Putting Discovery Channel on map

September 29, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

The message appears on electronic signs atop Manhattan phone kiosks, on posters in seaside towns of Great Britain, in television and magazine ads spanning the globe. For the Discovery Channel, three words say it all: "Explore Your World."

Chris Moseley, Discovery Communications Inc.'s senior vice president for marketing and communications, likes the sound of the slogan she chose and the message behind it -- no frills, no glitz, the antithesis of Madison Avenue hype.

The Baltimore native liked it so much, she put it in ads everywhere, on T-shirts, on toys in Discovery stores, on Discovery videocassettes, on Discovery CD-ROMs.

The Bethesda-based cable network specializes in nonfiction historical and nature programming -- from the people behind the Normandy invasion and the submarines of the deep to the chimpanzees in the rain forest, the Alaskan bears, the hippos and crocodiles.

Today, five years after Ms. Moseley joined Discovery and persuaded reluctant executives to sink millions of dollars into an aggressive marketing campaign, the results have vindicated her.

The Discovery Channel name ranks second only to the venerable National Geographic among media brands known for quality, according to a study this year by Total Research Corp., which measures consumer recognition of brands. Discovery outranked heavy-hitters such as AT&T, IBM and the Wall Street Journal.

That success prompted Advertising Age recently to name Ms. Moseley one of its "Marketing 100" superstars for building brand names.

Still, in advertising circles, the Explore Your World slogan wasn't exactly universally praised. Ms. Moseley recalls an ad executive critiquing it. "He said, 'Explore your world -- you know it's not exciting; it's not boring. It doesn't do anything for me but it doesn't do anything against me.'

"He sat up there and chopped up what we had done, and I can take it because the bottom line is I really don't care what those folks say. We know our viewers really are responding to what we are doing."

Others suggested tinkering with the line to tailor it to different programming. Ms. Moseley would hear none of it. Look at General Electric and its now-famous "We bring good things to life," Ms. Moseley says: "Does G.E. say, 'We bring good toasters to life?' "

She didn't budge.

Nor did she when her bosses questioned the wisdom of spending big money on a long-term marketing campaign.

A former broadcasting promoter and advertising copywriter who got her start in marketing doing promo spots at WBAL-TV, Ms. Moseley insisted that a high-profile campaign would significantly boost viewership and name recognition.

"The broadcasting person in me was like, 'We really had never gone out and told people what we had,' and I said, 'If you push it, there should be a payback,' " she recalls. "No one really thought it was true."

Daniel Fischer, Discovery's senior vice president for research, remembers the network's reluctance to embark on the long-term, multimillion-dollar campaign.

"This was a very hard pitch to get through, and Chris should get a lot of credit for this," Mr. Fischer said.

"She said, 'You need to advertise for a minimum of three years before the advertising really pays off.' This is a difficult argument because it's a much easier financial model if you can say, 'I'll spend a million today and earn a million tomorrow.' "

The first real test came with the launch of a campaign for the Discovery Channel's special on "Submarines" four years ago. Heavy advertising in the Army Times, the Navy Times, the Air Force Times and on radio yielded the highest prime-time rating ever for Discovery.

Now, Discovery spends $20 million annually on advertising, which has paid handsomely in higher ratings and higher ad revenues from the likes of Jeep/Eagle, Pennzoil, MCI and Dodge.

The network that began in 1985 with a staff of 19 and 156,000 subscribers now reaches 80 million homes in 65 countries, employs 600 people and has assets of about $2 billion.

Ms. Moseley, who oversees a 73-member department that handles advertising, marketing and public relations, is intent on broadening Discovery as a brand name and a household word, beyond the tube, beyond the living room.

Brand names, logos, slogans -- they sell big.

Disney proved it. Discovery hopes to do the same, expanding international TV markets and specialty shops carrying the Discovery name.

In June, the network paid $10 million for the Dallas-based Discovery Store Inc., a privately held chain of 11 stores, and hopes to expand to 300 stores within the next three years. They'll sell science-and nature-related goods as well as Discovery Networks videotapes, CD-ROMs and other nature and science merchandise, including fossils, minerals and educational toys and games.

Consumers can shop Discovery without leaving home, on a new site on the World Wide Web of the Internet. It also offers sound, video and interactive elements based on the network's nature, science and historical programming and is updated daily.

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