Brand war in the morning: Today vs. GMA

October 12, 2005

Todayshow The Today show has been on the air for over 50 years. It is the gold standard for morning television winning a record 512 consecutive weeks in the ratings war.

But the dominance of Today has taken a major hit. Good Morning America has come out fighting in past few years and last season came within a heartbeat of scoring a weekly win against Today. GMA missed the mark by a mere 40,000 viewers.

Some say this rating season could be the one that GMA overtakes the one-time juggernaut Today. And you can tell that Today is definitely feeling the GMA heat. This summer the show made sweeping executive changes to try and right the ship. With profits in the hundred of millions of dollars, morning television is big business. And sagging brands mean sagging profits and sagging stock prices.

So the question is: What happened to Today?

The answer: expansion.

If you look at the problem from a branding perspective, the answer is simple. Yet none of the articles about Today I have read even mention the idea or the problem of expansion.

Our Immutable Law of Expansion states that the power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope. When you expand a brand, you weaken a brand.

At the height of Today’s success, they expanded the brand in an effort to squeeze every dollar they could out of the brand.

First NBC launched After Today, a one-hour spin-off, to expand the brand. Then in May 2000, NBC expanded Today from a two hour show to a three hour show. The After Today line extension eventually was cancelled. But Today continues to be a three hour show as compared to GMA which is still only two hours.

Originally, Today said that Katie and Matt would participate less in the final hour and Ann and Al would pick up the slack. But as the ratings troubles began, Katie and Matt are having to put in more face time later in the show.

Today, Today is a weakened brand. To fill three hours of television, Today has been diluted with silly segments and new reporters. Three hours five days a week, 52 weeks a year is a lot of airtime. Not to mention the weekend editions of Today.

On the other hand, GMA has stayed more focused. Let’s face it, it is simply easier to produce two hours of great television than it is to produce three hours especially on a daily basis. Yes, GMA has silly segments and network show plugs too. But overall, we see more of Charlie and Diane. The bottom line is that more viewers are making the switch to ABC.

Sometimes it takes a while for the effects of expansion to catch-up to a brand. In 2000, the NBC network was riding high with hit shows in prime time and Today dominating morning television. They thought they could do no wrong. Why not give the public more of a show they love? But more is not always better. The effects of expansion have caught up to NBC. In 2005, both Today in the morning and NBC prime time are hitting hard times.

At the height of success the temptation to expand is at its greatest. It’s also the time for self-restraint. It’s the time to keep your brand focused. Brand building is a marathon race. You want a brand that can make it not just Today, but tomorrow too.