How to brand a thriller: an open and shut case for 13th Street

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In the crime and thriller genre the plot is almost always focused on fast action, danger and high stakes. The main characters are always facing impending doom, usually with their lives on the line. The timeless story beats of suspense and tension keep the audience hooked on what is going to happen next.

But when The Drum Network met Charlie Mawer, executive creative director at Red Bee, to talk about how they approached branding one of Europe’s most loved thriller TV channels, 13th Street, it soon became clear that this wasn’t quite an open and shut case.

13th Street is a top-performing pay-television channel in Western Europe which offers the best in US and international investigative and procedural drama programmes. The brief handed to Red Bee by the team at NBC Universal International was to significantly enhance the brand’s social presence with digital first assets; be disruptive and challenge viewers; and engage a younger target audience.

Standing out

Mawer says: “Our team noticed that in recent years there has been a noticeable shift away from classic crime iconography. Masculine ‘tools of the trade’ like guns, knives, body outlines and crime scene tape had given way to subtler, more nuanced imagery found in the cover art of crime novels and thrillers such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. In both examples, the perpetrators are not binary or static. And neither is their criminal behaviour. Crime, and the people who commit it, are multi-faceted and dynamic.

“The new-look 13th Street brand refresh set out to convey a thrilling and intriguing approach across all platforms, with particular emphasis on social and digital to ensure the brand’s cut-through beyond the linear channel. In order to significantly enhance its social media and digital presence, a brand must understand how to land an attention-grabbing brand moment in that crucial split second before a speedy thumb scrolls past it, never to be seen again.

Mawer says the answer is brand imprints, which he describes as "platform-agnostic and instantly-recognisable visual signatures that act as the foundation of a brand’s identity.”

Mawer gives the example of the brand’s font, explaining that "the brand used the established and heavily used Nudista font, but they wanted typography to play a more active role in digital and social assets, so the Red Bee team took the existing font and sliced out 1/13th of each letter.”

The result was a completely bespoke brand font, christened Nudista Scar, that is instantly-recognisable as Mawer explains: "The key attribute of allowing us to lock programme titles into the diamond shaped logo itself, maximising attribution between content titles and the 13th Street brand." added Mawer.

The power of sound

Sound is an absolutely vital part of the crime and thriller genre. From Psycho to Seven, soundtracks have always served a key role in playing with an audience’s emotional response.

NBCUIN went all-in with their 13th Street soundtrack and commissioned Academy Award-winner Hans Zimmer to compose a bespoke soundtrack to reinforce the brand’s evolution and really put the Hollywood stamp on it, while perfectly capturing that classic thriller suspense.


Speaking of Red Bee’s approach and solution Lee Raftery, chief marketing officer at NBCU International, said: “Our aim was to evolve our top-performing crime channel 13th Street from a linear channel into a multi-platform crime brand. We took a fan-first approach and leveraged the brand’s social digital elements as our starting point. Alongside the ground-breaking creative design provided by Red Bee, was the brilliance of Hans Zimmer and Bleeding Finger’s soundtrack, providing the distinctive ingredients to deliver a unique brand experience for our fans.”

Mawer concludes: “We think a lot about what we can do to help our clients’ brands stand out in small, crowded, social spaces. The NBCUIN team are great collaborators and the 13th Street project was the perfect opportunity to put some of our latest thinking around brand imprints into practice. We’re really proud of this work.”

While this particular thriller has only just begun, in collaboration with NBCUIN, Red Bee has clearly cracked the case.

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