NBC more colorful case study.

We had the honor once again of taking part in shaping the look and feel of one of the most recognizable television brands in the world. This time around, the process got even more interesting and involved than in past years because of some new internal thinking. We’ve broken it down into a detailed case study to try to make sense of everything. Feel free to just scroll and look at the pictures, or come along for a nuanced journey into the process if you’re feeling adventurous. ; )

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PITCH PHASE

Before we got involved in the project, months of research happened internally at NBC with the intention of finding and defining the brand voice and positioning. We were briefed on the internal study, which was about what you’d expect with the exception of being surprisingly refreshing. In fact, we found it to be quite inspiring and open-ended, and we thought we would be able to help them figure out how to apply it to the brand in a visual way, rooted in concept… so we decided to pitch.

The pitch was pretty elaborate, involving about 12 separate entities. Some were focused more on the design and some were focused more specifically on the conceptual brand platform (including Larry Frey, former W+K CD, who ended up influencing much of the overall brand direction). We were brought in to pitch primarily on the design portion of the brand, and asked to approach it in such a way that the design could embody the brand rather than just being a stylistic treatment. This matched up perfectly with our instincts, so we were happy to accept the challenge.

Having worked with NBC for the past few years, we decided to only present ideas that would both push them conceptually and allow us the creative leeway to keep things interesting for everyone involved. We wanted to tap into the essence of the brand and leverage the qualities that are ownable only by NBC.

We found ourselves really drawn to the six colors of the peacock logo. No other television brand (or really any brand for that matter) can own that set of colors in both a relevant and historically significant way. Rather than letting the color simply exist as a visual device, we really thought it would give the brand more weight by actually making the colors mean something. We found a quote from American Ashcan School painter Robert Henri that became almost a mission statement for the project: “Color is only beautiful when it means something.”

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So, what does it all mean? Well, one thing that stood out from NBC’s internal research was the idea of embracing humanity. Our brainstorming lead us to the realization that the ability to feel and experience emotion is at the core of our humanity. It just so happens that color theory research has led to strong correlations between color and emotions, because of both the visceral human response to color and the cultural associations that have developed over time. We used that line of thinking as a basis to tap into the emotions of the colors themselves, bringing them into a richer view… a more sustainable definition rather than color for color’s sake.

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We also wanted to challenge the structure of the on-air elements. Our initial concept phase brought about some interesting structural suggestions, many of which made it into the final package. One of the most controversial was what we call a 3-pop promo endtag composed of 3 separate cuts, each with a different piece of information which is meant to be read over time. This replaced the traditional, type-filled, talent-filled, all-encompassing lockup that almost every other network uses at the end of a promo.

Originally, we pitched non-show-specific subject matter in an attempt to tie the brand more directly to the human experience, but through the process came to agree that tying the brand and message directly to the product (the shows) would be more understandable.

 

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Along with the 3-pop endtag, we also wanted to introduce typographic narrative elements to infuse the brand voice with the structural package components wherever possible. These evolved specifically into show-driven brand bumpers in the final package, but also permeated into several other elements.

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To be honest, we really only pitched one dominant idea (and a supporting offshoot idea) because we believed in the concept so strongly. It wasn’t about just giving them a visual translation of their brief or creating clever graphic devices. We wanted to present a strong foundational concept that could have several visual interpretations and would leave room to evolve over time. In other words, we never wanted the rebrand to be thought of as a fresh coat of paint. The essence of the new brand had to be strong enough to inform the way producers would think about tone and voice in their promos, how the design team would think about using color and composition, how the writers would articulate their messaging. Not just because of guidelines in a brand standards manual, but because of a new perspective on what the brand means and how to communicate it.

We introduced a handful of taglines, none of which ended up being the exact line but the thinking was on the right track. Our leading tagline in the pitch was “a colorful view” which we liked because it put “color” front and center and also felt very optimistic and relatable.

We happened to be thinking along the same lines as Larry Frey (mentioned earlier) who was brought in by NBC to develop the conceptual brand platform. He birthed the “more colorful” line which ended up being a conceptual anchor point for the brand voice… ”more colorful” was actually derived from his original idea that “peacocks tell more colorful stories” – a fantastic, quirky line that became more of an internal mantra at NBC, leaving the concise “more colorful” to do the heavy lifting. Because of how complimentary our concepts were, we were paired up with Larry to develop and follow through on the rebrand.

DEVELOPMENT / PRODUCTION PHASE

From the very beginning of the process the precedent was established by the team at NBC to create an extremely collaborative environment between departments, which is incredibly difficult to pull off with such a massive organization. Part of our development phase was to set the off-channel side of things in the right direction before focusing all of our energy into on-air applications. We worked with the NBC team in charge of print, outdoor, and web applications of the brand to develop some early structural guidelines. After that, most of our time was spent with the on-air package.

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One of the first things we had to figure out was honing in our content and making the transition from the non-show-specific slices of life that we used in our pitch to actual, show-specific content. Of course, the execution was still meant to be based on our color meanings with special care to make sure we were always conscious about what emotion the chosen color palette would communicate.

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The plan for acquiring this content developed with several factors in mind. Traditionally, NBC has done what they call a “mondo” shoot to acquire content for packaging and promos. It’s fairly expensive to set up and the results aren’t typically evergreen. Also, it’s usually been paired with complicated post-production to composite actors into context. We didn’t want the material to feel too posed or artificial, and we never wanted the viewer to feel like they were seeing the actor rather than the character. We wanted to capture personal, intimate character moments that the viewer would identify with and that would build a sense of affinity for the characters / stories / shows.

