Entertainment brands, or even media brands for that matter, are fundamentally no different from brands in other categories. Success of any brand depends on it being relevant to a set of people and acquiring a distinct association in their minds. “Once a brand gets that right, it ought not to ever change except (to) incrementally refresh itself once in a while to keep up with cultural and social trends," says Samit Sinha, founder and managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, a strategic advisory firm.

However, some of our FM radio brands execute frequent changes to either modify their programming or alter their branding. Recently, Oye FM in Delhi, a station from the India Today group, renamed itself Ishq FM—a radio channel dedicated to romantic songs. Oye FM was a station for contemporary hit Hindi film songs. By the way, this was the station’s second rebranding in the last few years. It had switched to a Bollywood hits station (Oye) from being a women-centric channel called Meow FM earlier.

A few months ago, Radio City, the station from Music Broadcast that belongs to the Jagran group, changed its signature tune, as did Radio Mirchi, the Times group’s FM radio brand. Abraham Thomas, chief executive officer of Radio City, says that the signature tune of a radio station is sonic branding. It defines the identity of what he calls the ‘stationality’ of a station.

“It helps us connect with the audience instantly and makes us a part of their lives," says Thomas. He calls the recent change an evolution to the next level of branding, further embedding Radio City in the minds of the listeners.

Entertainment Network India Ltd’s Radio Mirchi also changed its signature tune recently. Its chief executive Prashant Panday says that the signature tune is the audio logo of a station and the most important element of its identity. Radio Mirchi changes its signature tune every five years or so. “In the future, we may do it more often if our audiences change faster. Our new jingle captures the instrumentation, beats and lyrics of a new generation," Panday says.

While the frequent rebranding of India Today’s station may be curious, Thomas says that while rebranding, it is necessary to take cognizance of the stage of life cycle the brand currently is in, its market share and whether the rebranding is relevant at that point. The rebranding strategy has to be based on solid research, understanding of the market, audience and competition. “It should be evolutionary and natural next step to improve the offering on an existing brand," he says.

So how often can a radio brand change itself? Not too often, says Panday. Of course, companies take the rebranding route if the brand is floundering. Usually a brand name change is an extreme measure and becomes necessary only when a product is being drastically overhauled. For example, if a contemporary hit station is switching to retro music, it could consider rebranding, though it is still not mandatory, says Panday.

In radio consultant Sunil Kumar’s view, it’s not so much about change in the brand name as about the change in programming format—the sound of the station which is the sum total of the music the station plays, the jocks it has, what they say, the promos it runs on air and on ground and everything around it.

“What gets the station its audience is the format and not the brand name as such," he says.

That’s why a change in format—even when drastic—does not necessitate a change in brand. He cites the example of Radio One, which changed the format of its radio stations in Delhi and Mumbai from Bollywood hits to international music a few years ago without changing the brand name of the station, even though it was catering to a very different audience.

To be sure, rebranding is nothing but a new brand launch. It is expensive and tricky because, unless done right, success can be elusive.

But do entertainment brands need to change to stay relevant? Perhaps they do as they are in the vanguard of societal changes. As societies change, brands need to connect with them afresh. “Most successful brands keep making small changes all along the journey," Panday says.

Of course the programming changes cannot be too frequent, especially in radio, as it is a medium of habit and habits don’t change fast. “The core doesn’t change, although the bells and whistles around the core may change," he says.

But Alchemist’s Sinha says that most FM stations in India are difficult to differentiate from one another by content and programming. “It seems to be just so much aural wallpaper," he says, although agreeing that once in while, a radio jockey picks up some loyal following. But unless the channel itself owns a certain association in the minds of a segment of listeners, it will never become a strong brand.

HT Media Ltd, the publisher of Mint, owns the Fever FM and Radio Nasha brands that compete with the stations mentioned above in several markets.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.