International Data Group's plan to take its "For Dummies" line of computer and lifestyle how-to books to TV is a logical extension of a strong consumer brand. Where a brand is not already strong, however, the logic of tech media brands venturing out into mass media such as TV falls flat.
That's the problem, for example, with Microsoft's dream of creating TV "brands" from its online properties. Even managers with Microsoft's business clout behind them must be clear-headed about what weight their tech brands carry in the bigger world of media. Dreams can easily surpass marketplace realities.
IDG's success can't help but tempt others, of course. It's done a remarkable job in extending its Dummies brand-born in technology-into reference books covering everything from sex to taxes. Even a line of "Dummies" classical music CDs is selling briskly. Now IDG sees TV as the next great medium for "Dummies." No joke: "Dummies" has a chance to be the next Bob Vila-or maybe Martha Stewart-glibly giving faithful dummies the smarts.
But where Dummies succeeds, others may fail. Microsoft wants to extend Microsoft Network online brands to TV. Maybe auto-themed programming based on CarPoint, Microsoft's car-shopping service? Programming keyed to Rifff, an interactive music site? A show playing off Mungo Park, Microsoft's travel adventure Webzine? Is there money to be made taking Michael Kinsley's Slate from the Web to TV?
MSN's executive producer is excited about the prospect of extending Web-spun brands to traditional media. The Internet's interactive nature sparks creativity to produce content inspired by the medium, and that process has created a mass of intellectual property that's just waiting to be exploited on television, he explains.
Great in theory, but not necessarily in practice.
The best consumer tech media brands translate well in the non-tech world: Yahoo! started as a Web search site; now it publishes a monthly magazine with Ziff-Davis and is working on an animated adventure TV series based on its popular kids' search service, "Yahooligans!" Yahoo! is an inspired, appealing brand with legs.
A smart software company, Microsoft is not a successful media company-at least not yet. MSNBC has found a small audience, but the brand that gives the TV news channel credibility is "NBC," not "MS."
Microsoft is still proving itself as a new-media company. It's a bit early to pronounce a great TV future for Microsoft brands most consumers have never heard of.
For managers eager to take their tech media brands out for a spin in the wider media world, sure, dream a little. But imagination is no substitute for something harder to come by: a brand that, like Dummies, is a hit at home before it tries to play, and win, in other fields.
NOT THE 'UN'
It's no "new" 7up that's due to arrive in January. What Dr Pepper/Seven Up executive wants to invoke the memory of "new Coke"? But 7UP smartly recognizes it needs a new story to tell as a brand playing catch up.
No longer the un-cola, it wants to lead with what it is-lemon-lime refreshment-not what it is not. So it's "reformulating," but only to "enhance" its crisp taste. With the fizz back in lemon-lime category sales,
largely due to Coca-Cola Co.'s work with Sprite, the "not-new but better" positioning should get 7UP the consumer trial it needs to at least try to get back in the game. Un-cola in its time was brilliant. Be like Sprite may be less