SPOTLIGHT ON: ADVERTISING ON THE BBC: BBC concedes to advertisers with digital sponsorship plan - Even with small audiences at first, this is an enticing offer. Alasdair Reid reports

The ’ads on the BBC’ press release that rolled off the fax last Thursday morning pulled no punches about what an ’hilarious romp’ this was likely to be. This, the corporation promised, was going to be ’very, very funny’ - what with all those silly voiceovers and pathetic jingles.

The ’ads on the BBC’ press release that rolled off the fax last

Thursday morning pulled no punches about what an ’hilarious romp’ this

was likely to be. This, the corporation promised, was going to be ’very,

very funny’ - what with all those silly voiceovers and pathetic

jingles.



Disappointingly, this wasn’t what it appeared to be. The previous

morning, the culture secretary, Chris Smith, had gone on Radio 4 to

announce that the BBC would probably be allowed to take revenue from

advertisers in the near future. We assumed the release was going to be

about that. But no. This was mischievous BBC timing.



Not that the release was without interest. It puffed Ads Infinitum, a

show courtesy of the Evening Standard’s television critic, Victor

Lewis-Smith, which promises to take a wry, sidelong glance at the wacky

world of advertising.



Victor’s innovative approach will be to ’damn (ads) with faint

praise’.



Chris Tarrant, Clive James and a long line of comics stretching back to

Ethelred the Slightly Amusing must be beside themselves with

jealousy.



The show could just turn out to be an outstanding example of the

programme-maker’s art. After all, only very special types of programme

are ever hyped as ’hilarious’. Anything hosted by Jeremy Beadle, for

instance.



But back to Smith’s pronouncement that the BBC was going to take ad

money.



Not commercials as such and not on the main terrestrial channels but

sponsorship on the BBC’s digital output.



This is no mean concession and it will no doubt cause golf club bores in

Tunbridge Wells to splutter into their pink gins.



Advertisers have been daydreaming for years about snuggling up to the

BBC’s quality programme environment. However, this might just be a

disappointment.



This is digital - nice programmes, maybe, but no-one will be

watching.



Jim Marshall, the chief executive of MediaVest, says it’s odd that the

Government seems to give the BBC more leeway than ITV - compare last

week’s statement with all the fuss about News at Ten. But he expects

advertisers will be keen to get involved: ’It would depend on the

programmes on offer and on things like penetration and viewership

because initially that will be minimal. But it would be a fantastic

opportunity. Ultimately, sponsorship is all about the right environment,

and the association between advertisers and that environment, and the

BBC has superb programmes and brands.’



Tess Alps, the executive chairman of Drum PHD, confesses she would love

to be first in the queue: ’From a professional point of view, I can’t

think of anything more exciting than being given the chance to undertake

this responsibly. From a personal point of view, I would want the BBC to

remain funded by the licence fee forever. I hope this is totally

supplementary to the licence fee and they have means of ensuring that.

Realistically, one suspects that once you get a new source of revenue

like this, the licence fee will be undermined. But whatever way you look

at it, this is entirely reasonable. It is, after all, introducing three

free-to-air channels.’



And she warns that the BBC must be very clear about what it’s

selling.



She states: ’The BBC has to operate this with an iron fist. At present,

there’s a lot of debate between advertisers and commercial channels who

want more of a say in how the sponsorship looks. That obviously winds up

advertisers. On the other hand, some advertisers and their agencies have

been less than responsible in the past. The BBC must be proactive and

unequivocal. It must state exactly what it would expect from a

particular brand and then we can work back from that and set the price.’



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).