’Programme environment’ has become a buzz phrase. It typifies a
growing desire among advertisers and their agencies to get closer to the
programmes around and within which their TV commercials appear. It
reflects the closer attention now being paid to the relevance and
synergy of any advertising/programming fit and has led to a multitude of
different ways in which advertising and programming are becoming
Sponsorship, advertiser funding, rights ownership and programme barter,
tie-in promotions, product placement, advertiser-funded channels. The
variations on this theme seem limitless and considerable leeway is
allowed under the Independent Television Commission’s sponsorship and
programming codes. Growth is being driven by broadcasters’
ever-increasing demands for funding, deregulation and advertisers’ shift
towards the greater tailoring and targeting of commercial messages.
Understanding the different strengths (and weaknesses) of each activity
is critical for success.
In the beginning there was programme sponsorship, which is now worth
more than pounds 50 million a year in revenue to commercial
broadcasters. Early deals were off-the-shelf affairs with sponsors’
logos slapped up front and programme trails thrown in. Today, matching
the right brand with the right programme is deemed essential. And with
broadcasters eager to benefit in as many ways as they can,
through-the-line activities, including on-pack and other point-of-sale
promotions, have become de rigueur.
Although almost every deal involves research into effectiveness, results
are, understandably, closely guarded. ’But you only have to look at the
number of advertisers continuing to develop this area to gauge at least
some degree of its effect,’ claims Laurence Munday, the joint managing
director of Drum PHD, whose latest deals include Wella’s sponsorship of
Friends on Channel 4.
Whether each advertiser benefits from the full list of identified
benefits is debatable, but there are a number of common positive
effects. Brand awareness can be boosted by a consistent presence on
screen. Rather than the hard sell, a programme tie-up conveys emotional
brand values and is typically used to reinforce existing brand
associations, especially in a competitive marketplace.
Another advantage is product support which can, for example, offer
consistent exposure following a product launch. Or, by associating a
brand or product with particular style of show, it can be used for
repositioning, for example, to make a product seem more contemporary or
mainstream. In this way, a programme association, combined with
conventional advertising and PR, produces a media multiplier effect.
Much of the industry is now preoccuppied with how to move the
advertiser/ programme relationship on to the next stage. Sponsorship is
all well and good - up to a point. This is why companies are now looking
at alternatives to simply matching an advertiser with a complementary
A growing number of companies are now considering the benefits of
advertiser funding, where an advertiser pays a broadcaster part or all
of the production cost, and advertiser-supplied programming, where an
advertiser not only pays for but devises a show which it then sells to
ITV now regularly encourages dialogue with potential sponsors, even
before a programme is conceived. ’The potential is for an advertiser to
get involved from day one so it can plan its own marketing activities
around the project a year to 18 months ahead,’ Martin Lowde, the head of
sponsorship at Laser Sales, says. This means both the advertiser’s and
the broadcaster’s interests can be met.
’We are working with advertisers to make good television. And we are
encouraging them to take these properties off-screen and license
elements of them, such as for on-pack promotions or merchandise.
Programmes are now actually being designed from scratch with this in
mind,’ he adds.
Opportunities for discussion concerning a new children’s show, for
example, could range from the style and design of characters to the
central idea of the programme format, Lowde says. Address the off-air
potential to exploit these elements from the outset, and a whole range
of non-TV activities can be built in. ’You could do the same thing with
drama. First the obvious spin-offs - the book, video and CD. Next,
subtler activities such as turning the storyline interactive and
licensing its use in direct marketing and promotions.’
This approach is fast gaining currency. ’We should consider how to
attract the audience first, and only then consider how to exploit it
through spot advertising, product placement or sponsorship,’ Nick
Kelvin, the planning director at CIA Medianetwork, believes. ’If we
don’t try to exploit these opportunities further, we’ll fall behind as
new generations of TV channels launch on air.’
The first mainstream UK TV example of advertiser-funded programming was
BT’s Look Who’s Talking, broadcast on ITV in December. The programme,
devoted to encouraging better communication, attracted an audience of
8.25 million against EastEnders - not bad, although critics slammed the
quality of its presentational style. Time was a problem and the content
could have been better.
’We’ve learned lessons,’ Adrian Hosford, who is responsible for the
TalkWorks initiative at BT, concedes. Even so, 6,000 people called after
the show to request an information booklet and, since then, half a
million have been distributed. ’Advertisers are considering this because
it’s unlikely existing programmes fit their agenda. Viewers don’t mind,
so long as the programme is good. The advertiser benefits from a quality
production that fits its agenda and offers something to the viewer.’
The next step is where the advertiser develops a programme format with
an international appeal. An advertiser can fund a programme, become
involved in distributing it around the world, and take a share of the
sales revenue through ownership of the international distribution
rights. Wheel of Fortune, for example, is funded by Unilever and
distributed around the world. The degree to which advertisers are likely
to follow suit, however, depends on their willingness to take on the
Unperturbed, a number of agencies have set up TV programme development
departments, a trend mirrored among larger advertisers. Unilever has a
production development fund for financing new programmes. Kelvin,
however, adds a note of caution: ’I see many setting up TV production
departments, but few in the advertising industry have the skill or
experience to run them efficiently.’
Only when TV professionals make the transition into advertising will the
potential of these outfits be truly realised. When CIA recently launched
its own unit, CIA Televisual, it recruited the broadcasting executive,
Keith Owen. A former director of BBC Worldwide, Owen was involved in the
launch of UK Gold and the BBC’s Prime and World channels on the
Owen oversees sponsorship, advertiser funding and co-production for
CIA’s clients. ’Advertisers are coming to realise investment in
programming is like investment in anything else - you put in money, you
get a return,’ he says. But this need not mean investing only in
programmes. Owen points to the potential for advertisers to run their
own channels. ’There’s no regulation against it, the only restriction -
for the time being at least - is limited channel capacity.
