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Media: Perspective - Sponsorship, if used properly, can shine during tough times

Evenings and weekends just don't provide enough time to develop a full appreciation of the power of television. It's only during a week off, affording ample opportunity for daytime and late-night indulgence, that the total, awesome force of the medium becomes apparent.

Yet, alongside The Jeremy Kyle Show, Market Kitchen and Flog It!, there is some real dross on offer. And most of it in the form of sponsorship idents rather than the programming itself (which I would argue, contrary to the wisdom of Sir Michael Parkinson, is actually much better than it was 20 or 30 years ago).

To my surprise, the recession seems to have done for the sponsorship market. Despite the short-term nature of advertiser activity right now, there doesn't appear to be tons of late money sloshing around to spend on sponsorship.

Last week's viewing seemed to confirm that TV sponsorship, both commercially and creatively, has reached its nadir. Take Sky's coverage of the enthralling Twenty20 Cricket World Cup (something to which I am addicted). Which blue-chip brand has Sky Media secured to sponsor this major international sporting event? The mighty Southall Travel. Yes, a West London travel agency, albeit a big one, is plastered all over Sky Sports One for what feels like hours each day. It's a bit like asking the recently reformed Kajagoogoo to headline Glastonbury. Only, given that Southall Travel has created only one text-heavy ident, even more repetitively dull.

This seems to be just the latest example of TV sponsorship being hit by falling budgets and tighter restrictions on brands that contain high fat, sugar or salt content. The door has been left open for, and let's put this politely, "challenger brands". A pattern that, if it continues, means you can forget the conventional wisdom about sponsorship surviving the PVR revolution and head straight to the box set.

Then again, who can blame major brands for eschewing sponsorship when they can get acres of free exposure for their brands on Channel 4 via the likes of Big Chef Little Chef and I'm Running Sainsbury's. Why pay for something when broadcasters are giving it away?

However, there are some signs that broadcasters are capable of transcending the realms of ineptitude when packaging new sponsorship ideas. I was encouraged, for instance, by Country Life butter signing as the channel sponsor for the launch of the UKTV channel Blighty and even by Dreams Beds backing peaktime programming on ITV3. These deals seem to indicate that sponsorship can ride out the hard times to offer something relevant for advertisers. Now it only remains for 118 118's new agency, ZenithOptimedia, to recommend sponsorship of Virgin1 (channel 118 on the Sky EPG) to take this to its logical conclusion.

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