Coronation Street is the top of the sponsorship pile, and Cadbury’s likely 10m deal to sponsor it looks like very good media value.
There will never be another programme like it in terms of size, reputation, PR value, or relationship with its viewers.
Cadbury will benefit not only from a large audience, but also from premium access to its relationship with its viewers.
When Coronation Street moves to four episodes a week, plus an omnibus, Cadbury should be able to get enormous coverage, 52 weeks a year.
“We buy a lot of sweets in this country,” says Jonathan Durden, partner at media independent Pattison Horswell Durden.
“And sponsoring Coronation Street every week fits well into Cadbury’s customers’ buying cycle. This type of sponsorship is the only way it would be affordable to have a such high profile on TV for its brands.”
“It will become even bigger,” adds Durden, “if it decides to go below the line.”
However, it is not just the Coronation Street audience numbers, or its eternally present nature, that makes it important. It is that sacred thing – a British institution.
In sponsorship terms, the closest thing to it is the FA Cup Final, although even that is not as venerable as Coronation Street (anyone who’s ever seen a Gascoigne tackle will know that), and Cadbury, if it completes the deal, should take stock of how Littlewoods has sponsored the FA Cup.
The FA tournament is known as “The FA Cup sponsored by Littlewoods”. If it had been turned into the “Littlewoods Cup” there would have been an outcry, not only from football fans, but from those who object to the creeping commercialisation of British culture.
Nick Walford, managing director of J Walter Thompson’s sponsorship and new media division, Vision 40, believes such sensitivity helps viewers accept sponsorship.
“The credits can get the tone right, and establish the kind of relationship there is with the programme and the viewer,” he says. “All TV sponsorship can be a high-risk and high-reward strategy. For a sponsorship this large-scale, early research into the brands and creative work could minimise the risk of the sponsorship being rejected by viewers.”
However, some industry sources remain worried: “There is a view that you shouldn’t touch certain things,” says Andy Tilley, joint managing director of Zenith Media.
“There are certain institutions which the British public feel are beyond commercial considerations, and Coronation Street may just be beyond that line.”
Indeed, one senior agency source insists he has seen ITV research which shows that the public does not believe any brand is as big as Coronation Street, with only Heinz coming anywhere close.
“TV sponsorship is supposed to be perceived by the viewer as either a partnership, or as the advertiser supporting the programme,” says the source, “but if the programme is perceived to give more to the brand than it receives, then, in this case, it may be seen by the viewer as trading away a British institution to commercialism.”