Commentary

Are We Not Men? We Are TiVo!

I can still remember the call I got from a top media buyer right before TiVo was to make its debut at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show. “We’re fucked, we are so totally fucked,” he screamed in the phone. “We’ve just seen this tapeless thing that automatically lets you record TV shows and easily skip commercials. Every 20somethng in my department can’t wait to buy one.”

It didn’t quite work out that way. Still, TiVo devices and the technology that powers them have had a revolutionary impact on the media business. Like Kleenex being synonymous with tissues, TiVo for more than 15 years has been the trademarked reference name for the DVR.

Yet the company TiVo has long been so much more than its increasingly elegant devices. Whether that’s the proprietary software it licenses or its expanding research business (cemented further this week by a new deal with Viacom), at its heart TiVo is an innovative, disruptive, technology company. Internally that’s well known and put into action, but the company’s branding fell short in getting that message out to the world at large.

That’s why TiVo CMO Ira Bahr was charged with rebranding the company, including streamlining its iconic logo.  Bahr and company were careful not to scrap all the valuable brand equity contained in the old logo, but they’ve made substantive changes, morphing the legs of “TiVo man” into the stand for a non-anthropomorphic TV set. “It was absolutely necessary to reposition our brand to better represent the breadth and depth of what TiVo is about,” says Bahr. Beginning at CES, the new logo has slowly been integrated into TiVo's marketing efforts.

Earlier this week, its subsidiary TiVo Research and Analytics announced an alliance with Viacom to deliver a wealth of proprietary data analysis to help advertisers be more “targeted and efficient” with their messaging. That pact came on the heels of TiVo saying it would provide basic TV ratings for free starting first quarter next year. All of this is part of a drive for further acquisitions geared to bolstering the company’s research capabilities, according to a company release.

That drive has dovetailed nicely with the company’s efforts to innovate its consumer-facing business. The more boxes TiVo sells, the more data it accumulates. Bahr points to the elegant curve and the Apple-esque look of the Bolt, the compact set-top box that debuted last month to rave reviews for both its functionality and unique design “We are offering premium products and great value,” says Bahr. “We wanted the Bolt design to represent who we are and be a departure from other set-top boxes. To be different, we have to look different.

“It’s akin to updating the logo,” Bahr continues, “where we researched virtually every product that had animated characters integrated in their logos, and found it’s the exclusive province of low-priced, packaged goods: The Jolly Green Giant. Mr Peanut.”

Bahr acknowledges that changing a corporate identity on multiple fronts is “fraught with egos and challenges.” He’s veteran of the process. Having worked on similar efforts for brands such as Federal Express moving to FedEX, as well as the transition from CD Radio to Sirius, he knows when it’s time for reinvention.

“Given our legacy of innovative technology, we have never had as much commercial success with our consumer-facing business as we might have had,” says Bahr. “Clearly, we were not doing ourselves any favor with ‘TiVo Man.’ The floppy feet had to go. We need to be more modern and more mature in our branding and design if we are to succeed in the long term.”

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