Brand Recap: TLC – Um, What Exactly Am I “Learning”?

November 2nd, 2010

Branding an operation, company, product, or service requires serious considerations.  One is to never impose a brand that insults your target market’s collective intelligence.  Products such as KFC’s Double Down are prime examples of really bad branding, as the name actually asks the consumer to be stupid – that is, to “double down” on fat, cholesterol, salt, calories, poor health, and disgusting flavor.

In our quest to advocate a better media aesthetic, we’ve commented on content programming that really scrapes bottom.  Sadly, the nonsense continues to spread, delivering deceptive brands that even the most cunning totalitarian propaganda machine would admire.

Consider the Discovery Channel, a cable network that offers informative, interesting content laced with witty flavor.  Shows like “Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs” deliver engaging stories and soften the edge with a tongue-in-cheek approach.  This sets a positive tone for the Discovery Channel and helps viewers bond with the brand.

But Discovery has another horse in its stable, one that threatens its brand equity in the long run.

We’re talking about the cable network The Learning Channel, a subsidiary of the Discovery Channel.  As a brand analysis, let’s think about that name for a second.  Presumably, it’s all about “learning” – right?  Or maybe not, since the network parades the cuddly “TLC” acronym instead.  Judging from its programming, you’re bound to learn something… we think.  Here are some TLC shows:

• “19 Kids and Counting.”  Don’t confuse it with its predecessors, “17 Kids and Counting” and “18 Kids and Counting.”  Here, TLC teaches us about a world where contraception apparently doesn’t exist and procreation resembles sport.

• “Kate Plus 8.”  Also not to be confused with its predecessor, “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”  Again, what’s with this “we need more kids” theme?  And how does TLC feel about the off-screen train wreck these parents have become?

• “Toddlers & Tiaras.”  It’s one thing to parade families with lots of kids on TV; it’s another to underwrite the pathetic, disgusting, and shameless exploitation of toddlers by their morally-challenged parents.  There is simply no defense for this show, it appeals to every crass instinct of society and crams it into a televised format.

• “Property Ladder.”  Even if it means well, this show is horribly inconsistent with current economic reality and the crushing burden of mortgages and foreclosures millions of American families face.  As a show that gives tips on how to flip homes for investment and profit, “Property Ladder” makes TLC appear incredibly tone deaf to the plight of homeowners and the housing crisis nationwide.

The point is that branding goes beyond a particular institution itself, it colors perceptions on everything associated with it.  If you don’t believe that, consider the brand disasters affecting Phusion Projects (maker of “Four Loko”) and Gap (now stuck between Old Navy and Banana Republic).  In that sense, Discovery won’t have to look too far if TLC really steps in it one day.

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