What being on a tour bus with Atomic Kitten and Blue taught ITV's commerce director about brand extensions

Brand extensions might not be a phrase consumers are particularly familiar with, but the practice is firmly embedded in modern life.

ITV's Big Reunion

Clothing labels like Zara, Calvin Klein, Polo, and many others have extended into the homewares market, supermarkets offer financial products and celebrities have long been expanding their own personal brands into make-up, perfume and fitness ranges.

These enterprises are often viewed as cynical ploys to wrest more money from the consumer – a way of exploiting their love of a brand for one way commercial gain. While this may be true for some brands, it’s a short-term strategy and does not build brand loyalty, or deliver the unique, extra value that people actually want. It damages the parent brand – utterly futile if what you are trying to do is enhance and extend a product’s appeal.

As director of commerce and ventures within ITV’s Brand Extensions Group, I have a varied and challenging role in helping diversify ITV’s revenues. However, it is not as straightforward as sticking an ITV label on any old product. The consumer has to be at the heart of any proposition and it’s their needs that drive the commercial imperatives.

Product/concept development, commercial negotiations, contracts and creative execution are all part of my day, so you can imagine, hitting the road as a de facto roadie on a nationwide arena tour is a bit of a departure from my normal week.

However, following the success of the Big Reunion ITV2 series, earlier this year we went on tour with Atomic Kitten, 911, Blue, B*Witched, The Honeyz, 5ive and Liberty. It’s not an everyday experience for me to be on the tour bus with hundreds of screaming fans blocking our way as we entered and exited the various arenas around the country, but shows how far we’ve come in connecting fans with brands.

The tour saw over 120,000 fans pack 14 arena venues up and down the country, with sold-out houses necessitating extra dates being added this December. Once again, my team will be there organising, hosting, fetching, carrying, minding, and generally being on hand to ensure everything runs smoothly.

In essence what a brand extension does is prolong the life of a brand outside its primary function. For instance, ahead of the release of their first album, One Direction constructed a fun online game for fans over many weeks. This meant fans got an extra connection with their idols, further content and a feeling of closeness to the band while there was no album or tour to enjoy. Plus, it kept the 1D brand alive and front of mind for fans. Big Reunion’s official YouTube channel does a similar job, giving a further year round outlet for fans.

The Big Reunion TV series gave ITV2 its biggest launch since 2008, reaching over 10 million viewers throughout its run – so a tour featuring the reunited bands was a great way of connecting the loyal ITV2 viewer with the programme’s stars.

Arguably we could have just done a book, calendar or other merchandise much more cheaply, without the gruelling (for us anyway) tour and still made money, but touring these bands made the most sense for the viewer.

And the viewers certainly were up for it - all the tickets for the series finale concert at Hammersmith Apollo sold out in 4 minutes flat off the back of one tweet from ‘@BigReunionITV’

And with captive, engaged audiences at these big events, across different times of the year, there naturally follows multiple opportunities for brands to partner and extend their own brand involvement. Pre-show fashion events, sampling and experiential activity, big screen promotions, bespoke co-branded events in addition to more traditional VIP tickets and band meet and greets all become available to brands looking for ways to activate and bring alive the brand partnership.

Brand extensions is not in itself a new revenue stream – businesses have been doing it for years. However, in a brand-literate, digitally adept age, the offering has got to be right and it doesn't automatically work for everything. If the consumer’s needs are not at the heart of the product or experience, then the enterprise will fail whether a huge year round TV property or smaller run digital channel show.

It’s no use churning out the same old keyrings and calendars if that’s not what the consumers want – The Big Reunion extension, like all others has to truly sing for its supper.

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