News Analysis

By The Drum, Administrator

January 26, 2007 | 7 min read

Who would have thought Jade Goody could change the world? Her alleged racism and bullying of Bollywood’s answer to Angelina Jolie, Shilpa Shetty, has prompted global debate – even prompting one senior marketing figure in Scotland to write to The Herald. Things must be getting serious – or there’s something very wrong with the world.

There’s a touch of irony that the show which launched Goody’s ‘career’ seems to have killed it the second time around. While she spends her time apologising, weeping and working out how to face the public, her perfume is flying off the shelves – not as enthusiastic consumers snap it up in a bid to smell like the most talked about woman on TV, but as shop owners attempt to distance themselves from the most talked about racist on TV.

But it’s not just Goody who has to face the backlash of her alleged racism. At the time of writing, Ofcom had received around 40,000 complaints from the general public about Celebrity Big Brother, but had yet to act. And as a result of the controversy, Carphone Warehouse suspended its £3million sponsorship of the programme, obviously realising that the outrage in the UK – which spread as far as India, a market the company is hoping to break – wasn’t helping to shift handsets. But despite the furore, the company will continue to sponsor the eighth series of Big Brother this summer – if, indeed, that eighth series should materialise following the storm surrounding the latest bunch of housemates.

Given the profile Big Brother enjoys – in terms of column inches, sponsorship, TV figures and daily coffee room chat – it’s no surprise that those working in the media were quick to debate the subject. After all, this could have serious repercussions for the industry.

Caroline McGrath, managing director of Media Shop, isn’t worried though. She believes the Goody effect will not stop clients sponsoring TV shows in the future – with the possible exception of programmes like Big Brother. “Clients will rethink their plans to sponsor reality TV shows where they are not in control,” she says. “There was always going to be a risk in sponsoring Big Brother, or any similar programme, and there must have been something built into the contract that allowed Carphone Warehouse to pull out. There will always be a get-out for a sponsor – as there was for Kate Moss’s sponsors.”

And despite all the fallout, McGrath believes everyone involved will have benefited – especially Carphone Warehouse. “They exploited the situation very well by pulling out, and actually enhanced their brand by making that statement,” she says. “They got more PR by pulling out than they would have by staying in.”

McGrath is not alone. Susanna Freedman, managing director of brand consultancy Tsuko, doesn’t think that Carphone Warehouse will experience any long-term damage to its brand or that future television sponsorship deals will be affected by the controversy.

“It won’t impact long term, but it will raise potential sponsors’ awareness of the risks,” she says. “And more to the point, companies will ensure that all clauses are covered so if anything happens, there won’t be the short-term losses Carphone Warehouse will probably suffer.

“They’ve done the right thing. Whatever happens until the series ends would impact negatively on any of the brands involved. When you’re using individual personalities – well-known faces in particular – there’s always going to be the chance that things could become dangerous. You can’t control everything so you have to make sure you have a get-out clause in a contract and ensure you move quickly if needs be. That’s what Carphone Warehouse has done.”

Tessa Hartman, managing director of The TFF Agency, agrees that many brand names will have taken note of the events of the last couple of weeks. “There will be lessons learnt from brands that were associated with Big Brother,” she says. “And, more importantly, lessons learnt by brands that had nothing to do with it.

“It is one thing taking a gamble on products such as Big Brother, but is it worth the risk when there are other incredible products on offer for national or international endorsement? Brands the size of Carphone Warehouse would be better off co-producing or creating event partnerships – where they can have a hand in the management, manipulated or not – that are new and innovative from the consumer perspective.”

These event partnerships might be less risky, but the column inches just aren’t going to be the same. With this in mind, the whole racism row has done Carphone Warehouse a favour, argues Nick Stewart, broadcast director of MediaVision.

“They must be delighted,” he says. “You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity, and for them to pull out relatively close to the end has been great for the company.”

Stewart is sceptical about how far morals affected the company’s decision to jump ship. “It was an absolute PR decision and it was pure genius on their part,” he says. “It makes them look like they’ve taken the moral high ground, but you couldn’t have bought the PR they got. News At 10 covered their withdrawal, it was all over the press and online the logo is everywhere. I would question whether it was any form of moral high-ground. I’m sure the Indian market must have played a part in the decision, but in terms of the UK market, PR was the only factor.”

While Goody has, on the surface, ruined her career as a celebrity, it’s not only the reality TV star who has taken a hit from the racism row. Former Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd has been dumped from lucrative modelling contracts – and by footballer boyfriend Teddy Sheringham – while former S-Club pop star Jo O’Meara’s chances of a chart comeback look to have been obliterated.

However, even on leaving the house Goody already seemed to have her comeback campaign prepared. In fact, her media-savvy replies to the racism accusations have stirred up a new controversy over whether she was briefed by Channel 4 bosses in a damage-control exercise. But that won’t stop her trying to resurrect her career.

“We’ll no doubt see interviews with Jade sobbing her heart out on shows such as Richard & Judy,” says Christina Kelly, managing director of Barkers PR. “She’ll do a variety of talk shows, avoiding, if she can, the printed media because they can choose what is included and what is not. It will be easier for the public to see her without the print media spin. I think she can come back though, and I suspect she’ll pop up in whatever reality TV show comes along next.”

Some people never learn. But Channel 4 might well have. Although it is still unclear as to how the whole debacle will have affected the station and Big Brother in the long term, one thing is certain: a little controversy and some choice decisions in the editing department do wonders for dwindling audience figures.


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