Decision 2009 sounds sort of like a post election year runoff. Instead, it’s arguably the most talked about strategic on-air rebrand move in recent memory to garner interest (and in some cases fervor) from the public. The blogosphere and Twitteratti have lit up: Sci Fi Channel’s own blog has over a thousand comments (mostly negative) and over 1600 Diggs. When was the last time joe public cared so much about channel branding? I checked the traffic on my blog this morning and sure enough, visitor search terms to this blog for “SyFy”, “Channel Branding”, “Rebrand” were all up over 200% from prior to the announcement at Upfronts last week.
(Did you know SyFy means “sludge” and is a “social disease” in Polish? Don’t worry, Dave & Team have got it covered- more on that later! Didn’t think you’d be learning Polish today now did you?)
Landor’s tongue twisty re-name (apparently) has got people calling it Si-ffy, Sy-Fee, and other strange iterations. I myself miraculously got it on my first try. Go me. No matter what the ultimate result, there is no doubt there is a huge swell of interest in the brand. For the first time, in a long time (can there be a first time in a long time?) consumers are thinking (and talking) about TV branding again. And that in itself, is brilliant.
So now that takes us to SyFy President Dave Howe. Here’s recently found video of him at the 2009 Upfronts explaining more about the decision to rebrand in a down market, why to rebrand at all, as well as the channel’s feelings about the core audience.
He also answered the critics directly by responding to some questions posted on the wire. Here’s the short of it:
Do you know there are more than 1,000 comments on SCI FI Wire about the new name and that almost all of them are negative?
Howe: Yes, and we’ve read them all and welcome the feedback from our viewers, good and bad. We’re incredibly lucky to have so many people who feel passionate about our brand, even when they say things that are critical about us. And, of course, we didn’t expect everyone to like our new name. One of the things that’s a constant about any new brand or a brand that changes its name or logo is that the initial reaction will always be “Why?” or “That makes no sense.” (And, yes, we knew the phrasing would not be quite as polite as that!)
We’ve done a huge amount of research over the years about changing our name, and we knew that not everyone would welcome it. But we believe our new name, Syfy, gives us the best of both worlds. It builds off of our heritage but still creates a unique and ownable brand name that we can use to separate our shows from everyone else’s and opens our brand to new viewers. We think the long-term effect will be game-changing. Other brands that people didn’t like or didn’t get at first include Wii, Hulu, TiVo and even Amazon and Google! That’s great company to keep. And there’s another beloved brand we re-imagined a few years back that at first everyone didn’t trust us to get right, and that’s a show called Battlestar Galactica!
Do you know what “syfy” means in Polish?
Howe: Yes, we were enlightened early on in the process that in Polish, “syfy” means everything from sludge, gross objects, articles without value, devices not performing according to specification, even a social disease! What a colorful language! Because we knew this ahead of time, we had already made the decision to keep the SCI FI name in Poland. But other international territories were overwhelmingly in favor of Syfy, and we’ll be implementing our new brand in all other countries.
Why did you change your name in the first place? What’s wrong with sci-fi?
Howe: There’s nothing wrong with sci-fi, and we’ve had 16 great years as the SCI FI Channel. We love sci-fi, which is why we’ve said we have no intention of abandoning our roots or our core audience. We intend to continue to develop and produce great sci-fi shows like the two upcoming series we recently greenlit, Stargate Universe in the fall and Caprica, the prequel to Battlestar Galactica, coming early next year. Plus we’re bringing back Eureka in July, Sanctuary in the fall and launching a brand-new sci-fi show, Warehouse 13, in July. We’re still the biggest producer of sci-fi shows in all of TV, and we intend to stay number one.
Why do you hate your core fan base? Don’t you know we helped make your network a success? Why don’t you want to be associated with us anymore?
Howe: This is a total misperception, and none of us at the channel have ever said this. As I’ve tried to stress in the first question, we love the sci-fi genre, and we love our passionate fans. And that’s why we continue to create shows we hope you’ll enjoy. And it’s why we’re always at Comic-Con every year, bringing all of our stars to meet the fans and speak on panels.
It’s worth repeating what I said in the press release for our brand evolution: “While continuing to embrace our legacy and our core audience, we needed to cultivate a distinct point of view with a name that we could own that invites more people in and reflects our broader range of programming.”
Then why did you say, “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”?
Howe: We didn’t say this! This was a quote by a TV historian named Tim Brooks, speaking to TV Week, which has been mistakenly attributed to us by some people. That is not our view, and we wholeheartedly disagree with what Brooks had to say. He does not work for the network, and he hasn’t for more than 10 years.
Did you do any research about the new name with sci-fi fans?
Howe: Yes, we did extensive research with our core audience. Here are three quotes from sci-fi fans that are a good summary of what we heard:
“SCI FI sounds very generic, sounds basic. Syfy sounds cool, cutting edge, … the cool thing you want to be associated with.”
“It tells me that they are going to have different kinds of shows that are not just science fiction.”
So after watching and reading the interview, what do you think? Send me an email or comment below!