Monday, March 16, 2009

Landor Dumbs Down SciFi

In the never-ending battle between giant, over-priced hack "branding" agencies, Landor took a vicious swipe at the Arnell agency's latest Tropicana fiasco by "re-branding" cable television's Sci-Fi Channel with a hopelessly stupid and - you should pardon the pun - incredibly alienating new moniker: SyFy.

Wow. It's hard to tell where to begin to describe just how clueless this effort is. But what the heck. I'll give it a shot.

Clearly, the entire project was commissioned, planned and executed by teams who had no idea of what appeals to science fiction fans - or how to drive a corporate brand into the hearts and minds of its target audience. According to the New York Times:

“We couldn't own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,” said Bonnie Hammer, the former president of Sci Fi who became the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions. “But we can own Syfy.”

Here's a newsflash: Who would want to own SyFy? You want it? It's yours, lady. Take it. Because nobody, and I mean nobody, wants a dumbed-down, stupid play on a phrase-of-the-week that's doomed to irrelevance when the term "wi-fi" expires. And that includes current SciFi viewers who are vocally expressing their displeasure at this latest exercise in fan condescension. Fans - or should I say ex-fans of the channel are rightly angry at the brand for surrendering the very "geek" qualities that originally attracted them to their favorite mode of entertainment.

Another benefit of the new name is that it is not “throwing the baby away with the bath water,” she added, because it is similar enough to the Sci Fi brand to convey continuity to “the fan-boys and -girls who love the genre.”

Ms. Hammer and her successor as Sci Fi president, Dave Howe, said they had sat through many meetings over the years at which a name change was debated.
The principal reason the idea kept coming up, Mr. Howe said, was a belief “the Sci Fi name is limiting.”

Did you read that last paragraph? They actually had many meetings over the years to come up with this? What's next, a musical Hannah Montana version of Close Encounters?

Take a look at some of the other logos that appealed to SciFi viewers over the years and you'll find that all of them are driven by core attributes of the science fiction aficionado: intelligence, curiosity, imagination and more than a touch of prideful geekdom. See, what Hammer doesn't get is that sci-fi fans actually dig being geeky. They get as much of a rush from being geeky as she might from, say, a new Prada purse.

Landor, the hack agency that created the name and logo, has once again proven its ineptitude, by charging big bucks for a logo that was probably the result of a junior designer spending an hour or two rendering a 3D line of text in Carrara Pro, completely draining the mark of any values to which sci-fi fans could relate. What you've got there, friends, is a soccer mom's version of what the people at Landor think science fiction ought to be.

If science fiction logos were cars, this one would be a mini-van. Yuck.

To be fair, this isn't all Landor's fault. Much of the blame should be placed at the feet of SciFi's corporate managers, who obviously have no concept of what branding is or does. The big clue is that the spokesmen for corporate are all based out of the channels sales department. Which, I suppose, is fitting. After all, they're the ones who are going to be feeling the pinch the hardest.


Blogger Meg said...

Well, it's a great thing that my husband and I cancelled cable, then. As former SciFi junkies, I don't think we'd be able to stomach seeing SyFy.

Looks more like SeeFee to me, anyhow. But what a great coincidence! Now that we're not paying for cable we're not seeing that fee any longer!

3:10 PM  
Blogger eydryan said...

Firstly I honestly think if I saw Syfy for the first time, with that fat font I'd bet it were a cartoon channel.

Secondly, as I said in my tweet, I'd probably pronounce it as seefee or sifi since it really doesn't connect with anything from the sci-fi world.

Thirdly, the logo looks very cheery and as any sci-fi fan out there knows, the future is anything but cheery, and most times, there's some fugly alien race trying to wipe us out for no apparent reason other than what weird faces we have.

Wow, I just realised I never made it to four before. Would it be fourthly? Anyway, moving on from this obviously bad idea of renaming a geek channel, I can see the point behind the new brand, opening up to audiences not wanting to be labeled as geeky or male but they could employ other means.

Destroying a great name is no way to attract new customers, but to lose your faithful evangelists.

Thanks for the great article Rob!

4:21 PM  
Blogger Jeska said...

This is brilliantly done. Thanks for calling out bad branding and utter clueless-ness about who your customers are.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As soon as I saw "sy" I immediately thought "syphilis." It just happened, instantly, perhaps due to an embedded knowledge that "sy" in Latin is generally associated with Something Bad.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Methuselah Jones said...

As soon as I saw the name "Bonnie Hammer", I knew it would be something incredibly stupid. Sci Fi fans have detested her for years.

J. Michael Straczynski has a real way with words; one of my favorite quotes of his, referring to a network programming executive decision:

"There's actually a kind of awe that sets in when you begin to really understand the extent of the stupidity involved...the same kind of stunned, silent reverence that comes when you finally see the Mona Lisa up close, or the first time you hear 'Ode to Joy' performed by a live orchestra. The sheer majestic perfection of it sends you to your knees with the realization that this is not just common stupidity, it's a Mount Everest rising into the clouds...a level of stupidity so monumental that it actually acquires horizontal perspective."

2:33 PM  
Blogger Aimee said...

Are they still going through with this?? This is ridiculously stupid. I HATE it when people intentionally misspell things to seem "cool." It's not cool; it's offensive and makes everyone seem more foolish for it. To glorify "IM" or "leet" speak is a tragedy. Everyone involved in this fiasco needs to go back to school. There's no "y" in science fiction.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Landor actually blogged about the incident, in what I perceived to be a serious lapse in professional judgement, blaming their client.

It's here, if you'd like to read it:

10:18 AM  

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