Owned by A+E Networks, History is broadcast to millions of homes around the world. It was the 15th most watched cable channel in the US in 2016, according to a report compiled by research company Nielsen – but like many broadcasters, it faces increasing competition from streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
This week, the channel launched a new visual identity created by DixonBaxi, the London branding agency behind the on-air identities for Eurosport and the Premier League. The identity is based on a strong use of type, close-cropped imagery and copywriting that combines witty lines and dramatic statements.
DixonBaxi was initially asked to devise a brand strategy for the channel but ended up designing a comprehensive on and off-air identity system. “We essentially became an extension of the A+E Networks team for an intense six months,” says DixonBaxi co-founder and ECD Aporva Baxi. “We did a number of strategic and creative sprints here at our studio with their team flying in for a few days. And then we spent time at the New York offices for presentations, workshops and to share the work with the wider teams.”
With the channel keen to reach a broader demographic and establish a stronger on and off-air presence, the agency was asked to undertake a “radical rethink” of History’s identity. The new branding aims to challenge perceptions of history as dry, dull or academic and promote the idea of history being ‘better’ than fiction.
“The idea of ‘Humanity’s Infinite Storybook’ was used to harness that concept and show that the real world has a tremendous depth of inspiring, momentous and dramatic human stories [big and small] to draw upon,” says Baxi.
The channel was keen to keep its original logo – in the US in particular, it is widely recognised – so DixonBaxi paired the bevelled mark with a more contemporary visual system to bring it up to date.
“The logo is pretty much what you’d expect the logo for a history channel to be … but we thought, if we can pair it with a more modern scheme, it could become a powerful anchor,” says Baxi.
The new branding is based on impactful images, strong type and a more emotive tone of voice. Promotional imagery for the show Alone – about a group of survivalists who are sent to live in the extreme wilderness – features the statement ‘Man vs. a whole lot of dangerous stuff’ with ‘no crew’, ‘no content’ and ‘no help’ overlaid. Imagery promoting drama Vikings uses the phrase ‘Who Will Fall?’ to hint at rivalry, power and conflict.
Baxi says the agency has created a series of editorial principles for the brand, giving it a stronger and more consistent tone of voice.”The new look is very much built on typography and storytelling,” he says. “The language is critical in telling immersive stories.” The typeface Tungsten is used in varying weights, allowing the brand to speak in “a range of volumes” and underlines are used frequently for emphasis.
Photography is reminiscent of editorial imagery. Teaser clips and stills promoting shows use close-up portraits to emphasise ‘human stories’ – the kind of portraits you’d find on the cover of a magazine. Images are cropped in surprising ways, allowing the channel to put its own spin on stock imagery and famous photos from the archives.
“Images are much more confident and less busy … there’s quite a stylised, graphic feel to the photography and a focus on revealing the stories of different characters,” says Baxi.
The colour red runs throughout the branding – a ‘red thread’ provides continuity in graphics signposting show times and series launch dates.
The History logo has been used to create animated idents alluding to different eras, themes and events. Each film features some evocative sound design by Zelig and a 3D ‘H’ filled with a different substance: coal represents industry and manufacturing, smoke, battle and revolution and fire, ancient civilisations.
DixonBaxi also studied the cadence of noted speakers from Barack Obama to Muhammad Ali to create a motion graphics language based on their speech patterns. Show titles appear on screen at varying speeds with varied pauses in between words. “This animation behaviour is used across all communications – on the website, social feeds through GIFs and films as well as on-air,” says Baxi.
In addition to developing idents and motion graphics, the agency worked with History to change the way shows are promoted during ad breaks. Commercial breaks are now interspersed with a series of short scenes lifted from shows, encouraging viewers to stay tuned in between programming (a single ad break can include three or four scene lifts). The name of the show isn’t revealed until the end of the break – instead, clips feature short questions or statements designed to spark viewers’ interest and introduce key characters and themes.
Using just one typeface and three core colours – red, pale grey and dark grey – DixonBaxi has created a versatile identity to suit a diverse range of programming. The colour palette will likely draw comparisons with Netflix – which uses black, red and white – but feels suitably bold and dramatic.
The branding can also be used to create more dynamic imagery and more engaging content on social media. DixonBaxi is currently working with History on developing marketing campaigns and partnerships and says the aim is to “align History with other iconic cultural brands”.
The H logo is a challenging one to work with. Compared to Netflix and Viceland’s, it feels a little dated and fussy, but with slick motion graphics, a flexible typographic system and more eye-catching imagery, DixonBaxi has created a more compelling and contemporary look for History – one that is capable of working across multiple channels. The new look is likely to spark interest among fans of blockbuster dramas – but whether History’s content will hold their interest remains to be seen.
You can read Aporva Baxi’s piece for CR on the changing world of TV branding here.