anthem that accompanies the above reel.
“We were working with the idea of the hero’s journey,” said Koff. “Narratively and structurally, the anthem is based on this model of the hero’s journey. You get a sense of each chapter playing out through the anthem. The gold is the supporting character that makes you feel the rise of the hero. It’s a big cinematic graphic experience.”
“The idea of the anthem is that it’s showing off this really high quality original programing,” said Peter Frankfurt, executive creative director, Imaginary Forces. “These shows are as good as anything you see out there — being able to identify that with a brand was a major challenge. That’s why the gold and the anthem are so important.”
Epix likes the anthem so much they are recasting it to accompany different genres of programming.
“This anthem is emotional and magical,” said Ryan. “It takes us on a journey. The main original pieces they cut for us is an emotional representation of the brand.”
For example, for its upcoming four-part docu-series, Punk, the anthem will accompany the promos but in a punk style.
“As we get into all the nuts and bolts of the network on linear channels and digital platforms, it will be echoed in the genres of upcoming shows.”
Finally, Imaginary Forces tinkered with the tagline but ended up settling on what the brand was already using: “Have We Got a Story for You.” From there, it added a more flexible sub-tagline, using phrases such as “stories transport,” “stories inspire,” and “stories ignite.”
Going forward, Imaginary Forces has created an overarching branding toolkit for Epix to use as it rebrands its entire service. That package will cover everything from outdoor billboards to apps to social media to on-air graphics needs, such as lower thirds and transitions.
Said Ryan: “We are looking to attract the kind of viewer who will care and become engaged with us. What we are is cinematic television — high production values, high-end elite talent, sophisticated storytelling. We wanted to give people the sense that this is TV for movie lovers.”
Agency: Imaginary Forces
Executive Creative Director: Peter Frankfurt
Creative Director: Ronnie Koff
Executive Producer: Jon Hassell
Head of Production: Aleen Kim
Producer: Ryan Burcham
Designers: Griffin Frazen, Ilya Tselyutin, Jake Ferguson, Maggie Tsao
Designer/Animators: Blaise Hossain, Brandon Savoy, Evan Sexton, Justin Mays, Kiyoon Nam, Meng-Yang Lu, William Salas
Editor: Lin Wilde
Assistant Editor: Lexi Gunvaldson
Writers: Charlie Short, Sam Cohan
Coordinators: Nicole Thomas, Tess Perros