Comcast Plans Makeover to Improve Its Image with Consumers
Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), the nation's largest cable provider, will try to recast its image among consumers, launching a major effort this week to rebrand its cable services under the banner "Xfinity."
The effort comes as Comcast is facing rising competition from satellite providers, telecommunications giants and online video platforms. It's also preparing to take a majority stake in entertainment giant NBC Universal in a bid to pioneer digital business models at a time of uncertainty for the industry.
But even as the company's makeup changes, its image as a monopolistic cable giant with shoddy customer service, clunky technology platforms and rising prices is well ingrained in the public mind, drawing a sharp contrast with new media brands like Netflix Inc. (NFLX), YouTube and Apple Inc. (AAPL).
Comcast, which announced the move last week, will keep its corporate name intact, at least for the time being.
"Xfinity will be the new brand for our products, but it will be connected to Comcast's company name," Comcast spokeswoman Jenn Khoury said. "It's about the new products that we're offering and will offer that will give customers access to more content across technology platforms and faster speeds online."
Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC) has had a similar effort underway for years, with its products marketed under the Optimum brand. Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC) is working on its own rebranding plan, known internally as "Project Mercury." Meanwhile, old phone companies have launched their own rival video and high-speed Internet service under new brand names. Verizon Inc. (VZ) calls its products Fios, while AT&T Inc. (T) adopted the name U-Verse.
"They don't want to be seen as stodgy and slow-moving old media and telecommunications companies," said John Gilles, vice president of engagement with Method, a brand experience design agency. "They're trying to express to consumers that they are aware of what's happening with the Internet and they're going to be leaders and innovators in delivering new services."
Comcast's new brand was first unveiled when it introduced its online video subscriptionââ¬âservice last year as Fancast Xfinity. Xfinity will be the new brand for all its products starting Friday in 11 U.S. markets where the company has either launched its fastest broadband Internet service or its all-digital cable TV offering.
In those markets, Comcast will be launching advertisements across a variety of media that are tied to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Khoury declined to comment on how much the company plans to invest in marketing the new brand. She said it will be rolled out over the course of the year, and the company will change the branding on its trucks and the uniforms of its technicians, with the ultimate goal of rolling it out across its entire footprint.
"I suspect they're calculating that starting fresh by investing in a new name is a better option than trying to reposition the old one," said Timothy Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
The cable giant's latest attempt at image control isn't even off the ground, and critics are already having fun at its expense. For instance, a consumer affairs blog owned by Consumers Union, The Consumerist, opined that Xfinity sounds like a company that would make pornography, and it posted its "X-rated" version of the logo online, inviting users to submit their own.
Online ridicule is nothing new for Comcast. The rise of digital communications has empowered a barrage of consumer complaints about the cable giant over the years, giving rise to Web sites like ComcastMustDie.com. Recently, it has taken steps--like providing a customer-service guarantee and communicating with consumers directly online--to improve its image, but Comcast, along with other cable operators and airlines, is still ranked near the bottom of major companies in The American Customer Satisfaction Index.
"The Comcast brand name doesn't exactly evoke warm fuzzies from its customers, " said Craig Moffett, analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "It's really an indictment of the entire industry that after all these years, the brand Comcast has so little value that you'd even consider dropping it."