The “Igniter”

Have you ever driven down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles? It’s an explosion of outdoor advertisements, all vying for our attention. I am big fan of outdoor; when properly executed, it’s a 24/7 avenue for invasive and creative communication. Colloquially, it’s art – amplified.

A few weeks ago I was driving on Sunset, and noticed two advertisements from Syfy, the science fiction and fantasy programming cable network. They immediately caught my attention. Here are the ads:

These advertisements intrigued me because they’re in the voice of the individual, not the brand. Whenever I see the word “I” in advertising, I’m drawn in. Someone is personally taking control of a message. To me, it is this ownership that can often times have more validity than a “buy me now message” from Budweiser or McDonald’s, for example.

The marketer in me (I studied marketing in undergrad, and currently work in marketing at Universal Pictures) is constantly analyzing marketing communications of brands. I do my own personal assessment of what I think is working, what’s not, and what are the up and coming messaging trends. Brands are successful at marketing when they create an ad (via any channel) and entice the consumer to find out more. If a consumer is willing to do more research, invest their own time and energy, it’s a win in regards to initial communication strategy. As Young (2010) states in this week’s readings, this is where awareness, involvement, and active consideration can occur.

But with so much noise in the media landscape, messaging all too often comes and goes without any impact on the consumer. The Syfy ads stuck a chord with me, however. I saw the ads and immediately asked myself “Igniter? How does this relate to Syfy? I need to find out what this is about.” And to the internet I went.

What is an Igniter?

In January 2012, Syfy and research firms PSFK and Simmons partnered together to research today’s consumer. Based on the results, Syfy believes that the consumer is “more powerful today than ever (“Syfy uncovers, 2012).” But there is a particular type of consumer that the network has deemed powerful – the Igniter. But what defines an Igniter? Below are characteristics that the cable network believes describes this powerful consumer.

  • Insatiable need to constantly be in-the-know about the latest and greatest everything.
  • Must-have mentality drives them to try, do and buy the next big things.
  • Vocal in telling everyone about their latest finds. Because they’re at the forefront, people listen to what they have to say.
  • Optimistic
  • Rethink Status Quo
  • Inventive
  • Risk Taker
  • Creative
  • Open-Minded

Take a look at the below video for a visual description of an Igniter.

Syfy Igniter – Video Ad

Here’s a cull of the narration from the above ad.

An audience that lives for the next big thing. Who’s the first to try it, the first to buy it, and most importantly, the first to tell everyone about it. They’re Igniters. What they buy today, everyone wants tomorrow. And where do you find this audience? Syfy.

I like what Syfy is doing with this creative. What do you think? Does it work? I believe the ad does an effective job at integrating marketing into everyday life, and depicts Syfy as the place where brand advocates are located. According to the network, its programming (and subsequently its viewers) is advantageous for advertisers.

Essentially, the video ad tells me that brands move around, they are no longer static. This concept is very much in the vein of Young’s (2010) “liquid media” theory. Consumers (Igniters) have the power to propel a brand (“seamlessly”) through numerous channels, and to numerous audiences.

Selling the Igniter to Advertisers

Syfy’s Igniter campaign is ultimately a sales pitch to advertisers to buy media on the network. To help its case, the network does have leverage with several statistics.

In an 18-49 index by cable network, Syfy claims to be the “best place to find Igniters,” with a leading index of 112 (“Cable upfront,” 2012). Last year was the most-watched year ever, with an average of 1.2 million viewers in prime time 2011 (“Cable guide,” 2012). Lastly, “Syfy posted double-digit gains for men, women and adults in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the first quarter of 2011 (“Cable guide,” 2012).”

An Extension of Re-branding

It’s interesting to note that this is not the first time Syfy has gone through a re-branding stage.

In 2009, the SciFi channel went through a re-branding phase, where the network was renamed Syfy, and a new logo was born (Karpel, 2012). This was executed by David Howe, President of Syfy, all in an effort to deviate from perceptions that sci-fi programming is only viewed by males, and as a way to give the channel a fresh look keen on innovation. Howe states that the intention was to create a brand that “was extendable into new platforms (Karpel, 2012).” As leverage, just had its best year ever, with 3.7 million unique views and 30 million page views. The network also has a Facebook and Twitter account.

I remember not being a fan of the new Syfy logo. At first. I thought it was very pedestrian and didn’t speak to the core viewers. But over time the logo grew on me, and I can actually appreciate its meaning. It broadens the capabilities of the network, as the previous logo was very focused and suffocating in terms of creative potential. The new logo is open and diverse. Much like its programming and much like its audience.

David Howe, Syfy president

No More Inside Walls

Author Chris Grams wrote a book in 2012 called The Ad-Free Brand. He discusses the rising power of the consumer, and the necessary actions of organizations to be accepting of this power.

The Syfy ads reminded me of Grams’ book because it embodies so many aspects of the author’s ideas. Here is a particularly important statement from Grams:

Brands are no longer built inside the walls of corporations, but instead they are built together by organizations and the communities of customers, contributors, partners, and detractors surrounding them (p.8).

The Igniter campaign creates a relationship between the network and the consumer. And the advertiser.


Cheers to Syfy for being proactive in its communication with advertisers. The network is ultimately out to get business, just like any other organization. But this strategy is smart and definitely different than what I have seen from other networks. I would say Bravo is the only other network with comparable initiatives.

Syfy has taken what everyone “talks” about, and has put it in writing, into action.


Cable guide 2012. (2012). Retrieved from

Grams, C. (2012). The ad-free brand. (p. 8). Indianapolis: Que.

