TV programme sponsorship has come a long way in the last few years. It wasn’t that long ago that it was only the cash-strapped ITV who were willingly auctioning off their most popular programmes to appropriately twinned products, but now every commercial channel under the sun is doing it.
Channel 4 has become the master of this process, turning overnight from a liberal, non-mainstream channel into the programming equivilent of a formula one race car. Each of its shows are delicately hawked, comfortably snuggling against products and giving both the advertiser and the viewer the impression of actually being ‘involved’ with the show.
For a while these were just short loops, the same footage of a chocolate high-street or bubble of blue air would appear before and after each ad break, but quickly these clips became tedious and infuriating – as anyone who remembers the horrific O2 logofication of Big Brother will testify. Soon they evolved into the short dramatic or sketch moments you see today – little glimpses of a storyline, of a situation – something which seeks to entertain and lightly amuse. Far from being satisfied with mere association, the products are now requesting an emotional involvement in them – as if to say, “hey, we know you’re enjoying Deal or No Deal but we thought we’d give you this second story about a woman who’s lost her wedding ring down the plughole as well. For free! Aren’t BT nice for boosting the dramatic appeal of this show?”
At 3.30 on any weekday Channel 4 has the same run of programmes; Countdown, Deal or No Deal, the Paul O’Grady Show, the Simpsons and finally Hollyoaks. Three and a half hours of pretty fair old lady / housewife / student / teenager programming. Let’s look at who sponsors each show, and how…
3.30 – Countdown (Sponsored by the Digital Switchover). These ones are actually quite sweet as a cute-but-not-entirely- -unSMASH-like robot helps an old lady with the Countdown clues. It’s well done, the robot is really adorable and it’s raising the issue with the demographic who’ll probably struggle the most. It is a little low on actual information, seemingly happy to imply that all people over 60 will receive a cute robot who’ll help them with word puzzles, instead of gently saying “you need to buy a new TV” but there’s still three more years to go so I guess this is just the start of the campaign.
4.15 – Deal or No Deal (Sponsored by BT). Like a modern day Pinter play, these fleeting vignettes revolve around the wife and children from the proper BT adverts and deal with the minutiae of family life, and how each potential crisis can be solved with the phone book. What is particulary noticeable about these ‘moments’ is the absence of My Family buffoon Kris Marshall, and I’d like to debate three possible reasons for this. Those of you not prone to semi-conspiratory media analysis may want to skip to the next section which is far funnier and has several gay jokes.
Reasons for Kris Marshalls Absence in the Deal Or No Deal Viral Ads
- They couldn’t afford him. This is most likely as contracts and repeat fees often restrict the use of the ‘star’ and the wife and children will come much cheaper.
- Cross-market advertising. Despite using the same characters and situations as the normal TV adverts, it is important for the ‘sponsored by’ stings to have subtle differences. By omiting the star of the adverts they are noting the distinction between a hard sell and a generous sponsorship
- It’s all about your gender. Most working husbands won’t be home before the end of the show, and since the advert represents a normal (but surprisingly youthful) mother with a teenage child, why would her husband be home? Thus each sting involves a domestic chore or parental decision and not a matter of household importance. It’s a subtle point, but by not using Kris Marshall they are attempting to win confidence with the majority of their demographic by more directly representing their lives… sponsorship is not about directly selling a product, it’s about breeding familiarity and association with the audiences life.
5.00 – The Paul O’Grady Show (Sponsored by Schwartz). I don’t know about Paul O’Grady’s sexual orientation. He makes no allusions to either hetero or homo, and he is a mid-level kind of camp which is somewhere between screaming queer (Kenneth Williams) and uncomfortable impression (Duncan Norville). One possible reason for this is that the ‘sponsored by’ stings that straddle his show are so outrageously gay that anything that exists between them is subject to a relative equation which far exceeds normal levels of gay.
They are very short ‘slices’ of conversation that occur around various kitchens across the country, cut to close ups of hands preparing food and using Schwartz products. The dialogue has clearly been written / recycled from a radio advert, where everything has to be spelt out in a v e r y c l e ar w a y as it resembles no real life conversation in any way.
My favourite one is between two men, somewhere in a sunny kitchen… one is making breakfast and the other enters and expresses his amazement at this activity. “Hang on” he says “you never make breakfast”, and gently it transpires that the breakfast is being made for an overnight guest. When pressed for details the man simply says “ah ah ah ah, a true gentleman never tells” and both men relax into comfortable, friendly giggles. It’s amazing.
Every line of dialogue, every intonation of emotion is completely wrong. The laugh at the end implys a certain familiarity with the situation, but the genuine shock at the realisation suggests a new experience. The clear and polite language is too enthusiastic, and the reaction to the news of a sordid evening is wholly perceived as a positive thing. The men are also so very clearly gay; this would be fine were it not for the fact they’re not meant to be. In the advertising world the idea of a flatmate chiding another for a one night stand is wholly acceptable in heterosexual terms, but wholly unacceptable in a homosexual situation. Thus only one conclusion can be reached; they’re really badly made adverts.
6.00 – The Simpsons (no sponsor)
6.25 – Hollyoaks (Sponsored by Wrigleys Gum). The Hollyoaks spots are another attempt to have a semi-coherent storyline running throughout the adverts. A teenage cast go through the various ups and downs of adolescence, accompanied by the ever-present litter of Britain, Wrigleys.
Looking nothing like any teenagers I’ve ever met, and certainly not like the hip young things they’re meant to represent, these kids meet girls, steal cars and watch TV but at all times behave like the home-schooled offspring of Enid Blyton. A Gorgeous Chick hits on a Chav Nerd and plays him at pool for chewing gum, a hot older sister bribes a youth with gum to leave her alone with her boyfriend, the said Chav Nerd impresses the Gorgeous Chick with his dashboard stash of gum…
If this were at all representative of today’s youth then the kids would play pool for clothes, the older sister would be pregnant already and the Gorgeous Chick would be finger-fucked in the car instead of offered mints. Even by Hollyoaks standards this is piss-poor acting and a bad portrayal of the nation’s youth. If it’s meant to be hip then it’s woeful, if it’s meant to be ironic it’s even worse.
BAE sponsors Channel 4 News and Loans4You get behind Glitterball.