One of the most famous slogans in television history has quietly been undergoing
a change. In the last couple of months, "It's Not TV. It's HBO" has become
simply, "It's HBO" in on-air references.
No new campaign surrounded the shift; no fanfare is planned. Rather, it's an
evolution emblematic of how the premium network has developed since the slogan
debuted in 1996 with an Emmy-winning campaign featuring movie-quoting chimps.
It's also one inextricably linked to the executive responsible for it. The
campaign was one of Eric Kessler's first assignments in 1995 after moving over
from running HBO's home entertainment business to work in network marketing.
Then-HBO topper Jeff Bewkes, who is now Time Warner chairman-CEO, challenged
Kessler to create marketing that reflected how HBO aspired to be "different,
better, worth paying for."
Kessler vetted hundreds of pitches before being struck by "It's Not TV. It's
HBO." It fulfilled tenets of marketing he learned at the start of his career,
working in packaged goods. "I learned the importance of identifying a unique
positioning for your product, then executing marketing plans and tactics that
are consistent with that," says Kessler, who as co-president of HBO oversees
marketing and worldwide distribution of the brand and its content across all
platforms. "And it had to be true."
It also had to be more than a saying. "If it was an ad line, it would have
lasted a couple of months," Kessler says. "We took that line and said to
ourselves, that needs to be the mantra, the philosophy behind everything we
The philosophy served as foundation for the network's move toward daring
series such as The Sopranos, the big-budget event marketing behind
them, and HBO's groundbreaking 2001 move to launch HBO On Demand. It also
informed the "elegance and quality" in the recent relaunch of HBO.com,
the brand's new iPhone application and the imminent HBOGo, the company's
authenticated online video service, all of which fall under Kessler's purview.
"In the design and architecture of these things, we were going back to that
consistency throughout the brand, no matter how it's presented or on what
device," Kessler says. "So people look at it and say, 'That's HBO.'"
The HBOGo rollout arguably represents a step into a new era, and Kessler is
pleased that the tagline has adapted with it. He says the phrase has been
around long enough that it's part of the vernacular. "Most importantly, we are
evolving to 'It's HBO' because it is not just about the television anymore," he
says. "It's the content. As we launch HBOGo, it's time to reflect the fact that
we are on multiple devices and always will be going forward."
In 2007, Kessler was named co-president in the reorganization that followed
Chris Albrecht's exit as chairman-CEO. He is a diehard HBO-er, having spent
more than two decades at the company. Says Discovery Communications COO
Peter Liguori, a longtime friend who worked for Kessler for several years at
HBO: "If Eric were to get a tattoo, it would say HBO."
The two met when Kessler was a product manager at Lever Brothers and Liguori
worked for media agency Ogilvy & Mather. Kessler got into packaged
goods-first at Gillette, then Lever Brothers-because it was creative and the
closest thing he could get to working in the movies. He grew up in Queens,
N.Y., loving two things, he says: the
movies and the New York Yankees.
Liguori, too, grew up loving movies and baseball (though Liguori is a big
Mets fan). They hit it off immediately when Kessler, then at Lever Brothers, became
Liguori's client at O&M. "One of the things that Eric's calm demeanor
covers up is he's all-in," Liguori says. "He brings his whole self to the job.
He's been at HBO that long because he loves it. And it's infectious; people
want to work with him."
When Liguori, a former Fox and FX exec, is asked whether he thinks he might
ever work with Kessler again, he says he does see it someday: "I look forward
to running the 'Sunshine Retirement Home' board with him, spending many movie
nights at the retirement center. The screenings will be packed and the movies
will be good."
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.