The Shortest Distance
Between Two People is a Story

Partnering with American media giant
A+E Networks to elevate them out of their category and into culture

In August 2016, A+E Network’s Global CMO, Amanda Hill, appointed Sunshine to work with her on the evolution of A+E’s portfolio of brands. Hill had a clear vision: she wanted to bring strategic brand-building thinking to an organisation and category that, historically, had seen marketing through a single lens: a function of sales which exists to drive audiences to shows. The mission was to define the essence of each channel, over haul their identities then, having done so, position each brand in the broader cultural context: the context that was most relevant to their audience. The ultimate goal was, in time, to elevate A+E’s brands out of the category and into culture.

Change often starts at an organisational level, and Hill had a clear mandate from A+E Networks CEO, Nancy Dubuc, to do just that.

“Consumers are looking for those trusted brands to help with search and discovery and streaming content choices. If you don’t have a brand where [viewers] are seeking you out, then you’re just a collection of television shows.”

Nancy Dubuc - CEO, A+E Networks
Wall Street Journal, August 14th 2017

Sunshine’s Co-Founder and Creative Chairman, Al MacCuish, worked closely with Hill on drawing the architecture needed to bring programming and brand marketing closer together. “We began to ask ourselves a different question,’’ MacCuish says. “Rather than ask, as most broadcasters do, ‘what’s the show?’ we began to ask ‘what’s the story?’ Commissioners and marketeers began aligning on a core theme or narrative. What happened next is very interesting. Once the core story or theme was identified, it quickly become clear – especially in a world where audiences are on social media and there is cache around experience - that the ‘story’ could carry far beyond linear broadcast into other expressions and platforms.

Social was particularly interesting. Marquee shows on A&E often dealt with issues that people had lot to say about or were curious to understand more about.

This approach gave the audience the opportunity to not only extend the story but become part of it,” he explains.

From Post-Its to on-air - and beyond

Hill and MacCuish developed an approach they dubbed ‘editorialising the brands’ across the iconic A&E, Lifetime, History, Biography and Lifetime Movies. “A+E is an extraordinary company, with decades of culturally-defining programming across multiple generations. The one thing that drew such a legacy and diversity of subject matters together was life itself,” Hill explains. “When we examined A+E’s strongest shows, the ‘red thread’ was that they all ‘magnified some aspect of life that mattered’ – through world-class storytelling. They had made sense of the world that their audiences were living in, again and again”.

‘LIFE, MAGNIFIED’ became the master brand positioning for the overall A+E Network.

A family of brands, rebranded

Sunshine’s teams in New York and London worked with the A+E networks marketing team to apply that core, overarching ethos to each brand individually. And so it became ‘The lives of women, magnified’ for Lifetime; ‘Being brave enough to magnify the lives of those hiding in the shadows or plain sight of everyday’ for A&E; ‘The lives of those who made the world turn, magnified’ for Biography; and ‘The lives of those who write the future for the rest of us, magnified’ for History.

A series of new or evolved logos and brand identities were developed for each of the channels, sign-posting their new position, along with with a series of graphics packages and on and off air content sets, so that audiences could better understand and connect with each brand’s perspective.

“The new brand positionings have given A+E Networks a new perspective to focus on purpose-driven programming,” says MacCuish. “Not only do they provide a tool to reassess the shows that may no longer reflect each channel’s values, but they also provide a new platform to discuss the shows that do. In short, it’s about the human story and wider cultural narrative”.

Bringing the brands to life in culture, in real time

The aim became to create the greatest cultural impact possible for each story - be that through teasers or editorial coverage - to effectively position each show within a broader cultural narrative. To deliver on this strategy Hill appointed Tiffanie Darke, former Editor-in-Chief of Sunday Times Style magazine, as Editor-in-Chief of A&E and History Channel, and Lea Goldman, former Editor-in-Chief of Refinery 29 as Editor-in-Chief of Lifetime. Their journalistic expertise brought an editorial understanding to the marketing process that was transformative: each marketing asset, regardless of format or lifespan, had a role to play in broadening the reach of the core story – and its relevance.

The moment of truth

In March 2017, Sunshine and A+E Networks co-produced the annual A+E upfront event at the Lincoln Centre. The event took on a broader context: previously an opportunity to promote new programming to potential advertisers, it was used as an opportunity to unveil the network’s renewed focus on the power of storytelling. In a world where traditional message-based advertising was under more pressure than ever before – and audiences and consumers were hungry for story and emotional relevance – it was a message advertisers and their media buyers from the agency world wanted to hear.

Key leaders within A+E shared took to the stage to share their personal stories and connection with the power of storytelling.

“A+E Networks took a big departure from the traditional upfront hard sell to emphasise the distinct culture and storytelling styles at its core networks.”

Working together, our goal is to elevate the impact of a single show, a single story, giving it the greatest cultural impact possible.