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Lee Hunt Lecture: The Paradox of Media Brands

The World is Just Awesome.


This past Wednesday SCAD presented a lecture by expert brand strategist Lee Hunt. The event was well attended, and even though his talk focused on media brands, his insights were relevant for anyone dealing with the creation or maintenance of brands for any consumer product.

First the Basics

He did a great job of covering the basics of what a brand is and what it needs to do. Anyone unfamiliar with the idea of a brand being more than just a logo would’ve gotten a lot out of this part. In short, a brand is:

  • the perception that exists in people’s mind
  • a set of expectations – promises the product makes to the consumer
  • a shortcut – an easy way to understand why the product you’ve chosen is superior to its competitors

But most importantly your brand isn’t what you say it is,
it’s what they say it is.

With that in mind, any successful brand needs to do 3 things:

  1. Define the asset – this is the easy part, basically just communicate what it is you’re selling.
  2. Differentiate – now it gets a bit trickier, you need to set yourself apart from the competition.
  3. Establish relevance to the consumer – even more difficult, this means finding a way of convincing your target audience why you belong in their already media and product saturated lives.

Now the Meat

With a broad understanding of the challenges of branding down, Hunt went on to the crux of the presentation, which he calls the Paradox of Media Brands. Because of the space they occupy in our lives, media brands have a particularly tough job when it comes to defining their offering, differentiating themselves from the noise and connecting to an audience whose tastes change hour by hour, day-part by day-part and click by click. They need to:

Expand, Contract and Stay the Same all at the same time.
Memes come and go. What was cool at 10am is no longer interesting at 11am, and networks need to always be aware of what’s considered interesting by their market in order to command their attention. So they need to be flexible enough to flow with the ever shifting tide of the cultural zeitgeist, but as they’re doing that, never lose sight of what makes them unique.

The example he used for this was the usa network. Given the challenge of finding a single idea that embraced the diverse programming they offered (syndicated dramas, Wimbledon, WWE wrestling, original comedies), while staying away from messaging that their competitors were using (TNT already knew drama, tbs focussed on being “very funny”, and Hallmark was where “stories come to life”) usa zeroed in on the central component of all stories… characters.

With their “characters welcome” tagline, they were able to bring everything they did under 1 umbrella idea while laying the foundation for connecting with their viewers as characters themselves.

Be Different Things to Different People, on Different Platforms, yet Stand for 1 Thing.

The perfect example of this was the Discovery Channel who took a risk when they decided to branch out from their usual nature-themed programming with a little show called “American Chopper.” The risk paid off as they managed to tap into an audience they hadn’t had access to before, yet were able to discover (sorry couldn’t resist) how sturdy their brand was in the minds of their loyal fans. This promo spot summed up the sentiment they were tapping into nicely…”The World is Just Awesome”

Be fresh, Evolve yet be Consistent and Reliable

TNT was used as a good example of how a channel can use their central idea “drama” and evolve not only the look and feel of their on-air promotions, but also the use of their tag line. When they launched their “we know drama” focus 10 years ago, the social landscape was different. People expected little more than interesting stories  from their media outlets. Now with a more “me”-centric, interactive society,  the audience needs to be engaged. We are users not just consumers of tv. Sensing this change, TNT changed their tag line subtly from merely “we know drama” (which is focused on the channel not the viewer) to a series of lines like, “we know drama inspires” “we know drama captivates” etc. with its implication of “you” at the end.


(images from

Then there’s the  Future

Hunt closed his presentation with a look forward into future of  media. Even though this consisted more of questions than predictions, his ability to see how trends are affecting the landscape is a testament to his years of experience in this field.  His main point as far as the future’s concerned is that the Paradoxes continue:

  • Fragmentation in the midst of Convergence – as we get more outlets, we get more ways to sync those into one device or portal
  • Mobile vs 3D – the screens are getting smaller in our hands, yet bigger in our living rooms
  • Narrowcasting vs Broadcasting – niche marketers have the reach of global audiences
  • iTunes in a world of YouTube –  professional rights managed and restricted entertainment vs free and viral

In Conclusion

What can be said for media brands can be said for any brand. So I suggest you take Lee Hunt’s advice and make sure you build your brand so that it can:

  • Expand, Contract and Stay the Same all at the same time.
  • Be Different Things to Different People, on Different Platforms, yet Stand for 1 Thing.
  • Be fresh, Evolve yet be Consistent and Reliable

Or at least hire someone who can do that for you…. 😉

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.