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An experiment in armchair sponsorship

Ardi Kolah explores the thinking of a furniture retailer that is following in the footsteps of a chocolate manufacturer.

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In October, broadcast sponsorship history will be made as furniture retailer Harvey's takes over from Cadbury's as broadcast sponsor of the nation's favourite TV soap, 'Coronation Street'.

At first glance you're left wondering why Harvey's rather than some other well-known household name is in the frame?

Given that 'Coronation Street' continues to dominate the viewing figures as the nation's most watched TV show with a 46% share of viewing, you would've thought that there had been a queue of more high-profile sponsors knocking at the door of ITV's Brand Partnership Department.

Cadbury's association with the show spanned a decade and yet the current deal, rumoured to be worth £10m a year is only for two years.

This may be indicative of several factors -- for example, a higher profile brand owner didn't step forward or if it did it didn't want to write a big cheque to acquire the broadcast sponsorship rights.

Or alternatively, there wasn't ever a long queue of sponsors waiting to acquire this jewel in ITV's crown.

The absence of a higher profile advertiser may also reflect the nervousness of some brand owners to use TV as a channel to build trust with the audience in light of recent scandals that have shaken the public's confidence in the medium.

However, this is unlikely to have been a factor in the current deal with ITV despite its phone-in problems.

At the end of the day, the broadcast sponsorship deal looks like a clever media buy.

Already an advertiser on ITV1 and 2, the new deal with ITV now expands Harvey's brand awareness across all interactive platforms, including mobile and the broadband section on as well as off-air merchandising and licensing.

Clearly, Harvey's has done its sums and thinks it will get a decent return on its media investment.

But the deal still leaves open the question as to whether Harvey's will stick with the show in the long run like Cadbury's.

According to Harvey's spokesperson "the 'Coronation Street' viewer is a perfect fit for our shopper, and working on a two-year basis provides us with the opportunity to put research benchmarks into place to understand the effectiveness of this deal longer term."

If we subtract the PR spin, what this means is that "it's a good media buy that will help raise our brand awareness and we'll need some convincing to continue with this strategy if this has been achieved at the end of the two-year deal."

It's hard to imagine that this deal is anything but a media buy rather than sponsorship in its widest sense.

Sponsorship is much more than simply the alignment of demographic or psychographic data.

Where sponsorship is proven to work well, it builds a deeper connection and dialogue between the brand owner, the property and the audience -- and the relationship between the brand owner and the property is both relevant and natural in the eyes of the audience.

It's also interesting to note that consumers don't buy armchairs with the same frequency as they do bars of chocolate!

On this basis, there's bound to be media wastage in terms of those viewers who've already bought their sofas from Harvey's or its high street rivals and won't be 'tuning in' to change them -- no matter how seductive the message.

In any event, these same consumers have probably purchased their living room suites on HP and interest-free terms that lock them into contracts for a very long time.

Clearly, Harvey's is hoping that it can make itself just as famous as 'Coronation Street' to become the "UK's favourite retailer" in order to attract new customers into its stores.

So where does this leave our understanding of sponsorship?

If deals like this become the norm, then the net effect will be to reduce broadcast sponsorship to the status of nothing more than a media buy.

And over time, the public will begin to regard "sponsorship" as little more than another word for advertising -- which of course, as you and I know, it isn't.

Ardi Kolah is a brand communication and sponsorship consultant. He can be reached on +44 (0)20 7 323 1587 email

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