NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Time Warner Cable spun off from corporate parent Time Warner in March 2009, one obvious question hung over the No. 2 cable company's head: Why keep the name "Time Warner Cable" when it was no longer a Time Warner company?
So last January, Time Warner Cable's chief marketing officer, Sam Howe, and his agency partners at WPP's Ogilvy embarked on a name search, internally dubbed Project Mercury, to see what names, if any, could better define the newly independent company. The search was voluntary (the company had no contractual obligation to find a new name), exhaustive (dozens of names were explored, two were seriously considered) and ultimately, after 18 months as a standalone company, Time Warner Cable's new name is ... Time Warner Cable.
"When we first looked at the direction we wanted to take as our own company two years ago, we asked ourselves, 'What are we to people?' We didn't want to just be a cable company," Mr. Howe said, noting that the company considered removing the "Cable" from its name as well. "But we think we'll create distance from the parent in time. Those words together still carry a lot of equity."
Instead, Time Warner Cable will debut a revamped logo, design and branding campaign in an effort to establish a unique identity both as a brand and as a cable company. That includes ditching the RoadRunner logo it famously licensed from former corporate sibling Warner Bros. to advertise its internet service (although it will keep the brand name) as well as the capitalized, Time magazine-inspired font in its corporate logo. Time Warner Cable will now use a proprietary font, TWC Round, that draws less attention to the "Cable" part of its name so that its other products -- phone, internet, on-demand -- can get equal play. The company's logo, an eye/ear hybrid inspired by the work of Swiss artist Steff Geissbuhler, will also be featured more prominently.
A series of TV spots debuting this week, created with Ogilvy Group Creative Director Tommy Henvey, should also look a little different. Gone are the competitive ads featuring actor Mike O' Malley calling out Verizon Fios for its deceptive billing practices. In their place are ads featuring families with active lifestyles made easier by Time Warner products: a father pitching baseballs to his son while programming a game from his Remote DVR Manager; a couple who can watch an on-demand movie at the same time on any TV in their house; a married couple who can listen to voicemails from their son via e-mail.
Time Warner Cable's quest to find a less-corporate image is hardly without precedent. In 2006, Cablevision rebranded its cable service as Optimum to give it a distinct identity, while Comcast just renamed its service as Xfinity. But without a formal name change, Time Warner Cable's branding challenge lies within its design and marketing.
"It's undeniable that cable companies suffer from public-perception issues, so a fresh coat of paint sometimes is in order," said Ian Olgierson, a multichannel TV analyst at SNL Kagan. "It doesn't take a tremendous amount of savvy to differentiate between Time Warner Inc. and Time Warner Cable, and with consumers they're sort of different products. ... They're not changing the formula of Coke; they're changing the can of Coke."
The campaign's flexible tagline is "Moving technology forward to bring you back" and is Time Warner Cable's way of positioning itself as a lifestyle brand that happens to have innovative technology, especially when compared to the tech-heavy ads favored by its competitors. Kim Bates, Time Warner Cable's VP-marketing communications strategy, cited Target , Google and Apple as some of the aspirational brands she'd like to see the company associated with one day. "Target 's logo is this icon that's taken on another life. We want to make our eye/ear a part of the culture," she said. "Google's logo changes all the time. We need a brand that can change and feel fresh."
That flexibility will also soon apply to Time Warner Cable's products themselves. Mr. Howe said the company will debut a "different pricing architecture" early next year that will give customers more options in creating their subscriptions, while customer service will also get an upgrade. The company's DVR products will be expanding in a big way next spring with the debut of products like Look Back, which will allow customers to watch programs they missed for up to three weeks past their initial airdates.
Focusing on branding while rivals wage war against each other's products can be risky. Second-quarter pay-TV subscriptions were challenged across the board, down 216,000 customers across cable, satellite and telco households, due largely to the recession. Time Warner Cable in particular lost 111,000 basic video subscribers during the time period, though it saw growth in digital video subscriptions (50,000 adds) and bundled customers (68,000). It's because of those trends that Mr. Howe thinks the company can move beyond making devices and networks key parts of its marketing messaging.
"Everyone has a theory that the subscriber trends are due to cord-cutting, but there's no greater number of cord-cutters year-over-year. Maybe the intent to cord-cut is up, but we're not seeing it," he said. "We think this brand gets you back into that space of not wanting to cut the cord, or at least assist you into time-shifting if you didn't think you could before. We're a platform company, not a bundle company, and the number of customer relationships has stayed quite strong."