TV programme sponsor credits are heavily regulated and often breached. Two recent cases involved Channel 4’s “Coach Trip” series and a psychology programme on Farsi language satellite channel Gem TV. The credits were for sponsors Transition Adaptive Lenses and skincare brand La Sienne. Mark Smith reports Ofcom’s verdict.
When: 21 May 2012
Law stated as at: 12 June 2012
TV programme sponsor credits are regulated by Ofcom under the Broadcasting Code. The Code contains a number of relevant provisions, including a prohibition on sponsorship credits containing advertising messages or calls to action, which exists on the basis that the credits do not count towards the amount of airtime a broadcaster is permitted to use for advertising. However, as two recent cases illustrate, the rules are often breached!
Transitions Adaptive Lenses' sponsorship of Channel 4 travel programming
Transitions Adaptive Lenses sponsored Channel 4's travel programming, including hit shows such as A Place in the Sun and Coach Trip. The lenses are for glasses and darken as light levels increase.
Ofcom received a complaint about the sponsorship credits, an example of which ran as follows:
Image: A woman wearing glasses standing on a rooftop looking out over a sunny city skyline. A hand turns a dial to make the scene slightly darker.
Voiceover: “Discover the world in the best light.”
Image: Two glasses lenses on a background of a blue sky, turning from transparent to dark when a hand turns a dial.
On-screen text: “Transitions Adaptive Lenses”
Voiceover: “Transitions Adaptive Lenses adjust to changing light.”
Image: A man dressed in smart clothes and wearing glasses walking through a city in the sun. A hand turns a dial to make the scene slightly darker.
Voiceover: “Giving you a better view on the world.”
Image: A man dressed in casual clothes and wearing glasses walking through a corn field.
Voiceover: “Discover and enjoy Coach Trip sponsored by Transitions Adaptive Lenses.”
Image: Two glasses lenses on a background of a blue sky turning from transparent to dark.
On-screen text: “Sponsored by Transitions Adaptive Lenses. Transitions.com”
Ofcom decided to investigate the sponsorship credits under Rule 9.22(a) of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code which states:
“Sponsorship credits broadcast around sponsored programmes must not contain advertising messages or calls to action. Credits must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party. The focus of the credit must be the sponsorship arrangement itself. Such credits may include explicit reference to the sponsor's products, services or trade marks for the sole purpose of helping to identify the sponsor and/or the sponsorship arrangement.”
Channel 4 argued that the primary focus of the sponsorship credit was the sponsorship arrangement and that the product references were brief and helped to identify the sponsor. They pointed out that in their opinion the credit did not contain detailed descriptions, references to positive attributes, price messaging or calls to action about the sponsor's product, and that the visuals and voiceover linked to travel themes, which helped to focus the credits on the sponsorship arrangement itself by making a clear thematic connection with the relevant programmes.
With regard to the wording "Transitions Adaptive Lenses adjust to changing light. Giving you a better view on the world" Channel 4 explained that the first sentence identified the sponsor and contained a brief description of the product, in accordance with Rule 9.22(a), while the second sentence sought to create a link to the sponsored programming.
Ofcom was not convinced by Channel 4's arguments.
Firstly, they did not think that the visuals of a woman looking over a city skyline, a man walking through a city and a man walking through a cornfield created a particularly strong link with the programmes being sponsored, and noted that they also appeared in the sponsor's spot advertising campaign.
Further, while Ofcom agreed that "Transitions Adaptive Lenses adjust to changing light" was a brief description of the sponsor's product, they did not agree that the sentence that followed after a one (1) second pause, "Giving you a better view of the world", would be interpreted by viewers as a link between the sponsor and the programme. Instead, Ofcom considered that viewers would interpret this sentence as being a reference to the positive attributes of the sponsor's product, an advertising message not permitted in sponsorship credits.
Ofcom also took into account the late references in the credits to the sponsorship arrangement. Ofcom concluded that there had been a breach of Rule 9.22(a) on the basis that the sponsorship arrangement was not the focus of the sponsorship credit.
La Sienne's sponsorship of Jorbozeh II (Gem TV)
Gem TV is a Farsi (Iranian) language channel that can be received in the UK via satellite. Jorbozeh II was a psychology programme sponsored by La Sienne skincare.
Ofcom picked up on the following sponsorship credit, which appeared between the opening credits of the programme and the programme itself:
Image: A woman's face
On-screen text: “FACE MAKEUP”
Voiceover: “According to beauty experts in the United States”
Image: A woman's face
On-screen text: “SKINCARE”
Voiceover: “La Sienne is one of the best ways to treat lines and for combating aging”
Image: A woman's face
Voiceover: “With the use of skin, beauty, and”
On-screen text: “ANTI-AGING”
Voiceover: “health creams of La Sienne, you can experience youth and feel refreshed.”
Image: A woman's face and upper body
On-screen text: “LIPSTICK”
Voiceover: “The phone number for ordering and acceptance of franchise opportunities throughout the world is [telephone number]”
Image: A woman's face
On-screen text: “EYE MAKEUP”
Voiceover: “La Sienne made in the USA”
On-screen text: “LA SIENNE”
Note that La Siene's website address and telephone number appeared throughout the sponsorship credit at the bottom of the screen. Also, it was only after the credit, and at the beginning of the actual programme, that a voiceover stated "Jorbozeh, a presentation programme by La Sienne".
Ofcom decided to investigate the credit under Rule 9.19 and 9.22(a) of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Rule 9.19 provides that:
“Sponsorship must be clearly identified by means of sponsorship credits. These must make clear: a) The identity of the sponsor by reference to its name or trade mark; and b) The association between the sponsor and the sponsored content.”
Rule 9.22(a) is stated above in the section relating to the Ofcom investigation into Transitions Adaptive Lenses' sponsorship credits.
Ofcom held that while La Siene's sponsorship credit was clear about the identity of the sponsor, it did not make any reference to the sponsorship arrangement, which was instead made during the programme itself, and therefore Rule 9.19 had been breached.
Ofcom also held that Rule 9.22(a) had been breached.
The statements “According to beauty experts in the United States La Sienne is one of the best ways to treat lines and for combating aging”, and “With the use of skin, beauty, and health creams of La Sienne, you can experience youth and feel refreshed” accompanied by the on-screen text: “ANTI-AGING” clearly contained advertising claims that were capable of objective substantiation.
Further, the credit contained a call to action to contact the sponsor to purchase products and pursue franchise opportunities and made no reference to the sponsorship arrangement. In Ofcom's view, the credit was therefore effectively an advertisement.
Gem TV assured Ofcom that it would be talking to its staff about the relevant rules and would monitor its sponsorship credits more carefully in future.
Why this matters:
The two cases above provide an important reminder that sponsorship credits must comply with the provisions of the Broadcasting Code. Those thinking of sponsoring TV programmes who believe that the sponsorship credits can effectively be used as a standard advertising slot for their products and services would do well to take note of the above cases – the focus must be on the sponsorship arrangement itself!