It has been compared to bottoms – and also the most fiendishly complicated sex toy yet devised by Ann Summers. Yes, the new ITV logo, spearheading the TV station’s most ambitious rebrand in 11 years, has turned us into a nation of amateur psychologists desperately attempting to infer inner meaning from the Rorschach blot of its revitalised colour ways.
Let’s face it, we haven’t had so much fun since the London Olympics logo – that appalling camel of a horse designed by a committee – first surfaced in 2007.
My own theory? It’s an hommage to Sir Martin Sorrell, craftily contrived to lure extra advertising revenue from WPP media house GroupM in the wake of the Channel 4 spat. Look very carefully at the new logo and you will see – provided you stare long enough – an ‘L’ followed by a ‘U’ and a ‘V’. Spelling of course LUV – which those familiar with the Sage of Farm Street’s dicta will immediately recognise as the shape of the current recession!
Joking aside, the mega-rebrand – however aesthetically regarded – triumphantly fanfares chief executive Adam Crozier’s dramatic turnaround of ITV’s fortunes only three years into his five-year programme of reform. In 2010, when Crozier moved over from a similar position at the Royal Mail, ITV was burdened by £2.7bn annual losses, a £1m pension deficit, staff demoralisation and seemingly intractable problems in transitioning from analogue to digital broadcasting.
But look at it now. It is debt-free, indeed harbours about £800m cash, and on track to announce £350m profits for 2012. What’s more Downton Abbey (and – who knows? – Mr Selfridge), not to mention the investigative exposé revealing Jimmy Savile’s systematic sexual abuse, mark a new confidence in programme-making ability.
These are not inconsiderable achievements for any chief executive to crow about. The question is: like the branding makeover, are they more window-dressing than real?
Crozier is master of the well-timed stakeholder-pleasing initiative – a quality all too appropriate to the former joint chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi (1995-2000). Wherever his career has taken him – latterly as chief executive of the Football Association (2000-2002) and the same again at Royal Mail – the result has been identical. Controversial reforms that gain grudging respect at the time, but on closer retrospective judgement lack substance.
Just so, perhaps, at ITV. Unlike the world of football management and passing the parcel, as a former media director, Crozier knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he took over from Michael Grade at the UK’s premier commercial TV station. In a sense, he only had to bide his time and exploit preternatural presentation skills.
ITV is a quintessentially cyclical business, its fortunes ebbing and flowing with the tide of advertising revenue. In early 2010, cyclically-depressed ITV had yet to emerge from the recession, but given time there was an inevitability about it doing so. True, it wasn’t quite the “licence to print money” it had been in its heyday, but the erosion caused by competition from proliferating digital channels was an irritant at the peak of the cycle, rather than a cancer. And for one very good reason: advertisers (for which read members of ISBA) continue to believe that, when it comes to branding a mainstream product, there is no substitute to airing it on ITV.
Time, however, was something that Crozier’s predecessor, Michael Grade, had run out of. The usually fleet-footed entertainer had, for once, made a pig’s ear of running a media business and, in effect, the City gave him his marching orders by severely depressing ITV’s share price.
Enter the slick Crozier, doubly endorsed by Asda’s peerless school of management: first by Allan Leighton, who had recruited him at the Royal Mail; and secondly by ITV’s new chairman, Archie Norman (there was also a Pedigree Chum connection: Crozier and Leighton had previously worked together at Mars).
Crozier airily announced a five-year strategic programme that would transform ITV from a single, highly volatile, profit centre based on display advertising to plural revenue streams, knowing full well that – with a bit of luck – all he had to do was sit back and wait for the financial tide to come rolling in.
And so – three years later – it has. With ITV’s share price riding high at about 110p, Crozier is well on his way to cashing in £4m-worth of share options this April. But what of the fundamental restructuring he promised? Well, yes and no. Crozier has certainly revolutionised ITV’s production department – profits are forecast to exceed £100m this year. But his target of 50% of revenues derived from non-advertising sources after five years looks as elusive as ever. Particularly lacklustre is the performance of ITV’s digital channels (ITV2, 3 and 4 respectively) which last year achieved an embarrassing £28m revenue out of a total of £2.2bn.
No amount of cheerful new colour ways can disguise the fact that ITV remains firmly planted in the analogue age.