We came up with a way to capture those moments and to quickly acquire content and save NBC money at the same time. Rather than having the actors from all the different shows come to us (which is what happens on a traditional “mondo” shoot) we were able to get onto their sets and grab a few minutes with the talent, in context.

We had to be extremely mobile and adaptable. Often we arrived on a set, quickly scoped out locations where we could shoot without getting in the way of the actual show production, and had usually 3 to 5 minutes with each actor/host (sometimes less) to explain what we needed to get, to make them feel comfortable, and to capture some great moments. This new approach was all pretty uncharted territory, so it was a learning process for us, NBC, and the shows themselves. We’re thankful that they trusted us enough to do a lot of the decision-making on the fly, which was necessary due to the organic nature of the process.

Aside from the show-specific content we acquired on set, we also did a number of custom insert shoots of props, croppings, and specific action details that we handled at Capacity.

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We were able to put this content to use in completely fresh ways. Our new three part endtags gave us the chance to give a quick, intimate glimpse into the personality of the show without having to solely focus on talent (or principal talent for that matter).

Endtags contain a series close croppings of talent, props, and scene details in 40 frame chunks, leaving enough time to read the information and register the desired emotion, without necessarily trying to tell a linear story with the imagery… more like little breaths which, when combined, express the spirit of the show.

Because we acquired content with a toolbox in mind, the endtags are designed to be interchangeable… this allows the packaging to stay fresh for a much longer period of time. For example, rather than just having one endtag for “The Office” that runs every time there’s a promo, we delivered four different endtags with interchangeable parts (covering all of the main characters), as well as an entire library of footage which could be used to make countless more endtags. And, with the ease of acquiring more assets, the package can stay updated indefinitely.

Endtags can be built to either go through a series of colors/emotions or stick to one theme for all three shots. The “more colorful.” ending is always meant to be just that. We tried to pick shots for the third position that really emphasize something about the character or show that is truly more colorful.

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Every promo is preceded by what we refer to as a colorburst. It’s an eight frame animation, using six tone-on-tone color bars and repeating the dominant color (emotion) for two frames at the tail of it. This is probably our favorite part of the entire brand. It’s the kind of idea that is perfect but maybe just a little too out there to be approved by the client, but in this case NBC completely got it and gave it a chance to live beyond the hypothetical.

Beyond creating a vibrant rush of color and reinforcing brand, it also creates an almost subconscious notification to the viewer that an NBC promo is starting or that important information is coming up. These are also built into the endtags and lead directly into the color of the first shot.

The presence of a brand voice, via well placed writing, was something that became important to all of us during the pitch process. We wanted the branding itself to take an active role in establishing the personality of the network and connecting with the viewer… not just with visuals but with conversational copy. The brand bumpers became the perfect place to do this.

These are show specific, but not as focused on providing tune-in information as they are about setting a tone and blending the network brand with each individual show’s identity. The structure of the brand bumpers is similar to the endtags in that there are three sections, but the pacing is different and the shots typically span one scene or at least all support one main idea. The colorburst happens in the middle of the bumper, acting as a graphic link between the written copy and the revealing of the show name.

We developed a typographic system using Houschka Pro, a typeface designed by Nick Cooke of G-Type, which we chose because of its strong presence, its slightly rounded corners and its friendly curvatures. The typeface is welcoming and decidedly human, while still feeling structured and established enough to carry an international brand. On-air we used Houschka Pro extra bold exclusively, but in off-channel applications the entire family is integrated in one way or another in order to deal with more complex type hierarchies.

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All the type in the brand is left justified, with a few exceptions. Usually the type is as large as possible (within the context of the system and taking into account 4×3 center cropping, which is kinda tricky to design for). It’s almost always lower case to keep it as friendly as possible. In past years, we were expected to do dramas in all upper case and comedies in upper and lower, so we intentionally wanted to break that rule to force the content and colors to dictate the tone and mood. The type is almost always white (with the exception of “new” in order to draw special attention to it) and it is usually accompanied by a colored dot that acts as a color swatch (paired with the footage beneath it and related to a particular desired emotion).

From a production standpoint, we created a series of templates and script-based text generators, both for internal use and to pass along to NBC for future production needs… the scripts used a series of pulldown menus and checkboxes which plugged directly into the animation and took into account all of the possible text variations, so versioning required no additional keyframing or spellchecking.

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Besides being part of the colorburst, the tone-on-tone colorbars became a reoccurring graphic element. Our original intention was to keep them sacred to the night opener, the digital toss (which directs viewers to nbc.com), and of course the colorburst, but they quickly became a very flexible entity which the promo producers at NBC could use to populate their spots with some branding elements.

The night opener ended up being a pretty special element because it was one of the only times we were able to utilize the vertically cropped compositions that we originally pitched as part of the package… it’s also nice to see content from multiple shows, back to back, which starts to speak to the spirit of the entire brand rather than just one show.

COMPLETION

The package launched in September 2009 with hundreds of custom elements. The toolbox and visual brand standards guide are now in NBC’s hands. All of the teams and departments have been so gracious and receptive to the new package and “more colorful” visual approach to brand. We’re more than confident that they’ll continue to beautifully maintain and evolve the voice and visual language of the network. We are so thankful for the opportunity to have worked with NBC once again, especially on such an interesting and rewarding project.

Thanks so much for spending the time to read about our creative collaboration with NBC. If you’re involved with nurturing, growing and elevating a brand of your own, we’d love to invite you to drop us a line. Just call us directly at 323 302 0380 and ask for Jill or email jill@capacity.tv.