Monday, April 19, 2010

Torpedoing Your Brand

I had a Professor, Jack Lechner, who put forward to us what he called Lechner's Law, which was this: At some point in a project's development, someone will propose getting rid of the thing that was most important to it. Usually it is the thing that is unique, the thing that makes it worthwhile. And what distinguishes a success from a failure is whether or not the producer/director/etc. accepts that poor advice.

Case in point. Animal Planet has a new tag-line: "Surprisingly Human." Their posters (you may have seen them on the Subway, New Yorkers) say things like, "It's not about Killer Fish. It's about one man's search for giant legends."

Excuse me while I lose my temper for a moment:


You're fucking called Animal Planet, for God's Sake. The reason people tune in is for animals.

But this isn't just Animal Planet. Cable is full of these sorts of self-sabotaging "Re-branding." Cartoon Network, for instance, is moving away from having its lineup be all cartoons. MTV no longer incorporates the words Music Television into their logo (in the same way that KFC was no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken for 16 years). Sci Fi Channel renamed itself "SyFy" just so they could own the trademark on its name.

Next up, I'm sure Comedy Central will start showing serious investigative journalism, and Cinemax will start to have feminist round-tables. C-SPAN will start covering the Oscars.

At any rate, these events are more extreme than "mission creep." It's a series of organizations basically deciding that they're not even going to treat their name as important. They dilute their own brand value and destroy their uniqueness without putting anything in its place.

So beware Lechner's Law, anyone. In order to avoid it, you have to be clear about what it is you offer (as all of the networks above really really should have been able to easily understand). That's what I loved about the Batman: Animated Series Writer's Bible that Isaac tossed up and I commented on. Those guys understood what it is that makes their work tick. If you forget it, you Jump the Shark.