It’s Time to Loosen Up with Network Branding Design

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Winter is upon us and as we plant ourselves in front of the screen of our choice, binging on whatever the algorithm so aptly serves up, ponder this: where are all these television network brands going and, more importantly, where does network branding need to go? Matt Tragesser, Creative Director of Sibling Rivalry, provides a much-welcome take.

What Do Network Brands Need?

While it might not be the most glamorous answer, from my perspective, the most significant emerging trend from the design studio side of network branding is the need for adaptability.

I’ve been primarily focused on network branding since 2004. What I find most compelling about this area of focus is that it’s constantly changing. We’re dealing with human culture, and human culture is inherently unpredictable. Brand promises that resonated five years ago may not even seem relevant today.

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Fox – Thursday Night Football | This modular promo messaging system needed to seamlessly integrate Wieden+Kennedy’s live action spots – all while retaining a distinct voice of its own.

All-Inclusive…Not So Much

Television marketing has seen eras of envisioning a network as a destination, as a person, or as a lifestyle brand. I’ve noticed a constant ebb and flow of promoting the network over programming to build brand loyalty vs promoting programming over network to leverage property-specific fandom. And who can forget the era of networks outgrowing their own formats, when every female-focused network was trying to appeal more to men, every male-focused network was trying to appeal to women, Animal Planet was assuring us they were “Surprisingly Human”, and History Channel was not confined to the past but “Made Every Day”.

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Bravo – Logo Redesign | We researched existing bubble designs to ensure that Bravo’s revamped Talk Bubble would feel unique.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

The complexities of these branding scenarios can be head-spinning. A student in a top-tier communication design program may deal with a sensible sounding school-project brief like:

Design a brand package for a network showcasing content related to tourism in America. The brand should feel patriotic while remaining contemporary and accessible.

In the real world of network branding, however, we grapple with briefs like:

Our network recently rebranded to focus on American tourism, but shows relating to ghost-hunting and paranormal tourism are outperforming all of our other content by a significant margin. We need to refresh our brand to leverage this position while not completely changing the core brand in case we have another major programming shift in the near future.

Good luck.

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Fusion – Network Rebrand Concepts |We partnered with the Fusion team to reimagine their brand from the ground up, brand strategy to final execution.

Of course, this process has been unpredictable for as long as I can remember, but over the past few years, I’ve seen my clients dealing with more uncertainty than ever before. In addition to the ongoing dynamics detailed above, recent cultural and technological shifts have added even more layers of complexity. Analytical tools have made user data more accessible, creating pressure to respond to new data mid-stride as it comes in.

Managerially, we’ve all settled into a startup-influenced model – aim high, make big moves, don’t be afraid to make a hard pivot at the last minute. And on top of all that, delivery systems are more fragmented and unpredictable than ever. Content developed for social media ends up on conventional broadcast television, and vice-versa. And to top it all off, hypersensitivity regarding spoilers means we have less and less access to the content we’re tasked with promoting.

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Freeform – 25 Days of Christmas package | This redesign began in February and delivered in the spring. Throughout this process we collaborated with the Freeform team to navigate shifting needs and anticipate new challenges and they began a several month long implementation process.

The Need for Adaptability

This is where adaptability and change-friendly working practices are key. There’s a need for me to constantly scrutinize not just what we’re making from a creative and strategic standpoint, but how we’re making it form an efficiency standpoint. How is this piece of artwork built? How long will it take us to build a new one if the source image changes? Is it scalable? Is it copy-and-paste-able? Will this show logo still work if the title becomes twice as long? If it becomes half as long? If the vibe of the show changes entirely?

I’m less concerned with how long the initial build takes and more focused on how easy it will be to revise moving forward. It’s often a case of avoiding bleeding-edge technology in favor of more robust working practices. Network branding has a tendency to force us into approaches that seem technologically behind the times but allow for maximum flexibility on the back end.

The majority of my focus is still top-level creative and brand strategy. That’s the fun stuff, and I’d like to think it’s what I do best. But increasingly, I spend a larger and larger chunk of my day looking at network brands from an organizational and executional standpoint. In our current creative landscape, I have to. By freeing up time that would otherwise be spent muddling through revisions, my creative team is able to focus on what they do best – great creative.

About the Designer

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