Latest technology puts sponsorship through its paces

More bad news for students. After being told their tuition fees are going up and their exams are easier than Sunday morning, the media industry goes and cuts off a major source of revenue, writes Ian Darby.

Fortunately, clinics that pay the nation's youngest and finest a few quid to be injected with horse tranquillisers are still legal. But their second-best source of money, sitting in front of a TV with a stopwatch, timing how long a brand is on screen for sponsorship agencies, may soon dry up.

This is because the bizarrely named company Margaux Matrix is introducing technology that can automatically recognise brand images on television and record how long they appear on screen. As reported in last week's Campaign, this could be invaluable for advertisers trying to quantify brand exposure at televised sporting events or from product placement.

That the founders of Margaux Matrix have the technology to do this is frightening in itself. It sounds like the type of image-recognition system that the military uses in eyeball recognition before unleashing missiles on the rest of the world. But it's probably best not to ask.

In the sophisticated world of advertising, this sort of service wouldn't be much of a leap. But bear in mind we're talking about sponsorship, a medium that has the reputation of being as crooked as a Columbian magistrate. That it's becoming vaguely quantifiable is a leap in itself, particularly as the UK sports sponsorship business alone is worth £1bn.

But I continued to think that this product wasn't worthwhile. I know off the top of my head that Citroen Vans received more than its money's worth for its shirt sponsorship of 'Britain's Strongest Man' on BBC1. And if you were watching 'Emmerdale', and Heinz's more accountable broadcast sponsorship, you were missing a treat. I also know that Holsten Pils has suffered a downturn in product placement minutage since the lager-guzzling Mark Fowler left 'EastEnders'.

Then I realised that, for those in need of more subtlety, Margaux Matrix is offering a step forward. Serious advertisers, such as GlaxoSmithKline, are looking at using the service to increase accountability. And it's not just sports sponsorship that the radar is tuned to. Imagine the untold story of brand placement during daytime ITV for all those fitness centres and hair-care brands.

The Rugby World Cup, which starts in October, would be a good starting point. Travelex has signed a good deal with ITV giving it the easily quantifiable broadcast rights but it would be nice to see some robust figures from tournament sponsors such as Heineken to back up its commitment. After all, the days of a chairman doing the deal to get a few tickets for his mates are over, aren't they?

I'm hoping that Capital One uses the service to justify its sponsorship of First Division team Nottingham Forest. But maybe they'd be better off just not knowing.

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