Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams: Fired for the sake of brand purity

To survive, big media networks like Fox and NPR need viewers/listeners and sponsors/donors. Just like Samsung or Playskool, they need loyal followers who always get the brand experience they want.

Because Fox and NPR are in crowded media markets, they strive for brand distinctiveness. They don't want to wind up like the major legacy networks – ABC, CBS, NBC – as declining behemoths lumped together in an undifferentiated blob. They need to be recognizably different.

Fox, for sure, has built a distinctive brand experience – populist, hard-hitting, opinionated. It is enormously successful because of it. The people at Fox understand branding and strive for that certain Fox experience every time people tune in. You would not expect late Beethoven quartets on Fox – heck, not even Ravel's Bolero.

NPR has a brand too – liberal-minded, cultured, thoughtful – "not yelling," as they remind us at contribution time. You would not expect Hank Williams Jr. belting out the theme to Monday Night Football on NPR – except to prompt listeners to smile at those childish masses who must have their fun. Now back to the special report on soil erosion in Malaysia – in-depth.

For NPR and Fox, on-air personalities are products, and products must reflect and reinforce the parent brand. NPR's recent firing of Juan Williams [His reply here:] is a perfect example of NPR getting its brand in order – defining it more precisely. For the NPR brand, Juan Williams is too open-minded (vs. liberal-minded), too independent (vs. politically correct), too candid (vs. expectedly in line) too anomalous (an African-American intellectual who chats amicably with right-wingers).

Juan Williams – a lively, passionate, open-minded, creative, entertaining, unpretentious journalist – does not fit the NPR brand. For the sake of brand consistency, NPR did the right thing.



Mario said...

Excellent post that finally puts this controversial episode in the right perspective. I am happy for Juan. He's a great professional who will now be able to work more freely and get the credit he deserves.

brandsinger said...

Thanks, Mario. Well said yourself!

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Anonymous said...

It's just another example of The Man, trying to keep a brother down...