Viewpoint - Why Carphone Warehouse dropped Big Brother sponsorship

Simon Clemmow, the planning partner at Carphone Warehouse's ad agency, explains why perception overruled reality.

I don't know what the technical definition of sponsorship is, but the point of it is to promote awareness of your brand and its values among your target audience by associating it with a person, team, event or programme that shares the same values and target audience.

Done well, it can clearly play an effective role in a brand's communication campaign, if you've done your planning properly, and if you've got a creative idea that can work within the tight confines of sponsorship as a medium.

TalkTalk, Carphone Warehouse's home phone service, has had recent well-publicised problems due to faster-than-expected growth. But an enormous effort involving new infrastructure and service procedures has got those problems under control, and it's the right time to promote the brand to the public, and consolidate its position as the UK's fastest-growing phone company.

Big Brother represents an excellent sponsorship opportunity: it shares mass-market appeal and values such as "of the people" and "togetherness" with our ambitions for the TalkTalk brand.

I should say at this point that I've never actually watched Big Brother! But, of course, that doesn't stop me from having an opinion on whether or not we should continue our sponsorship in the light of the events on the programme, and being part of the team that decided to pull it.

Why not? Because it's not what actually happened on Big Brother that's the issue, it's the perception of what happened. Perception is the reality, they say (no "reality TV" pun intended), and by last Thursday, public perception of what had happened was much bigger than what may or may not have actually happened.

The public perception that "a line had been crossed" was very much a reality, and we had to face it and make a positive choice one way or the other: did we want to endorse what was perceived to be happening on the show, or distance ourselves from it?

Believe me, there was still a healthy debate about it among the (at least six) senior client and agency people involved in the decision. I'd be lying if I said that we were immediately united in the course of action that was taken. As you would probably expect, there was much discussion, including a good airing of the obvious "there's no such thing as bad publicity" argument. One of the clinchers was the consideration of TalkTalk's employees. A company's staff is usually one of the target audiences for its communications, and Carphone Warehouse is a large employer of a significant cross-section of the UK population.

It would appear that our decision has been vindicated by the 82 per cent of callers to the programme who voted to evict Jade Goody on Friday night, and the 40,000 callers who had complained to Ofcom by Saturday.

What next? It's important to point out that this is just a suspension. We have no argument with Big Brother itself (himself?) but, as I said at the outset, the point of sponsorship is to promote a brand's awareness and values. If we had stayed with it in the current climate, the score would have been awareness one, values nil.

- Simon Clemmow, partner, Clemmow Hornby Inge.


Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content