Karpel, A. (2012). Syfy president dave howe on how to capture more diverse audiences. Retrieved from

Syfy uncovers how highly imaginative people – igniters – move brands forward faster. (2012, January 18). Retrieved from

Young, A. (2010). Brand media strategy: Integrated communications planning in the digital era. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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6 Responses to The “Igniter”

  1. Neda,
    First off, I miss Southern California so your photos gave me a quick run down memory lane of driving up the 405. As far as the Igniter campaign, the first thing I thought was that it was a way of targeting their cusomers. By branding an Ignitor as certain type of customer, and identifying characteristics, I think there is an assumption that the reader will then say to themselves, “Thats me, I think Im an Ignitor” and then want to start investing some of their time into this campaign and into Syfy.

    The Chris Grams pull was also a good one because I think it correctly illustrated the intent of Psfy to try and connect itself, the consumer and the advertisers in some kind of mutual partnership. Interesting concept. Since I live overseas so much, I think I miss out on some of pop culture things that go on so its interesting to me when I can catch bits and pieces of them – even if I only do so off the web.


    • Neda Assadi says:

      Mike – Agree with you on the power of labeling the viewer as an “igniter.” When organizations give power to its consumers (even if only perceived power), it engages these individuals to be excited, to interact, and subsequently, share information with their contacts. It’s such a great transition from earlier marketing techniques where the brand told the consumers “you will like this, and here’s why.” Now it’s more of the consumer saying “I like this, and here’s why.”

      The Igniter is simply a great representation of today’s consumer. Two of the biggest takeaways from my research on the Igniter initiative were the points on “igniters” being risk-takers and rethinking the status quo. If we think about the inventions of Facebook and Instagram for example, those were created by “igniters,” people willing to take a risk to create something new.

      The Syfy network itself can arguably be deemed an “igniter” because it is deviating from traditional advertising. It’s found a way to uniquely involve the viewer while at the same time integrating its content.

      Hoping that this strategy works for Syfy, as I see the power of the viewer becoming an increasing trend in the media landscape…should it succeed. A lot of advertisers can be skeptical to buy media on networks that want to revamp from traditional thoughts on viewers and their habits.

      We shall see.

  2. Michele Caldwell says:

    Hi Neda,
    The “Igniter” – catchy title! As always, your images are impactful and vibrant! I like the fact that you highlighted a popular location (Sunset Blvd.) engrossed with advertisements that target multiple audiences. I absolutely agree – Sunset Strip is a collage of artistic expressions! After reading your blog, I am intrigued about “Igniters” and how these consumers are positively showcased by the Syfy channel. The two advertisements you posted illustrate innovative thinking; the ability to make dreams a reality. Thanks for providing the video link! The video description is quite engaging and futuristic! I like how they incorporated an iPad in the video – instills the idea that Syfy is all about staying up to date with the newest and trendiest products. I agree – Syfy has created a campaign that appeals to viewers!

    In addition to attracting consumers who want to share their ideas, the Syfy Igniters’ website ( offers limitless information about new trends, the benefits of becoming an Igniter, and how Igniters influence marketers when promoting products. You mentioned that Bravo is comparable to Syfy in terms of its communication initiatives – you are correct! According to a survey conducted in 2011, Syfy was named as the best place (in terms of cable network) to find Igniters and Bravo was ranked number four (this information can be found on page 22 of the CableUpfront2012_Brochure located under “Igniters” on the website).

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information about “Igniters” and the Syfy channel! Great job!!

    • Neda Assadi says:

      Thank you for sharing the website! I didn’t dive too deep into researching how Syfy is communicating with its viewers online. Instead I looked at how the network was attempting to attract advertisers by promoting the Igniter campaign.

      I took a look at the Syfy website and it is loaded with great content for viewers. I culled some quotes below that are featured from everyday viewers. When I see these statements online, I gravitate towards the messaging because it’s coming from a source that I can relate to – not an advertiser’s message.

      “I am always looking for a new way to put things together. Such as the way I dress or decorate my home, I don’t want it to be the same as everyone else.”

      “I love reading and researching to learn as much as I can on any subject that interests me.”

      “I often think of things in terms of how I want them to be rather than how they actually are.”

      “Risk takers can and have changed the world.”

      I particularly like the last quote above as I feel it speaks volumes to what the Igniter campaign stands for – take a risk, and watch what happens.


  3. Shane Collins says:

    Hi Neda –

    Your synthesis was fantastic. It is interesting to me when organizations advertise to gain advertisers. It seems like a no brainer – in order to increase revenue, one must reach the proper stakeholders. However, many times it is the opposite. Brands advertise in order to gain consumers and brand loyalists. However, with regard to television, it makes complete sense as to why marketing is directed at advertisers. The Igniter campaign seems as though it has accomplished both without even trying. Here you are, a consumer, and the ads caught your attention enough to research SyFy. On the other hand, it should do the same for advertisers looking to reach this audience.

  4. Neda Assadi says:

    Agree with you on the advertising angle, Shane. I work in media, and every year we have networks come in and present their upcoming programming slate. It’s hard not to fall into the trap of sticking with what’s working. For advertisers, they want to be in the networks that get the best ratings, have the most reach, and make the most impact. Whatever it takes to get it done, they want it. For the networks trying to get our business, the top performing networks usually don’t have a problem. We will simply always spend money on the networks that deliver. For the networks that typically under-perform, there must be a unique selling point – either a specific product or service from the advertiser will be particularly beneficial to promote on these said networks, or these networks come to the table with a proposal that makes advertisers take a risk.

    With Syfy, they don’t do gangbusters in ratings, but they aren’t terrible either. They have some terrific programming, a target audience, and now an Igniter campaign. I really like what they are doing, and believe them (as I mentioned in my initial post) to be very similar to Bravo in its forward-thinking / viewer driven ethos.