The brand face of any public entity, whether a company or a personality, is immensely powerful when it has resonated with your target audience.
It can also hinder you in future endeavors.
Take the case of Stephen Colbert, who left Comedy Central and The Colbert Report last year to replace David Letterman in CBS’s late time talk show slot. At the time, the concern among many (including me) was whether Colbert could shed the persona he played on the Comedy Central show and become less of a caricature for CBS.
Now that we’re several months into it, it looks like Colbert’s brand face of old is keeping him from attaining the same kind of popularity he had at Comedy Central.
CBS, in an unusual move, announced that Chris Licht, an executive producer on CBS This Morning, will take over The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as showrunner.
The reason for the switch is obvious. Jimmy Fallon is dominating late night over at NBC with The Tonight Show, while Colbert is either in second or third place (behind or ahead of Jimmy Kimmel), depending on the week.
Why Stephen Colbert doesn’t quite work – yet.
I was very interested in what the Colbert persona – the real one – would look like when Late Show debuted last fall. Could he transform himself from the cartoon on Colbert Report, where he played a clueless right-wing commentator, into someone who could connect with audiences on a personal level?
You can make fun of Fallon all you want for his over-laughing at guest’s jokes and kowtowing to celebrities, but at least he’s fun and, dare I say, human. It’s easy to emotionally connect with Fallon because he seems easy and loose in front of the camera.
A brand face is what a brand looks like to target audiences. For Colbert, his brand face is contrived and doesn’t fit into the easy-going nature of late night talk. You see him playing a character. His eyes even seem a little dead, which is why he can come off as a little unnerving. (That’s what made The Colbert Report work.)
That’s not to say late night television shouldn’t be shaken up. Chelsea Handler will soon have her own late night show on Netflix and it promises to be something completely different.
But Colbert is facing a whole new difficulty, trying to insert an odd personality into a tired format. He and CBS are hoping Licht can perform personality miracles.