Innovative brand extensions make news

Media outlets are using nontraditional ways to extend the brands of their core products

A cafe situated in one of New York's prime tourism areas. Marathons and festivals focused on top landmarks in major cities. A reality show featuring the editors, reporters, and interns of a prominent women's magazine. All are examples of tactics being used by media outlets as brand extensions of their own publications or networks.

These entities can no longer limit the use of their names to the front cover. Such brand extensions can provide a less expensive alternative to traditional marketing and advertising for media companies, many of which are facing uncertain advertising returns during a shaky economic period. Media such as MSNBC, Men's Health, and Marie Claire are attempting to portray the best facets of their brands by tying them to nontraditional partners with similar characteristics.

For MSNBC and MSNBC.com, extending the company name to news-based online games helped to promote the network to consumers who consider themselves news “explorers,” says Catherine Captain, MSNBC.com's VP of marketing. Meanwhile, putting the MSNBC name on a Rockefeller Center coffee shop was a nontraditional, yet low-risk opportunity to further market the brand to both food consumers and tourists, she tells PRWeek.

“Anytime you're doing something nontraditional, there is that risk. But for us, because we have an innovative image to the brand, we have a little bit of room to experiment,” she adds. “If it doesn't work, then it doesn't work, but I can't imagine there would be ill will to something that is just trying to make news more discoverable in new ways.”

While nontraditional partnerships raise a media company's brand awareness, they also break the mold of habitual media promotion, which is largely regarded as “pretty stale,” Captain adds.

“When we started to understand how the consumers perceived the brands, [online promotions] weren't stale,” she says. “So we did something that could be perceived as risky or different for a news brand, and it seemed to work quite well.”

Lifestyle and fitness publication Men's Health is lending its brand name to two 10-mile races – called the Men's Health Urbanathlon and Festival – in New York and Chicago this fall. Hosted by celebrity chef and triathlete Rocco DiSpirito, the magazine is using the events to identify its brand with DiSpirito's well-known traits: a love of a healthy lifestyle and good food.

Meanwhile, Marie Claire announced this month that it was extending its brand – and the lives of some of its employees – to a Style Network reality series called Running in Heels. The show will seek to brand the magazine's staffers as hardworking employees who are successful because they work hard, not because they yearn for the spotlight.

The series, which spotlights the hectic work lives of both Marie Claire management and interns, will “dispel the misconception that it is all about glitz and glamour and instead demonstrate that success comes with hard work, long hours, and personal sacrifice,” according to a statement from the publication and The Style Network.

For media outlets that conduct business without a large marketing budget, or those affected by an uncertain economy, such partnerships are an ideal opportunity to raise brand awareness, says Suzanne Kolb, CMO for E! and The Style Network, and GM for Eonline.com.

“No one has the marketing budget that they wish they had,” she explains. “Things like this sort of partnership allow everyone to maximize their efforts at a time when [budgets] aren't growing.”

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