Company Wants To Trademark Letter Q

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Fri, 2007-09-21 06:50.
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A CLASSIC Sesame Street animated short instructs that the letter Q “looks like a funny looking thing.”

QVC, the leading home shopping channel, is making a bid to rebrand the often-overlooked letter, betting that it can make the sight of the letter Q elicit not a laugh nor an immediate search for a U, but a feeling of delicious anticipation.

“We’d really like to own the 17th letter of the alphabet,” said Jeff Charney, the chief marketing officer for QVC, which is based in West Chester, Pa.

The company, part of Liberty Media, began a teaser campaign on Sept. 4 that relies on a Q-based mystery. Billboards in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia ask the question: iQdoU?

This weekend, the riddle will be solved. The billboards will reveal a Q-heavy QVC logo, supplemented by full-page ads in every section of The Philadelphia Inquirer and a 30-second television spot. The spot will run on the Fox News Channel and some broadcast network daytime shows, including “The Price Is Right” in October during the week the new host, Drew Carey, makes his debut.

Mr. Charney said the target audience — women 35 and older, with household income of more than $50,000 — watches Fox, not MSNBC or CNN.

The television ad features QVC on-air personalities, customers and product designers uttering variations on the sentence “I Q.” One of the faces is Whoopi Goldberg, who will be hawking her own line of linens on the network next year. Another face is Carson Kressley of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” (note the first letter in the name of the show), who designs a signature clothing line for QVC. He delivers the spot’s last word, “Merci Beau Q”

The new logo is only part of the network’s face-lift. Other components are a redesigned Web site, new on-air graphics, more colorful shipping boxes and an overhaul of the monthly magazine QVC Insider.

The new logo — the fourth in the company’s 21-year history, and the first new one in 14 years — shows a thick Q meant to look as if it were made of the type of ribbon used in gift-wrapping. The company is aiming to highlight the pleasant experience of the package’s arrival.

“The essence of the brand is the feeling you get when you open the package,” Mr. Charney said.

The strategy is novel, given that QVC’s greatest weakness may be that it cannot deliver the instant gratification of a bricks-and-mortar store, said Geordie McClelland, director of strategy at Straightline International, a branding agency. Roughly 80 percent of QVC’s sales come from its on-air presentations and 20 percent from the Internet.

There are other big challenges, not just for QVC, but for the television-shopping industry.

IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy, conducted market research for QVC and found that avid customers described the company as “relevant, innovative, genuine and fun,” a step up from the original QVC acronym, “Quality, Value, Convenience.” But most of those who have never ordered continue to think of QVC as no different from hard-sell infomercials.

QVC’s nearest competitor, HSN, formerly known as the Home Shopping Network, is well aware of this negative perception. It introduced a rebranding campaign this year, pegged to its 30th anniversary, adding nicer graphics and higher-end merchandise.

HSN also sought to take the edge off its sales tactics, adopting a more conversational on-air approach that it calls “Shopping with your girlfriend.” Hosts were encouraged to soften their makeup and update their hair styles.

“It appears that QVC is responding to the massive, all-encompassing, rebranding initiative that has been under way here at HSN since the beginning of the year,” said Brad C. Bohnert, an HSN spokesman.

Because QVC is available in 166 million homes worldwide 24 hours a day, the company has in the past spent little on television advertising. At any given time, for every person watching who makes a purchase, there are 100 to 150 watching who do not, making for a lot of potential new customers, said Michael George, QVC’s chief executive.

QVC declined to say how much it was spending on the campaign. According to TNS Media Intelligence, in the first half of this year, QVC spent about $5.2 million on advertising, $4.4 million of that in magazines and most of the rest on the Web.

QVC’s campaign to place the letter Q at the center of its consciousness began in June 2006 with an internal effort called Qforce. Each of the company’s 13,000 United States employees was given a QVC T-shirt and told that the person who could get the most spectacular product placement for the shirt would win $10,000.

There were some impressive gets. Peter Fey, a writer/producer at QVC, persuaded his sister Tina Fey, the comedian, to show the shirt during a guest appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Another employee wearing the shirt had her photo taken next to Donovan McNabb, the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the photo appeared prominently on the team’s Web site.

The winner was Bern Gallagher, a broadcast engineer who organized a belly flop competition in West Chester for an autism charity in which contestants wore the shirts. The local Fox affiliate covered the contest live.

QVC has not purchased the rights to the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” but at the unveiling of its logo to employees Wednesday in West Chester, a house band called Q Man Group (with special guest Motley Q) performed rock songs.

QVC also turned to its advertising department of 20 people to develop the new logo and the campaign. They market-tested 146 different logos. IDEO’s market research confirmed what the shopping network’s employees had known for a while, that devoted customers were calling the network “the Q.”

“You’ll go to dinner parties and mention you work at QVC,” Mr. George said, “and all of a sudden you’ll hear everybody talking about what they got on QVC, the jewelry they’re wearing, the pot they’re cooking with, and a lot of people talking about how they ‘Q.’ ”

Despite that head start, gaining cultural ownership of a letter is not an easy task. During a meeting with Mr. Charney and Kathleen Kirsch, a QVC spokeswoman, Ms. Kirsch was trying to describe the Q strategy. “When you give someone an M, they think of McDonald’s,” she said. “When you give them a G, they think of — what is it, Georgia?”

She turned to Mr. Charney for a response. “Or Green Bay Packers,” he answered.

It can be confusing.

[Via The New York Time

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