Government warned to treat brand link-ups with caution

The Government could be accused of giving brands undue influence on policy by allowing exclusive sponsorship of its campaigns, ad industry executives warn.

Change4Life: such work is now allowed to be totally funded by brands after a relaxation of rules
Change4Life: such work is now allowed to be totally funded by brands after a relaxation of rules

The Cabinet Office relaxed brand partnership rules last week, offering exclusive sponsorship of government campaigns for the first time and removing the requirement for departments to match funding from partners.

One agency executive said: "Who owns the message? If funding is not balanced between the brand and the Government, the Government could end up more like an endorser than a genuine partner.

"You can easily imagine a situation similar to the problems that political parties experience, when it looks like a company that has given funding has held sway over a policy. The Government Procurement Service needs to be fully prepared for the accusation that a brand is attempting to influence policy."

The Government is now able to source extra funding and support from brands for work such as Change4Life, which has involved partners including Asda and The Co-operative Food.

But the new rules must be approached with caution, Nick Cohen, the head of Media­Com Beyond Advertising, said. "A brand can’t be given unfair advantage – any partnership needs to avoid conflict of interest," he added.

However, Ian Pearman, the chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, said the move would help "tackle the myriad of issues that government funding can’t stretch to in the current climate".

Greg Delaney, the chairman of DLKW Lowe, added that brand support was not limited to funding, citing the Alzheimer’s Society’s backing of the agency’s dementia awareness campaigns.

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