Since the Sci Fi Channel was born in 1992, many people were mistakenly referring to the Sci Fi Channel with different spellings and configurations: SciFi Channel, Sci-Fi Channel, SCIFI Channel and on and on it went. The brand name Sci Fi was confusing because the network was using a GENRE (Science-Fiction) for a brand name and did not have an original brand name of its own. As reported in 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”.
The seemingly weird spelling of the new brand caught many off-guard: Syfy with a Capital S and a small yfy = one-word branding. There were those who scoffed, ridiculed and out-right laughed at the rebranding decision. The Business Insider Strategy Webpage called the rebranding to Syfy a “disaster”, claiming that around the world, the spelling Syfy is slang for syphilis (an STD).
The Syfy Channel did take it on the chin from loyal viewers and hard-core sci-fi fans. Sci Fi president, Dave Howe (and Bonnie Hammer’s successor) defended the rebranding and said in an interview with Fast Company:
“We were very strategic about how we positioned it, how we communicated, how we made sure our audience didn’t think that this was just another excuse to abandon the genre. We were very specific about why we were doing it and about why we were about creating a brand that was extendable into new platforms. Then we had a whole roster of sci- fi/fantasy shows that reassured people that actually we were going to be a bigger and better sci-fi/fantasy network as opposed to one that was going sci-fi light.”
Michael Engleman, Executive Vice President and Marketing/Global Brand Strategist for Syfy explained that the Sci Fi Channel rebranding needed during an interview with Boston.com:
“We wanted to create a brand that was broader, more relatable. In a lot of ways our branding was catching up to what we were doing with our programming. We were already pushing the boundaries of the traditional definitions of nonfiction with shows like Eureka and Ghost Hunters.’ So how could we recalibrate our brand to be still firmly rooted in the genre of science fiction but attach ourselves to this much larger idea, which is the idea of imagination? How do you create a name, how do you create a brand that will open doors to audiences that wouldn’t identify themselves as science fiction fans”?
VP Craig Engler discussed in an interview with Tor.com that the brand had three key reasons for a change:
1. We needed a brand that’s portable and can work in places like Netflix, iTunes and on DVRs. In those environments we can find ourselves competing for space on a text-based menu system where “sci-fi” and “Sci Fi” are indistinguishable.
2. We needed a brand that can support new businesses
3. We needed a brand that’s seen as inclusive to potential new viewers, and a brand that reflects the broad range of imagination-based entertainment you’ll find on our network.
To help with the rebranding task, the executives of Sci Fi channel went to Proud Creative, the self-described creatively-led multidisciplinary design studio based in London. Their website boasts being known for “delivering appropriate and memorable solutions”.
In collaboration with ManvsMachine Studio, Proud Creative listened to what the Sci Fi channel wanted “an ownable and distinguishable brand identity; retaining the positive associations from the genre of science fiction, whilst appealing to a broader audience and embracing the benefits of imagination”.
Well, it looks like Proud Creative did just what the executives asked for and helped deliver a memorable logo and new branding that encompassed their genre, audience and ideas of imagination with Syfy.
The name change also came with a new tagline “Imagine Greater”, instead of the Saturn-like planet logo of the Sci Fi Channel. This new slogan encompasses all that the brand thinks of as imagination boasts the Syfy website: the full landscape of fantasy entertainment, the paranormal, the supernatural, action, adventure and superheroes.
This new brand is memorable and could be trademarked, a giant advantage over the old Sci Fi name that could not be trademarked due to is broad genre attachment, and trademarking can lead to other associative branded Syfy Ventures (like Syfy Games or Syfy Kids).
When researching how and when the Syfy one-word name spelling was first thought of, then Sci Fi VP Craig Engler discussed in the same interview with Tor.com that the origin of “Syfy” went as far as a year back, when a new hire Michael Engleman was brainstorming one bleary-eyed night:
“We specifically began considering Syfy about a year ago, when Michael Engleman joined the network as our new VP of Creative. It was a great time for us to get the perspective of someone new, and Michael happens to be a creative genius, which helps enormously”.
In Michael’s own words in an interview with Up-Load.com:
“I knew how important our roots are, and knew where we wanted to go in the future, and I asked myself a simple question. What if we could change the name without ever changing the name? Five minutes later, with a ballpoint pen and a piece of scrap paper, Syfy was born”.
A creative genius indeed. The Syfy rebranding is a success. And now it is on to bigger and better things. The “Imagine Greater” slogan and what it means to encompass all things imaginative from using social media to choosing programming diversity for a broader audience and a bigger marketshare for the Syfy Channel will be discussed further in my next blog.
I’ll be back, Geeks!