Magazine article Management Today

Invested Interests

Magazine article Management Today

Invested Interests

Article excerpt

With TV channels proliferating, advertisers are looking to reach their target audience via programmes they fund. Alan Mitchell sees a return to the days of the original soap opera

Two years ago Procter & Gamble chief executive Ed Artzt sent shock waves through the advertising industry with a speech foreseeing a world where pay-per-view and interactive television would block traditional advertisers from access to their audiences. Ever since the idea that advertisers could guarantee their target markets' attention by paying to produce programmes has been gaining ground. The idea is hardly new. P&G invented the radio soap opera 50 years ago for just this purpose. But now, as digital broadcasting technologies offer hundreds of new TV channels, traditional means of funding broadcast programming need rethinking: the industry looks like turning full circle.

Next year Granada and London Weekend Television (LOOT) will broadcast two peak-time drama and entertainment programmes whose existence we owe to big-brand marketers (their identities are a closely guarded secret). The BBC also plans to show two advertiser-subsidised series in spring 1997. Nowadays, independent production companies like Planet 24, creators of The Big Breakfast and The Word, look to advertisers for funding as much as from broadcasters, says its joint managing director Charlie Parsons. Increasingly, advertising agencies are investing in programming arms.

What do advertisers get in return for their investment? Very little directly: current UK regulations ban any promotional reference to advertisers' brands in advertiser-supplied programmes. A BT-funded programme on the future of telecoms, for example, couldn't feature or mention any BT products. But there are other ways to get noticed. For example, the regulations also require a 10-second top-and-tail credit that makes the company's links with a programme transparently obvious, and these credits can be 'incredibly powerful', argues Parsons.

Credits are not the only way to get a message across. A funded programme which delivers a target audience can be valuable even without credits or product references. 'What the advertiser is really buying is the programme's image,' says Parsons. This could be a marketing message that transcends the brand. If a pasta-maker wants to expand his market, for example, it may make sense for him to subsidise a series on the joys of Italian cooking. …

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