Sci Fi Channel: When Branding Goes Stupid

Sci Fi Channel is trying a new branding idea that is seriously going to backfire on them. Really, I don’t watch TV but I’ve heard enough, including comments on my writers’ groups that say this is one big dumb idea.

The executives, those guys who get paid the big bucks, decided that the term sci fi (pronounced sie fie) which people everywhere identify with science fiction was just too geeky and they wanted to distance themselves from that overly geeky image.

“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,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

Anti-social boys as opposed to the general public and the female audience? Urr, have any of these guys actually paid attention to the changing world of science fiction in the last fifty years? Have they noticed that the stories and characters are farther reaching, that perhaps they’re thinking cliche here? Yes, the demographics will still have a majority of men but I’m thinking not as big a margin of difference as they might believe. Hmm, well they want to broaden their audience. That’s a good thing, right? “We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”  They wanted to distance themselves from what they were selling. How odd. The execs must suffer from a lot of split personality disorders.

So, in their infinite wisdom, they have decided that a rebranding of a channel that shows science fiction and fantasy programs will be better if it doesn’t look like sci fi, even though that’s what they’re selling, sci fi shows. The think tanks specialists of NBC worked long and hard I’m sure, trying to find the right name. Over 300 ideas in fact.  And guess what they came up with: SyFy. Yep, if you think that sounds the same as sci fi, you’re right.

“When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said.

Hilarious. I mean, if I was being techno savvy and texting I would use SF, pronounced ess eff. My techno-savvy friends would figure that out and it takes fewer letters. And aren’t they trying to bring in new viewers besides those techno-savvy viewers who are already watching? But “SF”, maybe the general public can’t recognize what that stands for so SyFy will look better and “cooler” as the execs proclaim. Cooler. Yeah, way cool. And of course more identifiable as umm…science fiction but not science fiction.

I wonder why they didn’t go for “skiffy,” one former pronunciation of the term sci fi, which I was told once was what the nongeeky people called SF. It just sounded too goofy to me. In the world of speculative fiction where we who are female or older than sixteen but perhaps still geeky tend to say sci fi, or SF or science fiction even. We even say speculative fiction to encompass horror, fantasy and science fiction. I’ve not noticed people at the theaters worrying about what category the films like Wall-E, Watchmen or Star Wars fit into. In fact, Vancouver’s top grossing movie last week was Watchmen. But then:

Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

And that’s the point. They don’t think sci fi, SF or SyFy. They look at what they think they will enjoy. A rose by any other name? But hey, if these big execs want to spend their time mixing letters up, well that shows what’s important. I wonder what their programming will be like. I’d like a job like this, to spend time thinking up a new way to spell the same word.

Oh and I really hope they haven’t gone international with this. If they have, people in Poland may not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon as “syfy” translates to something like heretical and unclean. The full article is below and people’s comments are worth reading as it indicates how well the brand change is going over.

http://www.tvweek.com/news/2009/03/sci_fi_channel_aims_to_shed_ge.php

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Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, internet, movies, people, science fiction, space

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