Al Jazeera America and the impact of a brand’s roots

September 9, 2013

Al Jazeera America launched on August 20th with much buzz and promotion, but with a very little audience. So what’s the problem? Why isn’t this brand engaging with more consumers?

Al Jazeera America launched on August 20th with much buzz and promotion, but with a very little audience. The network is being heavily promoted nationally. Print ads (just one of many media vehicles being used) are appearing in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today (to name a few) with its a “Know more stories. No more sound bites.” positioning. According to AdAge, Al Jazeera’s first week was quite disappointing in terms of viewership. Approximately 40 million homes have access to Al Jazeera and yet one of its highest rated shows was “Real Money with Ali Velshi” with only 54,0000 viewers compared to Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” with 2.97 million viewers.

I am sure that the experts behind the marketing of Al Jazeera in the Untied States have done their homework in terms of using research to help gain insights around the best strategies for launching in the U.S. So what’s the problem? Why isn’t this brand engaging with more consumers? Everyone I have spoken to (albeit n = 12) has major issues around two core components of Al Jazeera America: 

  1. Origins of the brand name
  2. Logo

You would think that the controversy behind the name and the logo would have resulted in more curiosity seekers wanting to see what Al Jazeera is all about. For a brief historical overview, Al Jazeera Satellites Channel was launched on November 1, 1996 in the Arab states and is owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is headquartered in Doha, Qatar. Although Qatar is one of the richest countries in the Middle East and is one of the Unites States’ biggest allies, many American’s have conflicted feelings about the region, in general. On the one hand, we understand that much of the violence and Arab uprisings are, a result of individuals seeking democracy and a better way of life, and on the other, we fear the violence, terrorism and high anti-US sentiment associated with the Middle East. In essence, it is a part of the world that we simply do not trust.

Out of the gate, the Al Jazeera brand is rooted in a part of the world in which American’s are uncertain, even fearful. In order for any brand to be successful, it must be rooted in trust. This is especially true when it comes to the brands from which we get our local, national and international news. And with all the recent hype and speculation around the National Security Agency (NSA) and wondering if “big brother” is watching, I was even skeptical about using Google to research Al Jazeera for a this blog topic. In addition to the Al Jazeera name, its logo and visual icon reinforce a very strong link to the Arab culture. This is clearly one case where a brand’s roots may backfire.

Should Al Jazeera have abandoned its core brand equities — its name and its logo, for its U.S. launch? If its primary goal is to deliver unbiased news in more depth and from more perspectives everyday should they have launched under an entirely new name that may not have the controversy of the Al Jazeera name? Can you think of other brands whose roots may have hampered its success?

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