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YTV Brand Evolution: Expect the unexpected

Since its inception, YTV has faced the same brand challenge - to be where kids are while simultaneously remaining one step ahead of them. And over the past 20 years, its brand identity has evolved along these lines.
August 1, 2008

Since its inception, YTV has faced the same brand challenge – to be where kids are while simultaneously remaining one step ahead of them. And over the past 20 years, its brand identity has evolved along these lines.

‘One of the interesting things about the YTV brand is that it’s first and foremost kid-centered,’ says Paul Robertson, president of Corus Television. ‘There is a temptation to say we’re a family brand because we create a family environment…But we believe in kid empowerment and letting kids choose what they enjoy.’

Eschewing one of Nickelodeon’s early irreverent brand approaches – ‘No Parents Allowed’ – YTV’s positioning has always kept the door open to parents. ‘Co-viewing is led with kids in mind, and that does distinguish us from other networks,’ says Laura Behr, VP of marketing at Corus Kids.

Regardless of the necessary tweaks YTV has made to its on-air branding over the years to stay current with the kids, the YTV brand at its core remains quirky, funny and unexpected. ‘To maintain that, you have to evolve a lot,’ says Behr. ‘So we’ve changed our look every couple of years.’

When the net first launched in 1988, it had a broader appeal and definition, which was reflected in its on-air identity. Soon after launch, YTV narrowed its target to tweens and created a ‘You Rule’ campaign focused on kid empowerment with a high cool factor.

But when Teletoon arrived on the scene a decade ago, YTV decided to refocus on kids six to 11, crafting the infamous ‘Keep It Weird’ campaign. Dolores Keating-Mallen, then creative director for YTV, described the look of print and on-air graphics as fantastical, wondrous and hip.

‘We go into video arcades. We watch where the kids are going. We read their books and magazines,’ Keating-Mallen told KidScreen way back in 1998. ‘And we keep all of that in mind as we further develop the creative.’

At the time, that creative included 20 YTV icons – a motley crew of lizards and flies, skateboards and a manic screen-licking mouth emblazoned with the YTV logo – all of which raised the bar on YTV’s brand recognition. In fact, 1997′s YTV Tween Report, the net’s pioneering kid research vehicle, found that these icons were instantly recognized by 98% of English-Canadian kids ages nine to 14.

‘We wanted to be funny when we could and quirky the rest of the time; that’s still at the core of what we do, even though we’ve dropped the ‘Keep It Weird’ motto,’ says Behr. In an effort to keep the brand fresh and appeal to kids’ aspirational outlook, YTV nixed the tagline and introduced the YTV logo sphere two years ago, which Behr describes as ‘cooler than some of the characters and monsters we’ve had before, but still surprising.’

The net still makes use of icons, but as Behr notes, it’s less about the icon itself and more about what YTV does with it. And here, kids should always anticipate being surprised. If you see a guy climb a coconut tree, you might expect him to pick a coconut. Instead, in YTV’s on-air promos he’d throw snowballs. And where a coconut would normally fall from that tree, down drops the YTV logo. ‘That’s where the humor comes in,’ says Behr.

Behr claims that the key to YTV’s marketing and branding success lies in its proprietary kids research. ‘We feel we know kids well, and we never sit still for very long,’ she says. Proof positive that this strategy is working? This summer, YTV received the results from a brand tracking study designed to test the pulse of kid culture, and find out how they’re feeling about YTV and live-action programming. Part of the study included questions to test brand loyalty – for example, ‘If you could wear a t-shirt, which network’s t-shirt would you wear?’

‘We won on that front,’ says Behr. ‘The branding is a hit with kids. As they become less brand loyal in general, kids are still loyal to YTV.’

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