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The Qwikster switch stung Spokane ad firm

Magner Sanborn agency spent months on aborted Qwikster’s branding campaign

For six months Spokane ad firm Magner Sanborn developed a logo and an extensive brand and marketing components for Qwikster, a top-secret business plan by Netflix to split its company into a new division.

In September, Netflix jump-started the launch, surprising both its rental-DVD customers and its Spokane-based ad team, which expected the Qwikster announcement to come several weeks later.

Netflix told its millions of customers that those wanting just DVDs would sign up with Qwikster; those wanting streaming video over the Web would continue using Netflix.

But within three weeks of the Qwikster launch, Netflix’s management team changed its mind and scrapped the plan for two companies.

That reversal came after thousands of Netflix customers protested the split by either canceling their subscriptions or publicly lashing the company for raising prices by more than $6 per month for both DVDs and streaming movies.

The impact on Spokane’s Magner Sanborn was company whiplash, said the firm’s president, Dennis Magner. “I was as surprised as anyone to see the launch, based on the timing,” he said.

After the 30-person Spokane company spent thousands of hours designing dozens of possible logos, developing a marketing campaign and conducting audience research to see how the strategy affected customers, Netflix buried the Qwikster brand.

Magner Sanborn continues doing work for Netflix. It first began working with the California-based rental video company six years ago, Magner said.

The hurried effort to push Qwikster into the market seemed to have happened after Netflix drew loud criticism in July when it announced price hikes, Magner said.

Netflix unleashed Qwikster Sept. 18 without using the marketing campaign it had asked the Spokane team to develop. The public reaction was harshly critical.

Within three weeks, Qwikster was dead and gone, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings delivering online apologies for not understanding the feelings of his customer base.

The mood inside Magner Sanborn’s downtown office was somber.

“We were certainly disappointed,” Magner added. “We felt we had a very tidy brand concept that would represent Qwikster very well. We put so much work into it. It was really very well thought-out.”

Qwikster was all about offering quick delivery of videos, so the Spokane team designed its logo to accentuate the idea of speed and convenience. “The logo (with the word Qwikster) was on its toes, to convey motion,” Magner noted.

The letter “Q” in the logo also conveyed the idea of a thought bubble, he said. That was to suggest that whatever idea or film a person thought about would be delivered within one or two days to their mailbox.

According to the plan, one marketing campaign would have used large inflated balloons in the shape of a Q, and they’d be placed in high-visibility metro areas.

Steve Swasey, a Netflix spokesman, declined to provide a copy of the Qwikster logo, noting that the marketing materials tied to Qwikster’s launch remain proprietary.

He also said Netflix won’t comment on the work products of vendors such as Manger Sanborn.

Though Netflix has no plans to use the Qwikster materials, Magner said he’s compiled a slide show that summarizes the effort his team put into the project.

That presentation includes 170 slides that go through the lengthy and detailed process of working with Netflix.

Despite the Qwikster wipeout, the past 10 months have been satisfying for the local firm, Magner said.

“2011 has been an extremely busy year for us,” he said. “We’ve grown our resources, and gone from 22 workers to 30 since January.”


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