Lies, scandal, salacious gossip and celebrity presenters pitted against each other: it is perhaps no wonder that Piers Morgan compared the latest shockwaves to hit daytime TV showThis Morningas being like something in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Images (and rumours) about one of its stars, Phillip Schofield, are everywhere. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll know about them. Phillip may have left ITV with immediate effect, but what does that do for the show’s branding? When your name is dragged through mud – personally, professionally – can you ever recover?
Whatever the truth is behind the headlines,This Morning’s brand has been badly damaged. As a PR and brand expert who has worked with everyone from corporations to celebrities to social media influencers, I know a thing or two about reputation management – and I can tell you that This Morning is in for a bumpy ride over the next few months.
Every move will be scrutinised, written about and interpreted. “Queuegate” has only just stopped rumbling, and although it was all explained later, it looked bad at the time. This looks bad, too. But the real issue is bigger than the scandalous optics. It’s how the developments have made viewers feel.
Brands and brand loyalty are deeper than a pretty logo – they are powerfully emotive. You can see that from the way viewers have spoken with passion about the show on call-ins and all over social media in the past few days. People don’t do that if they don’t care and don’t feel. This is great when it’s going your way, but hard when people feel personally misled.
The main issue, as I see it, is the trust that has been eroded by this story. When it’s a wholesome, trusted brand like This Morning, that will hurt. Based on all public statements, such as his co-star Holly Willoughby’s assertion that he “directly lied”, Phillip kept the truth from everyone.
The word “toxic” has also been used a lot, and that’s never a word you want associated with any brand, let alone one as wholesome as This Morning.
So, how do you rebuild public trust in a brand when so much has been fired at it and it’s so gravely wounded? I’d say refocus on the brand’s core values – and think about why people turn on their TVs at 10am to 12.30pm every day to watch it.
This refocus should be in everything they do from now on. A strong ad campaign would be a good call, but it also needs to be in how the presenters behave, the language used when people talk on the show, in the design and the branding and even the colours.
Their social media should also reflect this. I’d also look to run stories and features that support their brand ethos through reflecting what others are doing. Everything should be aligned to reflect honesty, integrity and transparency.
It will be important for ITV to go over and above to ensure that nothing feels “kept” from the viewer, to reinforce the “we’re all in this together” attitude the brand is known for. This Morning is known for fun – and toxicity and fun don’t usually go hand in hand.
I think the way that ITV is addressing developments in their own way – the broadcaster has said there are no plans to take the show off air – is a good call and is a positive step towards a rebuild.
Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary, who are taking over the This Morning sofa while Holly remains off until 5 June, are doing a great job of addressing the stories as they happen – while also maintaining the vibe that people have come to know and love about the show. It can’t be an easy job.
Is this going to be a quick fix? I don’t think so. I think when Holly comes back next week, the show will have to be honest with the viewers that it is the start of a new chapter.
A new presenter should bring their own personality to the show, so rather than trying to fill Phillip’s shoes, they should be looking to stamp their identity over the space to start to move the show forward into its next iteration. If it were me, I’d probably look to shake things up: like a rebrand in a business to show transition.
Brands evolve over time – just look at McDonald’s. As public opinion has changed on key issues, so has the brand and its messaging (the use of free range eggs, for example). Facebook changed to Meta to signal the introduction of the Metaverse. It took the brand forward to a new era to show change, growth and development.
Burberry signalled a new chapter for the brand by changing its “face” to Emma Watson. This changed public perception and also reinforced the brand’s values – Britishness (what’s more British that a homegrown film star?), quality and understated elegance. A change in “face” can do a lot to realign public perception.
Rebranding (or even refreshing) a brand can reap huge benefits when handled well. The reason for the rebrand needs to be clearly identified, as do the values that are core to the brand that its owners want to be maintained and illustrated through the process.
“Trial by social media” has kept the This Morning saga going, created more speculation and potentially done a lot more damage than the story itself.
This will have one of two results: a drop in regular watchers who no longer feel the show’s values align with their own, or an upsurge in those who have been drawn in by the drama. Time will tell whether This Morning can survive this scandal – but if it’s clever about its own rebirth, it can.
Rhea Freeman is an author and award winning PR and social media expert
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