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Viking River Cruises Broadchurch

Breaking a sponsorship deal: all fired up over nothing?

By Sam Fowler

April 4, 2013 | 4 min read

With Viking River Cruises dropping out as sponsor of ITV murder drama Broadchurch because a burning boat was seen on screen, Sam Fowler, creative solutions manager at Vizeum UK, takes a look at the mystery of sponsorship.

Sam Fowler

Viking River Cruises have caused a couple of waves over the last week in pulling their sponsorship of ITV’s Mystery Drama Broadchurch, however when considered from a wider UK media perspective, surely most of us would be right in thinking this is just a storm in a teacup rather than something of greater significance.

A knee jerk reaction, as it seems this decision was, would be to cite this ‘blip’ as detrimental to ITV and to the sponsorship market as a whole. On closer inspection however, there is a much more positive story to be taken from this, that being one which highlights the checks and balances we have to make. It really is a testament to our industry and the rigours every deal goes through that scenarios such as the aforementioned happen so infrequently. Although not true of all clients, often the battle a TV sponsorship deal can face versus a traditional TV spot campaign can lead to a greater interrogation. This is not just the number of TVRs and value delivered but the programming and everything around it, from the content of each episode, through to the hosts or actors previous work and of course general public perceptions.

Therefore to hear that a sponsorship has been pulled midway through the series is very much a surprise. Under normal circumstances, both the media agency and the client would be aware of the gist of the content, before going to air with the sponsorship. Additionally, transparency on any controversial scenes relating to the drama, from the production company as well as ITV, would be expected as good practice. There are of course commercial and editorial lines that both sides follow very closely, but openness in these deals can be crucial. Unfortunately, editorial content can be open to interpretation and so a small or seemingly insignificant element of a story line can sometimes slip under the radar which seems to be the case here.

I think pulling the sponsorship has caused more of a wave around what potentially was a non-starter of an issue, bar a ripple of tweets, bringing something to the attention of the eight million or so adults watching each week, which would have otherwise washed over them. A smarter move - isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing - would have been to accept that, as part of fictional drama concerning murder, a small boat is seen burning at sea - and prepare a PR campaign should anyone feel particularly aggrieved about this.

TV sponsorships, as with all other media campaigns, have an absolute tapestry of stakeholders involved in helping make them happen and as mentioned before it is a real testament to our industry that 99 per cent of them take place without this level of problem ever reaching the consumer/the viewer. When these potential hurdles do occur, brands are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. However taking an action is better than hiding and hoping something will go away.

Viking Cruises continue to sponsor the ITV Mystery Drama strand.

Viking River Cruises Broadchurch

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