But this will change.’
Ultimately, the potential to develop the advertiser/programme
relationship further will be shaped by viewer response. No deal can work
if viewers are turned off by poor programme quality or an inappropriate
fit. For the time being, advertisers are encouraged. According to NOP
research, attitudes to programme sponsorship are improving: 76 per cent
of viewers are aware of it and 52 per cent are in favour (compared with
42 per cent in favour in1994) while just 8 per cent are opposed.
However, no research exists into viewer response to advertiser funding
and co-production. Whether audiences distinguish between sponsorship,
advertiser-funded and advertiser-supplied fare, is a moot point.
’Audiences think sponsorship money goes straight into a programme (which
it doesn’t). I don’t think the nature of the relationship makes much
difference to them, so long as the programme quality is right,’ Lowde
says. This should not unduly concern advertisers, he adds. ’Reasons for
entering these relationships are varied. The UK may not even be the
It is a conclusion the ITC should bear in mind, Lowde believes. ’There
will be more opportunities for greater advertiser involvement in
programming as broadcasters seek extra funds, and advertisers realise
that, to target their own markets in the future, they will have to get
even closer to TV programmes,’ he says. ’However, the new regulations
from the ITC have some way to go before accepting the viewer’s
Viewers are happy with these developments, he claims. ’The ITC should
only regulate output, not input - its concern should be whether a
finished programme is up to quality or of the right genre, not how it
It’s a distinction we must all be aware of.’
NEW WAYS TO REACH JADED CONSUMERS
Associating a product or brand with a programme: an advertiser pays in
exchange for an on-screen credit.
EXAMPLES Texaco and ITV’s Formula 1 coverage;
Wella and Friends.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Depends. It’s a seller’s market: price is
dictated by ratings and whether an association can be exploited through
the line. Cadbury, for example, paid pounds 10 million for its
Coronation Street sponsorship.
PROS/CONS If the viewers can’t see an obvious link, the association can
backfire - remember AEG and Poirot? Get it right, and it can run for
years - like Powergen and ITV’s weather.
IS IT LEGAL? Yes, although guidelines dictate the style and prominence
of on-screen credits.
An advertiser buys a licence to use a TV property in a promotion,
usually as part of a sponsorship deal.
EXAMPLES The Sun and Play Your Cards Right; the Mirror and BBC1’s Big
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Infinitely negotiable.
PROS/CONS It can boost circulation, temporarily. However, once
competitors start doing the same, the competitive edge is lost. And, of
course, it could start a bidding war.
IS IT LEGAL? Yes, although it’s not strictly in the spirit of the BBC
Providing a branded product as a TV prop. No guarantees exist (under
current guidelines) as your appearance could end up on the cutting room
EXAMPLES ITV’s Holding the Baby with Carlsberg-Tetley and Bass.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Paying a prop company to handle your products
typically costs pounds 20,000 to pounds 30,000 per year. Attempts to
offer a production team financial incentives are outlawed. In fact, this
PROS/CONS Your appearance could be cut. Worse - your product could be
shown in a negative light.
IS IT LEGAL? Yes, if products are offered in kind or sold to a
production team as a prop.
An advertiser pays the production cost. It’s like sponsorship with most
of the benefits, although more risk.
EXAMPLES Passengers was co-founded by Pepsi to the tune of pounds 30,000
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Depends on the programme budget. Passengers was
bartered by Pepsi on the Continent although it was a straightforward
sale to Channel 4 in the UK.
PROS/CONS It could flop, like Unilever’s Euro-soap, Riviera. Wily
advertisers take ownership of ’secondary rights’ which enables them to
profit from sales overseas to plan international media strategies.
IS IT LEGAL? Yes, although the advertiser/programme relationship must be
RIGHTS AND FORMAT SALES
An advertiser owns the right either to sell a programme in another
market or to sell a programme’s format in another market, enabling the
production of local versions.
EXAMPLES Unilever’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Depends - it’s usually part of an
PROS/CONS Global advertisers can develop international media planning
And it is an additional revenue stream on the side. However, only the
biggest players can truly milk it internationally.
IS IT LEGAL? Yes, although local advertising regulations will
When broadcasters clash with advertisers
One way advertisers are attempting to get closer to programmes is by
cashing in on established TV formats in ads.
Although this is allowed under the Independent Television Commission’s
code, a string of recent examples - including Pepsi’s Word spoof and
BT’s friends and family ad featuring former EastEnders cast members -
has made the issue a contentious one.
The ITC’s Code of Advertising Standards and Practice underlines the need
for a clear distinction between ads and programmes, programme trailers
and sponsorship credits.
Ads are not allowed to include extracts from recent or current programme
materials. Nor can they invoke programme titles, logos, sets or theme
music unless the ad is for products or services based on the programme
concerned. The ITC also warns: ’Ads are likely to impinge upon
intellectual property rights if they feature actors as the characters
they play.’ This happened in an Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO spot for Pizza
Hut featuring the Men Behaving Badly stars Martin Clunes and Caroline
Quentin. The BBC objected and was paid compensation. This also happened
after BT’s ad featuring former EastEnders actors, also by AMV. The
script made no reference to the soap, its characters or plot (although
one shot featured Michelle Collins - ’Cindy’ - in Paris). Even so, the
BBC contested that BT would have had no ad if its soap had not existed.
Compensation was subsequently paid.
’This raises the issue of who owns a character - the actors or the
writers,’ Alfredo Marcantonio, the vice-chairman, says. ’If an agency is
going to creep towards a programme, then either it must invent it (as
with ’Miller Time’) or co-operate with the programme makers involved.’