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8Sep/090

ITV Brighter Place: The problem with modern branding

There was a time when UK TV channel branding consisted of a nice man smiling and telling you you were watching the telly. My favourites were Neville Wanless and Brian Steele on Tyne Tees, though I could name others.

They would announce the programmes coming up later in the day, relay information about which of the transmitters were down and for how long (Pontop Pike or Bedale), and wish a certain watching Grandma a happy birthday. They did this in front of a Tyne Tees logo. And that was branding.

The BBC had a revolving globe, with the letters BBC written underneath. That was their branding. As we moved into the 90s the BBC put in a bit more effort, and came up with the likes of the iconic BBC2 idents.

The various ITV networks all had their own ident that consisted of a clunky logo clumsily animated over a basic musical sting. Try these on for size:

Anyway, all of this predictably brings me to something more modern that I dislike. If you've been to the cinema recently you'll probably have discovered ITV's latest branding exercise. Like seemingly any advert for a TV channel these days, this seems to consist of telling you that your life will be immeasurably better for watching a particular TV channel - as if watching TV is the single most exciting, mind-expanding, mood-enhancing horizon-broadening experience you could possibly hope for.

In this Brighter Side ad/ident, a bunch of kids enjoying a wet weekend on Shetland throw stones at the sky until sunlight appears. Which, I think you'll agree, is just like television.

It's fairly well executed, as it goes, and as a concept it's not too revolting. But it's hard to think of any one product that's worthy of such hyperbolic praise. Something that metaphorically brings sunshine into your life, brightens up your day and can change your entire emotional state. There's only a few things I can think that could make me feel this way, and most of them are illegal.

I'm reminded of the Hugh Hudson-directed party political broadcast showing Neil Kinnock to be some sort of Welsh ubermensch in 1987. The film looked amazing, but when people saw it they shrugged and said "Yeah, but it's still that bloody Welsh windbag". Kinnock lost, heavily.

I feel like shaking the people at ITV, showing them the old idents and continuities and saying "Look, this is what inspires loyalty and fondness. This clunky old stuff. Real, identifiable people and companies that mean something to everyday people." I'd be wasting my breath. Times change, the media has moved on - at least that's what they tell us. And even if they brought back continuity announcers they wouldn't be like old Neville (allegedly the template for Viz's Roger Melly). As soon as you hit 25 in that game in this day and age it's curtains, like a voiceover version of Logan's Run.

Still, I can't believe that in 20 years' time there'll be someone tapping out an irritable missive on TV advertising, jonesing for the days when a faceless 19-year-old with a stupid haircut introduced the X-tra Factor.

TV companies could really learn a thing or two about their brands, simply by gawping at how much stuff there is on the web devoted to them back in the 70s and 80s. In a time when terrestrial broadcasters are under threat from so many different directions, the public's affection for their TV stations could be the difference between life and death.

This Brighter Side piece is nice and shiny, and as this sort of high-concept fluff goes its quite good - barring the self-consciously wacky penguins – but I feel no emotional attachment to ITV in the way I used to. In a world of glossy, feelgood branding, there's nothing to make this stick out beyond the Beeb, Sky, Virgin or even one of the smaller satellite channels.

In its efforts to compete on the bigger stage, ITV long ago lost any real connection it used to have with its audience, just as its long struggle to carve out an individual identity or purpose since losing those regional idents has been in vain. Those silly, cheap, slightly weird idents that probably used cardboard and Chromakey and stock photography and cost £20 to make. A different time, and a different world.

• There's a quite brilliant video on all this stuff on this Youtube channel, which I urge you to watch. Look for the ITV In The Face vids.

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