Channel 4 has been rapped over advertiser-funded programme the Pepsi Max World Challenge because it gave the cola drink “undue prominence”.
Media regulator Ofcom says the broadcaster breached two rules governing the content of sponsored programmes: “We consider that the degree and apparent deliberate placing of sponsor branded content within the series was in breach of the code.”
The programme ran in April and May on Channel 4, following 12 pairs of young international footballers.
Doubts were raised about its compliance with the code because of the amount of Pepsi branding featured, including the Pepsi globe logo in the title sequence, on the players’ kit and on the footballs used in the challenges. One of the challenges involved the competitors designing a poster advert and visiting an ad agency which produces work for the soft drinks giant.
One complainant also questioned the degree of influence the sponsor had, because the professional footballers featured – including David Beckham and Roberto Carlos – were contracted to Pepsi.
In response, Channel 4 argues that when Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code was introduced in July 2005 it changed the regulatory position of sponsored programmes. It says rules allowing coverage of a sponsored event were dropped, leaving an “element of uncertainty”.
It further argued that the Pepsi Max World Challenge was a genuine event that would have proceeded without the channel airing it. It says detailed discussions with the production team ensured no venue advertising or background branding was included, which would not have happened without its involvement. Interviews with UK contestants were cropped to remove any remaining branding.
However, Ofcom believes that behind-the-scenes footage precluded the programme being simply coverage of an event and says the level of the sponsor’s branding throughout exceeded that which would naturally result from event coverage. “Because the series was funded by Pepsi, the branding present appeared to be deliberately placed and not incidental,” it concludes.