ABC sets out in search of sharper brand image

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"TV is good" is not good enough for ABC anymore.

The network, third in the ratings among the Big 3 so far this season, is reaching beyond TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., as it sets out to more clearly define its brand identity.

ABC plans to keep working with the shop, but is talking to strategic brand consultancies--and possibly other agencies--to create a campaign "that is much more specific than just celebrating TV, which is what ABC's current effort is based upon," said one executive familiar with the plan.

ALL-ENCOMPASSING

The network wants to develop a new mission statement that will inform all programming, from news to sports to morning to prime time. One reason this is possible is that all those areas now report to Patricia Fili-Krushel, currently president of ABC-TV Network; her predecessor, Preston Paddon, didn't have such broad responsibilities.

Alan Cohen, exec VP-marketing, is the point person on the initiative. Mr. Cohen is the executive who gave the green light to the current campaign that uses yellow backgrounds; he could not be reached for comment last week.

While the "yellow" campaign--introduced in August 1997--has won kudos from some for breaking new ground in network advertising, it also has been derided by some for failing to brand ABC with an identifiable tagline.

Because of their diverse programming, broadcast networks largely have been unsuccessful at crafting overall identities the way a targeted cable network such as Nickelodeon or Comedy Central can. The individual shows on broadcast networks tend to be the real consumer brands, not the actual networks.

2 SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

But ABC's broad-based branding initiative draws inspiration from two sources, said another executive familiar with the plan: "They're looking at the cable networks and are seeing what a great job a lot of them do with branding, and then they see a lot of the blue-chip marketers, like a Nike or a Pepsi, and see how they've been able to shape their brands."

"The trick ABC has is finding a brand identity that is clear but not limiting in the sense they certainly want to remain broadcasters, not narrowcasters," said the first executive.

The ABC effort comes as all the networks are facing continuing viewer erosion, especially among adults 18-to-34 and 18-to-49, a key demographic target for advertisers. ABC is improving somewhat in reaching adults 18-to-49; for new series, the network is up 11% in the demographic in the early weeks of this season compared to the same period last year, according to a report by TN Media.

But the top five returning shows on ABC--"NFL Monday Night Football," "The Drew Carey Show," "Home Improvement," the Friday version of "20/20" and "Dharma & Greg"--are all down in the overall ratings, TN said.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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