Watching Jerry Seinfeld the other night got me thinking about what we branding lessons we can take from TV series makers. In particular, I'm intrigued by the creative geniuses like Seinfeld who manage to keep a TV series successful season after season after season. Here are some popular series and the number of seasons they kept going for, followed by some branding insights:
- Friends: 10 seasons
- Seinfeld: 9 seasons
- The West Wing: 7 seasons
- The Sopranos: 6 seasons
Balancing consistency and change
Overall, what all of the above series managed to do is pull off the tricky balancing act between consistency and change. Very few brands, most of them successful, are able to do this over the long term (e.g. Stella Artois UK, Apple since Steve Jobs' return).
In each case, the fundamental story (brand proposition] stayed the same. For example, the Sopranos was the adventures and mishaps of an insecure Mafia mobster who is in therapy. A number of other key creative elements [brand properties] are maintained, and more on this later. At the same time, there are enough plot twists and character evolutions [product upgrades] to keep viewers involved.
Building brand equities
The best series have all built a series of creative devices [brand equities] that help create recognition and familiarity. In the case of Friends these include:
- Logo [brand identity]
- Theme music [jingle]
- Opening/ending credits [advert end frames, such as "Mmmm Danone"]
- Central Perk coffee bar
A basic story/characters, updated over time
The central characters in each of the series stayed the same, as did the main story. However, these were all updated and refreshed. In Friends we had the on and off and on romance between Rachel and Ross for example.
Many great brands have literally created characters and stories that have been used over time:
Tesco UK: Dotty
Oxo UK: the Oxo family
Nescafe Gold Blend: The Gold Blend couple
Other brilliant brands have stuck to the same story, and used different executions to keep it fresh and interesting. A great example is the 20 years of Stella telling the story about "You'd give anything/do anything for a Stella".
Simple brand idea
I posted here about being able to summarise your brand idea in a 30 second pitch like the opening sequence of a TV programme.
Guest stars = Co-branding
Several of the series mentioned earlier have used guest stars to create interest and excitement, borrowing the associations viewers have with them. Friends featured many of such guest stars including Bruce Willis and Tom Selleck from Magnum fame (by the way, if you know the sames of the stars you, like me, are sadly in middle age)
In a similar way, brands can borrow relevant values from other brands via co-branding. Examples include Panasonic digital cameras with Leica lenses, Walkers crisps flavoured with Marmite and Heinz tomato ketchup and Haagen Dasz with Baileys.
Execution is key
Last bit not least, the great TV series keep investing in excellent execution by having teams of script writers working on them [apart from when, like now, they're on strike]. At the end of the day, we will only keep watching if the latest programme is as funny/scary/dramatic as we have come to expect.
The same applies to brands, that have to keep investing in upgrading their products, packaging and communication to keep them relevant and differentiated.
So, next time you're thinking about your brand, why not pretend to be a TV series writer. Hell, you might even get some extra work seeing as how those in Hollywood are all on strike!