UNRAVELLING TV TIE-UPS: The latest example of advertiser-funded programming was Look Who’s Talking from BT. Meg Carter reports on how advertisers can get closer to TV shows, and asks whether there is any evidence to prove that consumers care

’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 entwined.

’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

programme brand.

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

the broadcaster.

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

primary target.’

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

was achieved.

It’s a distinction we must all be aware of.’



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

rarely happens.

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

a programme.

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



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

advertiser-funded deal.

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.’