“What have you got on at the moment?” was the question posed to Britain’s Got Talent star Amanda Holden in ITV’s “This Morning” show. Amanda truthfully answered that she had been helping national law firm marketing alliance Quality Solicitors promote its services, but did this breach Ofcom rules? Stephen Groom reports.
Topic: People in advertising
Who: ITV, Ofcom, Quality Solicitors and Amanda Holden
When: October 2011
Law stated as at: 5 December 2011
Ofcom received a complaint about an edition of ITV's "Good Morning" weekday magazine programme. The complaint was deemed without substance, but unluckily for ITV, in the course of viewing the programme Ofcom identified another potential issue. This concerned an interview with the face of the "Britain's Got Talent" show, Amanda Holden. Towards the end of the interview, Amanda was asked "What else have you got on at the moment?"
As she had indicated she would during the pre-broadcast briefing, Amanda replied:
"Well, I'm part of this new campaign as well that I wanted to come and talk to you about. It's called QualitySolicitors.
Basically, if you need a solicitor … you can walk into WH Smith. It's on the high street now. There are a hundred WH Smiths in the country and there is a list that's now recommended by the public, for the public, of solicitors who are kosher, who are not going to rip you off and who can help you and it's completely free you get advice free…"
The interviewer added shortly afterwards:
"I think it's good having something like that ''cos there's a culture now where you put the telly on in the morning and there's all these adverts all these words of blame and claim and I think … you know, they're sort of like vultures really, and so get, you know, a decent firm…"
Amanda then concluded:
"So yes, I'm launching that today and from Monday if you go onto the QualitySolicitors' website … you will get the list of the hundred WH Smiths near you…"
Ofcom established from ITV that these references were not part of a product placement arrangement and on that basis challenged that they breached rules forbidding the promotion of and the giving of undue prominence to products, services or trade marks in programming.
ITV defended, saying they had stressed to Ms Holden before broadcast that the mention should be brief , that there was editorial justification in light of the question put as to what she "had on" at the moment and that there was in reality no great prominence given to the national law firm marketing alliance.
Ofcom acknowledged that This Morning viewers are clearly likely to have an interest in the life and work of celebrity guests. However, where a guest has some form of involvement or arrangement with a commercial product or service, particularly where there appears to be no particular link to their profession or experience, there may be less editorial justification for interviews to feature these topics in detail. Moreover, rather than comment humorously on Amanda's reference as ITV argues, the interviewer appeared to give Quality Solicitors a further endorsement.
Also no explanation was offered during the broadcast as to why the personality was working with a chain of law firms and rather than being a brief passing reference to one of the projects she currently "had on," she indicated that it was very much a key part of the interview by saying the Quality Solicitors campaign was what she "wanted to come and talk to [This Morning] about."
In all these circumstances Ofcom found that breaches of the promotion and undue prominence rules had been established, although apparently because it was encouraged that ITV was currently providing compliance training refreshers to production teams of live programming across its network, no penalty was imposed.
Why this matters:
This finding underlines that Ofcom is fully entitled to launch an investigation into suspected breaches of the Broadcasting Code even if not a single complaint has been received. It also emphasises that broadcasters must take great care with allowing express and positive references by interviewed personalities to particular brands or products, particularly where the personality is paid to endorse them. In the social media space, the OFT has indicated that it would expect full transparency from personalities who Tweet about products or services they are paid to endorse. It is unclear why any lesser obligation should be placed on references in chat shows or magazine programmes.