Showing posts with label SyFy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SyFy. Show all posts

Monday, July 13

Speaking SyFy: The Bobblehead Equation

Last week, the Sci Fi Channel became SyFy in what is being called by some "the most ill-advised branding move since New Coke." (It's actually much worse than New Coke because there won't be a black market for the old product.)

The name change was originally floated to disbelieving Sci Fi fans as early as March. But even so, four months must not have been enough time for the future SyFy marketing and public relations team to get on the same page. It must not have been enough time because the excuses behind the rebranding effort are all over the place, enough so that SyFy deserves a Letterman-styled top ten list...

The Top Ten Stupid Excuses "Uttered" For Renaming The Sci Fi Channel

10. Although we love the name Sci Fi, because it's a generic term, we can never own it.

9. It positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark.

8. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination and new dimensions.

7. It will pave the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand.

6. Syfy allows us to build on our 16-year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre.

5. Michael Engleman asked "what if we could change the name without ever changing the name?"

4. It's much more hip and fits better with the new slogan "Imagine Greater."

3. SyFy is how our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd texts the name.

2. We want to appeal to more women and young people.

1. The name Sci Fi was associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements.

So What Is The Real Reason Sci Fi Channel Had To Become SyFy?

The bobblehead equation.

That's right. The only legitimate reason for a successful 16-year-old brand to become something else is an entire room full of bobbleheads.

It starts innocently enough. Someone had nothing better to do. Or maybe they do, but don't want to do it. Or maybe they do, but want to feel like they own something. So they start pointing out problems: the name is too long, the name is limiting, the name doesn't appeal to enough people, especially women.

And then, maybe because people are afraid to lose their jobs in a recession, the entire room of creative guys and corporate shirts start bobbing their little heads up and down, down and up, up and down. Done. The Sci Fi Channel becomes SyFy.

Seriously. I've seen it happen in person several times over the last 20 years. And, I expect I will with even more frequency, in the next 20 years. It happens all the time and the consequences are usually much, much worse than the damage done by some committee on a nonprofit organization.

In this case, even the myth that Michael Engleman asked the question (contradicting other stories shared by the press) and inked out the new name five minutes later is baloney. Some of us already know where SyFy originated, and for a much better reason.

But no matter. Despite all the speculation, most people know the truth now. The only reason we have to endure the name SyFy is because of bobbleheads, with David Howe, according to some, being the biggest bobbler of all after he said no one would remember this in a few years' time. Um, okay. You just keep bobbling, David, and everything will be fine.

The Case For Message Management During Change.

The whole SyFy snafu actually makes an excellent case for message management. Although it often gets a bad rap, being likened to corporate speak and political spin, sometimes it's a good thing.

You see, sometimes message management simply ensures that twenty-some spokespeople don't go around the press circuit with a different excuse. When they do, it makes it look less like you had a bobblehead moment and much more like you're lying because there is no good reason at all.

Thursday, July 9

Rebranding SyFy: What's In A Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." — Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Depending on the interview, Howe seems to have a different answer as to why the 16-year-old Sci Fi Channel has become SyFy.

"We want to appeal to more women and young people," Howe told The Washington Post in contrast to the myriad of answers delivered to viewers, fans, journalists, bloggers, and everyone else.

Why on planet earth David Howe didn't stick to the first sentence of the first question in SyFy's FAQ is beyond me. It states the challenge very clearly: "Although we love the name Sci Fi, because it's a generic term, we can never own it."

Never mind for a moment that the Sci Fi Channel already owned the name from a branding perspective. And never mind its global argument (all of its other foreign networks are still named Sci Fi no matter what they say).

Let's take the FAQ at face value. It alludes to the challenge of introducing non-broadcast products, parks, gaming, technology, and online networks that go well beyond broadcast programming. That logic, and only that logic, is boring but sound. The strategy to make it happen, on the other hand, is flawed.

How To Expand Before Rebranding

Rather than rename the flagship, the Sci Fi Channel could have launched its new assets under the new SyFy name, creating a distinct brand over time much in the same way Apple branded Newton and Macintosh. After the new identity took hold, they would have had the option to circle back with a name that would mean something to someone.

In fact, the Sci Fi Channel brand might have protected the network from push back if any of the new products happened to, you know, suck. (Imagine what might have happened if Apple first changed its name to Newton. Eesh.) This expand first, circle back strategy would have been cheaper too, something people like investors usually appreciate.

Instead, SyFy has locked into an expensive top-down rebranding strategy with a name that nobody seems to like. And since they can't really reverse course, the executives are left with nothing to do except push, push, push it. If that isn't bad enough, the Sci Fi Channel will also have to relive the ugliness as SCI FI UK, SCI FI France, SCI FI Germany, SCI FI Spain, SCI FI Japan, SCI FI Italy, SCI FI Australia, and SCI FI Latin America have yet to be renamed and repackaged.

