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Dominic Mills 

The mysterious case of the incredible disappearing sponsor

Dominic Mills new

It's not my job to wave the flag for ITV sponsorship, but it certainly works. Pre-Broadchurch, I'd never heard of Viking River Cruises - 'proud sponsors of ITV mystery drama' - but shots of their cruise ships meandering down the Danube took on a comforting familiarity, although it was a mystery to me why there were so few passengers aboard.

But now they've abandoned Broadchurch, off in a huff because they didn't like a storyline involving a burning boat. This was, according to managing director Wendy Atkin-Smith, "because of sensitivities around the content".

Well, here's the thing, Ms Atkin-Smith: the clue to being 'proud' sponsors of ITV drama is in the word 'drama'. Nasty things happen in drama, otherwise it would all be incredibly dull, and if you sponsor a police procedural set in a seaside town, the chances are it will involve a boat.

What I can't understand is why, if Viking was so sensitive to possible content, it didn't ask to check the storylines before broadcast. You'd be pretty daft to put your name to something as a sponsor without knowing what was coming.

And why does Viking describe themselves as a 'proud' sponsor? If you're 'proud', you stick with it. Otherwise you'd be 'ashamed' or 'stupid' sponsors of ITV drama.

So that's one mystery explained. Here's another though: last week Viking River Cruises popped up as sponsor of another ITV drama: Scott and Bailey, another police procedural with similarly sensitive content - this time involving murder, child sex abuse and lots of other gritty 'drama'.

So, taking Viking's sensitivities at face value, it looks as though they care about burning boats, but don't give a stuff about murder or child sex abuse.

Take Nokia, which sponsors C4 programmes like The Good Wife, a legal drama featuring storylines involving drug dealers, rapists, abusers and, who knows, maybe a class action case about mobiles frying your brain. What's more, most of the lawyers use Blackberrys. But we've never heard a peep about any of that from Nokia.

One of the things about contemporary TV commercial schedules is the exponential increase in sponsorship opportunities (did you know, for example, that Ladbrokes Mobile sponsors ITV's coverage of European football?). This is a good thing, because it opens up TV to advertisers who either couldn't afford conventional spot advertising or couldn't see how to make it work for them.

But it also means TV broadcasters have to deal with some pretty unsophisticated advertisers, into which category I'd put Viking. Maybe there's a case for making advertisers take a 'fit and proper' test before they're allowed on.

Facebook: losing it with the kids

If there had been a Facebook executive in the audience at MediaTel's Youth Media and Technology conference last week, they would have hurried back to HQ with two urgent messages for their colleagues: "We need to get the kids back fast and we need to get mobile now."

The two, of course, are linked, but the two most striking things to emerge from the five teenagers on the panel talking about their technology and media habits was a) the increasing irrelevance of Facebook to their daily lives and b) their almost surgical attachment to their mobiles.

Teenage reliance on their mobiles is perhaps no surprise, but it does give context to last week's announcement (long-expected) of Facebook's move into phones.

This is an obvious - if belated - move for Facebook. As PCs fall behind smartphones and tablets as our default devices, with Gartner predicting a 20% fall in PC sales between now and 2017, Facebook can't afford to get left off such a profound platform shift.

Indeed, it may be the development that allows Facebook to shore up its position since, via the mobile, it will improve its ability to track users' behaviour, particularly of the teen cohort, and serve up more advertising - assuming, of course, that consumers don't object.

But the bigger question Facebook has to tackle is a cultural one: is it losing relevance with teenagers? Here's what some of the panellists said:

"I don't use it half as much as I did. My Mum's got more friends than I have."

"I just use it to upload family photos - so my Gran can see them."

"I use it to message friends. I haven't updated my status for ages - because you're judged by what's posted, so I don't post."

"You can't put 20 updates an hour on Facebook without being laughed at. People judge you more on Facebook. But it's ok to tweet 20 times an hour."

A small tremor beneath the mighty edifice of Facebook will probably go unnoticed. But once you start losing the kids, it's very hard to get them back.

Generation A (for avoidance)

It was no surprise that the MediaTel teen panel claimed to be unaware of most advertising. What surprised me was the lengths they would go, and sophisticated strategies they adopted, to avoid exposure to advertising.

One said he didn't watch live TV in order to avoid ads; others found alternative activities to occupy their time during ad breaks or pre-rolls. To me, it sounded like a disproportionate amount of effort, but maybe that's a generational thing.

Inevitably, when pushed, it turned out that they were not as unaware of advertising as they claimed. You'd have to be a hermit in this day and age to completely avoid advertising, and the device-dependence of the modern teenager means they can run, but they can't permanently hide from it.

Ads that caught their attention, inevitably, were funny or entertaining - 3's Dancing Pony, or the dancing baby for E-Lights cigarettes.

So what's the answer? Well, if you think in terms of contemporary media, there's a big opportunity for out-of-home media (posters, to simplify the term) to grab the younger generation. They're hard to avoid and, as more of the inventory goes digital, you can have as many dancing pony/baby/anything ads as you like.

Which brings us back to Trevor Beattie and his five-second ads. That's the route to turn Generation A into Generation E (for engaged).

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