Open Letter to Ad Execs, re: TV Sponsorships

2 10 2007


This is a bit of an ongoing series, as I try to understand the bone-headed moves some ad campaigns make. To read my first installment, on eBay’s “windorphins” and advertising on the NYC Subway, click here. Today, I’m going to tackle TV content sponsorships: where they are now, and where I think they should head in the future.“Studying Again” by Pan-ga on Flickr!

I was watching Top Chef the other day, one of my favorite shows on TV. For any of you who live under a rock, Top Chef runs on Bravo on Wednesday nights. The finale of Season 3 is this week. The series pits chefs against each other in a series of challenges to determine one “Top Chef”.

When the chefs arrived at their ‘quick fire’ challenge, they were greeted by not a chef, but a Bombay Saffire mixologist. What the heck? The challenge here was to create a dish to go with a mixed Bombay Saffire drink. There were huge Bombay logos everywhere in the kitchen, and the different flavors of Bombay were extensively covered during the challenge. It was then I realized…Top Chef has sold out.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the show, I still love the content. But this type of sponsorship is a slippery slope. When the sponsors, and not the producers, have the control of the challenges in the show, the show takes on a completely different (and commercial) tone. Judges lose their power as sponsors begin to chose who stays and who goes on the show. The entire premise of the show begins to fall apart as it sells it’s soul to commercial chef logo

This is nothing new for Top Chef. They have been touting “the Glad family of products” and the “Kenmore Elite” kitchen the chefs work in since day 1 of the series. But this season they have turned a completely new corner. Failed TV chef Rocco Dispirito brought his new line of frozen meals to this season, with a spot during EVERY commercial break, and an episode where he acts as guest judge. I really enjoyed the “breakfast” challenge episode, except for how many times Padma referred to the Breville blenders the chefs were using.

This blatant, over-the-top type sponsorship is to me not only a growing problem, but a total waste of money. Oh, I believe in sponsorships, but it has to be done right. Did sponsoring ’24’ increase sales for Ford or Toyota? Not in a way that rationalizes all the money they spent on it. And it definitely wasn’t worth it for us 24 fans, who had to watch the Ford trucks logo pushed into our faces again and again.

Obviously this onslaught of branded entertainment is not worth it, nor is it going away. Instead, agencies have to find a way to support the content of the show, not alter or disrupt it. And just stop pushing it our faces already! Subtle sponsorship and support of content can go a long long way.

It seems to say somewhere in the “sponsorship handbook” that if you sponsor a program, you have to shove it down consumers throats or they will forget. It’s just not so.

The introduction of blog buzz has made that strategy obsolete. Instead, a subtle underlying sponsorship can reap you huge benefits as bloggers spread word about your supportive action and how it helped the event/content happen.

Take Top Chef for example. The sponsorships they have are relevant, they are just too blatant. If instead of mentioning Breville blenders a million times, let the consumer be the one to ask. Let them get on the blogs or forums and say, “man, I want one of those blenders! Where can I get one?” Let Tom Colicchio, a trusted source and head judge of Top Chef, provide an HONEST review of your knives, or blenders, or other products. Which you provided to the show, free of charge.

I know after every episode of the Sopranos or Entourage, I would go online to find out what music was playing in that episode. There are more consumer touch points to reach the target than just in the middle of the show itself. A smart sponsor will find where they can assist the participants or the viewers and position themselves there. Relevantly.

bravo TV online forumsWhatever you do, make the media where the sponsorship is inherently interactive. I mean make it on a blog, a forum, somewhere where the viewers can provide their honest feedback. Making the consumer seek it out, instead of shoving it in their face, makes them more likely to remember your brand and brand message.

I know, it’s harder and requires more thought than just throwing a bag of money at a show. This is supposed to be the challenge of our business. But don’t be afraid to try and be creative with your sponsorships, then let the show itself and the bloggers do the work. Watch your brand message spread quicker than any ad campaign could, and you are doing a good deed in the process!

Have other examples of good sponsorships? Feel free to comment below and tell us about them!

Flickr images provided by Pan-Ga’s Photos and FngKestrel. Thanks a lot!




3 responses

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3 09 2009
Bill Bartmann

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10 09 2009

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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