Each of these upcoming events could renew the fuel of fan branding — and that brand is that the new SyFy name as a brand smacks of executive stupidity. It may even set the stage for former Sci Fi enthusiasts to be critical of any new SyFy products in order to reinforce what they seem to the be saying — SyFy is headed in the wrong direction and the name does not smell as sweet.

Branding As Seen By A Guy Named Bill

William Shakespeare isn't often seen as a marketer or brand strategist, but Romeo and Juliet ought to be thought of as a branding primer. Inside the lines of the most-produced play in history, Shakespeare clearly asks all the right questions.

Montague or Capulet? Does the name really make the brand or does the brand encompass the qualities of an individual that one might be but worn with love? Ergo, brands are not names. Rather, names and phrases eventually become an encapsulated definition of all the meaning people associate with the brand. If not, then Juliet may have let herself be plucked by Paris.

So can be said for "SyFy." There is no context to make SyFy a brand. And, if anything, the fans are not only saying the new name doesn't smell as sweet. They say it's kind of stinky. Ho hum. For want of a name, they lost a brand.

For the new marketing or advertising student, it's a good lesson to take hold of and own forever. Say it over and over again: brands are not names and names are not brands. In fact, in the case of a network, the programming and other products make the brand and the name merely encapsulates it. For example, ABC doesn't feel limited to the alphabet.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with renaming or rebranding a company. All I'm pointing out is a that a simple risk assessment might have suggested that you don't want to irritate 5 million Website visitors a month or the millions who helped the Sci Fi Channel climb to the fifth most watched cable network on television.

But alas, SyFy execs have done exactly that. According to Variety, they are even more irritated than they were when the Sci Fi Channel gave Starbuck a gender makeover.

Will they get over it? It's hard to say. Fans might have gotten over Starbuck, but this time SyFy doesn't have Kara Thrace to pull it off over several seasons. SyFy's shrug off of the fans and sell it attitude isn't helping much either. More on Monday.

Wednesday, July 8

Rebranding Disaster: Sci Fi Becomes SyFy

After 16 years of branding, the SCI FI Channel has officially become SyFy as of yesterday. David Howe, president of SyFy, announced the change last March, but SCI FI Channel fans seemed reluctant to believe it until the change actually took place yesterday. Some suggested it was an early April Fool's joke.

So why did they change it?

"By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider range of current and future imagination-based entertainment beyond just the traditional sci-fi genre, including fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure." — Sci Fi Wire


"Syfy allows us to build on our 16-year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre: the imagination. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination, exceptional experiences and greater entertainment that paves the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand." — David Howe


"It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and nonlinear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures." — Sci Fi Wire


“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.” — Tim Brooks


"When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it. It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.” — David Howe

No one is certain what 18-to-34 techno savvy crowd they tested, but former Sci Fi Channel fans have dubbed the name change the dumbest idea in television history. Comments left across the Web have ranged from disbelief to unrestrained anger.

What Are They Saying?

"Well, it's one step closer to "Spiffy.",

"This is a really stupid move and just goes to show you that the network has lost its way."

Syfy has emphasized its point that it's become a hollow mockery of everything its fans have known and loved.

Anyone else notice how “SyFy” looks like an abbreviation for syphilis?

Artistic misspellings are still hip, right? Isn’t that what the kids are doing on their internets?

Never mind two months of negative comments since the name was first floated. Howe is convinced, and says everyone else from NBC and SyFy is convinced too. In fact, despite saying the test market approved of the change, Howe claimed in another interview that they were totally prepared for the push back.

"We expected fans not to like it. The reaction from fans always same default reaction -- it's that we're going to abandon the genre." he said. "That isn't what its about."

So what is it really about?

Nobody seems to know. Most of the time, employees like Craig Engler, who manages the SyFy Twitter account, are too busy explaining what it isn't about to ever offer up a clear account of what it is about.

"No, we are not changing our programming mix … you pronounce it like 'sci-fi' … [it's not spelled wrong] Syfy is a made-up name, not a word, so it’s spelled correctly as is. Like Wii. Or Twitter …" — Craig Engler

Except, as the author behind the Warming Glow quickly pointed out, Twitter is an actual word. He even looked it up.

Of course, not knowing Twitter is a word seems minor in comparison to the notion that a rebranding campaign might boost interest in the opening of the Syfy Imagination Park in Rockefeller Center on July 12. On the contrary, the rebranding has buried it.

So in what can only be called an avalanche of negative public sentiment and press, the Sci Fi Channel has certainly been rebranded. Unfortunately, it has not been rebranded as Howe, Brooks, and Engler had hoped. But that stands to reason. Brands are not really names. Brands are better described as the relationship between consumers and a product, person, or even programming.

In this case, it seems to me that SyFy is establishing a new brand. And unfortunately, this new brand landing somewhere between silly and stupid or maybe just sad. There is so much wrong here, it will take a living case study to sort it all out.

That's right. This branding disaster is no moon. It's a space station. More tomorrow.

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