Media: SpotlighT On: Advertising sponsorship - Does the fit have to be perfect for TV sponsorship to work?/TV programme backing is now entering a permissive age, Alasdair Reid believes

Remember Beamish’s pioneering sponsorship of Inspector Morse? The deal convinced all the sceptics - and at one time they were legion - that advertiser sponsorship of a television series could work in this country.

Remember Beamish’s pioneering sponsorship of Inspector Morse? The

deal convinced all the sceptics - and at one time they were legion -

that advertiser sponsorship of a television series could work in this

country.



Conventional wisdom stated that it worked for one main reason - that it

was a beautiful fit. Morse had an eclectic taste in ale. Beamish is an

eclectic ale. Sorted.



For years this has been regarded as the ideal template for broadcast

sponsorship, even though the template has some troublesome

implications.



Troublesome as in restrictive. It implies that a good fit is rare; and

it follows that if marriages are made in heaven, then divorce will be

hell; and remarriage, at best, is destined to be a rather dreary

purgatory.



No longer, apparently. Sponsorship has, seemingly, entered a thoroughly

permissive age. The sponsor of the early series of ITV’s Who Wants to be

a Millionaire? was The Sun. Then Jacob’s took over - even less of a

natural fit, but a very successful one by all accounts. Perhaps too

successful. With sales riding high, Jacob’s pulled out a couple of weeks

back, apparently leaving ITV in the lurch. Not so. According to ITV

sources, as many as five companies immediately began vying to step in,

with NTL the early front runner.



Is this wise? Can a TV programme offer value to a succession of

sponsors?



Or is it a case of diminishing returns? Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?,

though, isn’t the first high-profile programme to swap partners.

Gladiators has had three: Kellogg’s Frosties, Del Monte’s Fruit Burst

and the Weetabix-owned Ready Brek.



Tess Alps, the executive chairman of Drum PHD, reveals that when Del

Monte was pondering the deal, the agency commissioned some research: ’In

the early days, we really did think it would be very hard for a new

sponsor to come in because the previous link would probably be so

strong. But we found, to our surprise, that it is seen as a victory for

the new sponsor. The thing is that consumers are such big fans of some

programmes that they can’t believe it isn’t a great honour to be able to

sponsor it. So for a small company to take over from a bigger brand is

seen as a real achievement.’



You could, of course, argue that Gladiators fans would think like that,

wouldn’t they? Their imaginative universe is, after all, populated by

muscular women dressed in skimpy lycra who thump each other with huge

Q-tips.



Alps says that if a new sponsor comes in with a vengeance, you can

certainly wipe out the past. ’To do that, you not only have to have

strong creative work but you have to talk about the relationship you

have with the programme through all the other communications routes you

have available to you.’



But is Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? different? It is, after all, one

of the country’s top-rating programmes. In search of some answers, a new

sponsor will, presumably, have to ask the audience and would probably be

advised to phone a friend too. David Peters, the director of broadcast

planning at Carat, which handled the deals on behalf of Jacob’s and The

Sun and also happens to be NTL’s specialist too, states: ’Just after the

changeover, The Sun still got a reasonable amount of recall but it was

obviously far higher for Jacob’s. Awareness of the new sponsor builds

very quickly. And it is easier when there is a natural gap between

series. It would be harder to manage the change if it had to take place

overnight - as with a soap for instance.’



So has the model changed too? Has sponsorship become just another

commodity?



Jumbo ad spots in guaranteed slots? Not exactly, Peters says. ’It’s true

that there are few obvious fits. What’s the link between Coronation

Street and Cadbury’s? The answer is that you make the fit with the right

execution.



The thinking doesn’t have to be, ’It’s a programme about France so it

has to be a French brand’. You don’t have to take everything so

literally these days.’



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