Think National Geographic and you think of rainforests, wildlife, volcanoes and mountains. That was then. Now, National Geographic is about solving bank robberies, an in-depth probe into 9/11, the modus operandi of Charles Sobhraj and even the latest gizmos and groundbreaking technology.
Even the look and feel of the channel has changed -- new on-air graphic elements with light and vibrant effects, new channel promos and a new tagline: "Think Again."
Not that the exploration and wildlife programmes are gone forever. "You will still see those sorts of shows on the channel, but also shows that are more contemporary and relevant, shows that explore the modern world that surrounds us and that tackle issues that affect all of our lives," says Guy Slattery, senior vice-president, creative and marketing, National Geographic Channels International.
"We want to create entertainment that makes people 'Think again' about the world in which they live," adds Slattery.
The channel repositioning isn't restricted to India -- it began in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe last September, and in India last fortnight.
Hints of the makeover were seen earlier, though. A new campaign for the channel broke almost a month ago, on NatGeo of course, but also on the Star TV network.
Created by Shashanka Ghosh of Mumbai-based production house FBC Media, the new Hindi commercial is aligned with the Think Again positioning and attempts to capture the new channel personality.
The 90-second ad begins with a Bollywood-style kidnap of a young man. As they carry him up the stairs of the hide-out, huffing and puffing with every step, the young man suggests a fireman's lift would be easier.
At the hide-out, as the kidnappers get their breath back, he tells them their lungs, if spread out, would be the size of a tennis court. "Is he threatening us?" worries one of the kidnappers.
The next morning, the get-away car is stuck in the mud and the victim helpfully suggests shifting to reverse gear -- it's a rear-wheel drive car. It works.
"This guy knows," comments one of goons. To escape the police patrol, they move into a pitch-dark corner. One kidnapper asks where the loo is; when the other says he doesn't know, the victim chirps in that if they had had night-vision goggles, they would have been able to see in the dark.
Another day, and the trio moves to a cave. The kidnappers see a snake and are scared, but the hero reassures them: it's a rat snake; it won't bite.
Now, with the kidnappers as willing volunteers, he demonstrates how to tie a reef knot. They're secured, and he escapes. The last shot shows the kidnappers in prison, asking for National Geographic channel.
The ad showcases two current trends in Indian advertising: the accent on Hindi, even for national brands, and the emphasis on humour. Shashanka Ghosh, FBC Media creative director, says, the brief was to create an ad that would show National Geographic is "young, entertaining and not just a serious channel".
For the current campaign, Ghosh had two priorities: one, to excite curiosity in a newer audience without doing damage to the existing core audience; and two, to bring out the new brand personality while maintaining a high entertainment quotient.
The message is simple: scientific enquiry can be fun. "There can always be two ways in which a topic can be taught -- an engaging and passionate way, where you kind of bring the topic alive, or in a pedantic manner.
NatGeo falls in the first category. The ad tries to bring out that personality of the channel, and for those who thought it is only about serious content, they need to Think Again," says Ghosh.
The brand building campaign is being given heavy weightage in the Star network -- an average 30 spots a day across 12 channels -- but especially in Star World and Star One, since the viewership of these channels is skewed towards the National Geographic profile.
At present, the core audience for National Geographic is the 25-plus year age group, but the new ad will, it is believed, appeal to a wider profile: six to 60.
That should help. Because, with the new campaign, National Geographic is also reaching out to new viewers: not just the core audience that watches the channel for programmes on wildlife and explorations, but a much wider one that would be interested in the new content -- on technology, science, investigations and so on.
By end-2005, the channel is aiming to increase its 0.5 per cent channel share in the over-25 age group (source: TAM), by 15 to 20 per cent.
The programme line-up has also been rejigged to appeal to the new target viewer. Several new series -- including Nat Geo Investigates, Megastructures, FIR, In the Womb, Ultimate Survivor and ShowReal Asia and Taboo -- are being planned; some are already on air.
"The new content is relevant, resonant, and relate-able," says Dilshad Master, senior vice president, content and communication, National Geographic.
The new TV commercial will be followed this month by advertisements on radio as well as the Internet, and will also set the tone for future programme-based advertising as well, say company executives.
The new information-plus-entertainment slant is also expected to boost revenues for NatGeo. Already, says Nikhil Mirchandani, head of ad sales for the channel, the advertiser base has gone up to 140, from 50 last years.Ad sales revenue is expected to increase 200 per cent by end-FY2006. "Telecom, auto, IT and tourism brands have sampled the channel and we expect them to develop long term relationships with them."