Can Couric become the next Oprah?
Oprah is Oprah and Couric is Couric. Oprah was always queen of daytime talk; Couric was queen of the morning and then made a mistaken foray into the evening slot that confused her brand.
In fact, it’s a genuine surprise that ABC is willing to take a chance on her. When she made the jump to the CBS Evening News, she had substantial brand equity and momentum. After all, she was one of America’s media darlings and even the doubters -- I was one— had to admit that the decision to do news seemed exciting.
But today with that choice having damaged her badly and slowed her momentum, she is in a very difficult position.
Others have straddled different time slots successfully, but Couric is not like them.
Diane Sawyer did well in both worlds -- but Sawyer had started in news, cut her teeth and shaped her brand as a serious newswoman, and when she migrated to morning, she brought this gravitas with her and then added a warmer quality to the mix.
Tom Brokaw did the same. White House correspondent and serious journalist first, then Today Show host for a spell.
Couric, though, went the other direction. She emerged as a personality brand, not a news brand with a personality.
If anything, at this point, Couric should be going back to morning where she once reigned supreme.
Oprah’s shoes cannot be filled by Couric, because not only was Oprah always associated with the daytime talk slot, she had been a consistent builder of her position from the very start and arguably is the first social networker among mass media figures.
Year after year, Oprah built a network of individual fans and supporters around her dependable daily television show.
Just the number of ordinary Americans who have made appearances as guests and audience members over the years must be in the many tens of thousands. We’re talking about people who were directly invested in Oprah by her interacting with them or just being in their physical presence. Talk about word of mouth!
This fact established a powerful bond between Oprah and so many individuals. It was brand equity built laboriously and carefully over time. Add to that the high octane fuel of a show on which Oprah appeared daily across the nation (named after her) and personally controlled and you have a power with which Couric cannot possibly compete no matter how likeable she is or what she does from here in the daytime talk slot.
Bottom line, Couric would probably have to spend the next fifteen to twenty years following Oprah’s path just to reach her level of success and even then the outcome wouldn’t be clear.
All I can say is... stay tuned.
And remember, it is always easier when you have branding in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion and author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."