MEDIA FORUM: Do media sponsorship codes need to be aligned? - Proposals to revise the sponsorship codes in radio and TV were published last week. The prospects in TV look good, with a broad move to liberalisation clearly on the agenda, but radio is gettin

It may well be the end of the road for that bizarre little chocolate world brought to us by Cadbury’s. Actually, end of the street is probably more to the point. When Cadbury’s first began contemplating the sponsorship of Coronation Street, the biggest disincentive it faced was the rule banning products being featured in the sponsorship credits.

It may well be the end of the road for that bizarre little

chocolate world brought to us by Cadbury’s. Actually, end of the street

is probably more to the point. When Cadbury’s first began contemplating

the sponsorship of Coronation Street, the biggest disincentive it faced

was the rule banning products being featured in the sponsorship

credits.



Cadbury’s wasn’t the first advertiser to seek a way to subvert the rules

that also place severe restrictions on the use of slogans and catchlines

used in concurrent advertising campaigns. But few people at the company

thought they’d get away with the creation of an entire universe made of

their product. Which only goes to prove the most improbable rule of

camouflage: if you want to hide something, make it very big and put it

out in the open.



That sort of game is now a lot less relevant - or it will be if the

Independent Television Commission’s proposals on revisions to the

sponsorship code are accepted by the broadcasting industry.



The new rules will still seek to ensure that there is a distinction

between a company’s spot advertising and its sponsorship credits, but

showing the product is now allowed and the rules on taglines are

relaxed.



All of which might lead you to believe that we’ve started to take a

rather more grown-up attitude towards sponsorship. Unless, of course,

you just happened to glance at the consultation document produced last

week by the Radio Authority, which is going through a similar revision

of its sponsorship code. The Radio Authority seems to be heading in the

opposite direction, seeking to implement a blanket ban on any

sponsorship of news programming.



Some radio companies are not amused about that, although Simon Ward, the

group commercial director of GWR, prefers to remain diplomatic. He

states: ’In an advertising-literate world, the old fears that listeners

cannot tell the difference between advertising and editorial are

unfounded.



Radio stations understand that their most valuable asset is the trusting

relationship that their listeners have with them and would do nothing to

break that. The accuracy and impartiality of news output is central to

building that trust and nobody would want listeners to think that

advertisers were influencing what went on air. Sponsor credits are

always clearly separate from the news output of programmes such as

Classic Newsnight and the commercial radio generation that has grown up

with advertising and sponsorship understands that.’



Some on the agency side take a more relaxed view about the overall

sponsorship picture. Laurence Munday, the managing director of Drum PHD,

states: ’Broadly, both radio and TV are becoming more flexible. The ban

on news sponsorship is already true of TV and I don’t think it’s a bad

thing. The point is not whether advertisers can influence the news but

what the perception is of the news in the mind of the listener or the

viewer. And that is what sponsorship is about, after all. There are ways

round it, though. You can break out certain strands like weather or

sport and have them sponsored. On the television side, what the ITC is

trying to do should be welcomed. Any simplification is good as long as

it doesn’t create more grey areas.’



Munday agrees that the proposal to let sponsors show products is a huge

concession but he hopes it isn’t abused. He adds: ’Our view is that

sponsorship is a totally different form of communication from

advertising but I’m sure some will see this as a temptation to turn

sponsorship in to a little piece of advertising in itself, rather than

using it to strengthen the link between advertiser and programme.’



Above all, though, should there be more consistency in the rules across

the two media? Richard Foster, the business development director of BMP

Optimum View, argues that alignment does indeed lie at the heart of

these proposals: ’On the radio side, the recommendations would bring the

medium back into line with television, which doesn’t allow sponsorship

of news programmes. And on the TV side, they bring us into line with the

rest of Europe. There has to be continued differentiation between

sponsorship and spot advertising and it’s good to see that there are

measures in place that recognise and maintain that differentiation.



But one problem we’ve had is with clients who want to develop an

integrated package and in some ways the present laws could be

interpreted as being not very helpful to that.



’Every client will now look at what they have (in terms of television

sponsorship executions) but they won’t necessarily change their approach

just because they can. You have to remember that they have embarked on

their present arrangements knowing they can’t show product and may not

want to change it if it is fulfilling a marketing objective. But these

changes may make the business more competitive on the TV side. Some

advertisers are bound to have been put off in the past because they’ve

not been able to show product.’



Bob Wootton, the director of advertising and media affairs at the

advertisers trade body ISBA, says that any form of liberalisation should

be welcomed.



He says: ’We appreciate that advertising and sponsorship are different.

With advertising you are clearly being sold to and it’s very much a case

of what you see is what you get. Sponsorship exists within the programme

environment and you could argue that its commercial nature is not so

clearly understood by the viewer. But we certainly believe that, in an

environment where technology is leading to greater fragmentation and

viewer choice, relaxation of broadcast codes is desirable. If we harbour

any scepticism it is because we are in the midst of other regulatory

issues where the aim is a lighter touch but the reality is somewhat

different. We need to be sure that claims and delivery are

consistent.



’Should we be pushing for harmonisation across both media? Probably. I’m

sure we will eventually see a converged regulatory framework but we need

to pursue separate progress in both media rather than the abstract goal

of harmonisation across the two.’