Issue 146 of the Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin (23 November 2009) published findings from the Office of Communications’ monitoring of sponsorship credits. The monitoring exercise assessed levels of compliance with Code Rule 9.13, which is derived directly from European legislation, the Television Without Frontiers Directive (89/552/EEC, now amended by 2007/65/EC) and states

Sponsorship must be clearly separated from advertising, must not contain advertising messages or calls to action and must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party.

It was conducted following an apparent increase in the amount of information about sponsors’ products/services included in some sponsorship credits.

The findings in the bulletin reflect a range of compliance issues in this area but in general, Ofcom was encouraged by examples of good practice, particularly since the European Commission is concerned about maintaining the distinction between sponsorship and advertising.

FACTORS AFFECTING SUFFICIENT DISTINCTION FROM ADVERTISING

Ofcom states in the sponsorship credit findings report that it recognises that when judging whether the various components of a sponsorship credit amount to the credit being sufficiently distinct from advertising, fine editorial judgements are often required. It says that it is likely to take into account a number of factors including, but not limited to

  • Claims about the sponsor's products/services.
  • Calls to action.
  • Focus of the credit.

Claims about the sponsor’s products/services

Such claims (in particular those that are capable of objective substantiation) are likely to be considered as advertising messages and therefore should not be included in sponsorship credits. Examples include, but are not limited to

  • Claims about market leadership, health benefits, efficacy.
  • Use of promotional language and/or superlatives to describe the sponsor and/or its products and services (e.g., referring to the breadth of range of products a sponsor provides or how easy a sponsor’s product is to use).

Calls to action

Credits that contain direct invitations to the audience to contact the sponsor are likely to breach the Code. However, it is possible to include basic contact details (e.g., websites or telephone numbers) in credits, but these should not be accompanied by language that is likely to be viewed as an invitation to the audience to contact the sponsor.

Focus of the credit

Credits that focus predominantly on the sponsorship arrangement, rather than the sponsor or its products/services, are less likely to be found in breach of the Code. In particular

  • Using a creative approach that links the sponsor to the programme thematically (e.g., by genre or using characters who have similar characteristics to the people/characters in the programme). Such links, when used effectively, highlight the fundamental difference between sponsorship and advertising, i.e., sponsorship is about the sponsor’s association with the programme, not selling the sponsor’s products/services.
  • Detailed descriptions of products/services are likely to result in the focus of the credit failing to be on the sponsorship arrangement. For example, excessive use of footage from DVDs or computer games in cases where a DVD or computer game sponsors a programme.
  • Ofcom’s published guidance on Rule 9.13 states that it may be possible for some sponsor’s slogans and straplines to be used within a credit, for the purpose of helping to identify the sponsor and/or the sponsorship arrangement, provided they do not encourage the purchase or rental of the sponsor’s products/services. However, broadcasters should take extra care when using such straplines—particularly in combination with footage from a sponsor’s advertising campaign—that the primary focus of the credit is clearly on the sponsorship arrangement.

COMMENT

Ofcom states that it believes Rule 9.13 affords broadcasters the freedom permissible to identify sponsorship in a way that both informs the audience of the sponsorship arrangements and benefits the sponsor. Broadcaster sponsorship should take care not to make claims about the sponsor’s products/services, should avoid calls to action and should focus predominantly on the sponsorship arrangement rather than the sponsor. Ofcom’s findings report warns broadcasters that the European Commission has been taking a very active interest in the issue recently and is known to be monitoring the compliance of sponsorship credits in some Member States. With that in mind, Ofcom has stated that it will continue to conduct monitoring exercises on sponsorship credits on an ad hoc basis. The Report ends on a cautionary note to broadcasters that credits found to be in breach of Rule 9.13 may also be considered for further regulatory action.