Life… sponsored by Coca-Cola

18th August 2000

THERE’S a new phone service coming soon which offers people free phone calls provided they listen to an advertisement first.

So for you listening to a 30 second ad, you get 3 minutes’ free phone time. It’s rather similar to the concept of this newspaper where advertising pays for the production and distribution (and columnists).

Most people still find this idea surprising – that advertising can be more valuable than the original product itself.

Even mainstream media are finding that cover prices are making up a smaller proportion of their revenue. RTE now gets only around 40% of its revenue from the licence fee.

It is part of the consumer economy where all companies, from global multi-nationals to the local pub, realise that to sell their product they must communicate with their customers.

A hefty chunk of revenue is set aside for this purpose and therefore massive amounts of money are sloshing around modern economies looking for an audience.

In fact, this is a trend which has now left the orbit of the advertising industry and has wound its way into every aspect of our society, particularly by the move of the marketing men and women into sponsorship.

Where two or more people gather for whatever reason is now fair game for sponsorship.

Football teams are sponsored, park benches are sponsored, litter bins are sponsored and horses are named after sponsors.

It’s got to the stage where no event can take place without sponsorship. Remember the World Equestrian Games (WEG) fiasco?

Ireland was chosen to host the last WEG. We passed up on the event because a sponsor couldn’t be found.

As you read this there are marketing executives dreaming up more ways to advertise companies or products.

I can’t wait until Roy Keane changes his name to ‘Toyota’ or something. The ad heads will talk of exposure, audience profiles, the number of mentions and so on.

Don’t laugh yet. Who would have believed that the rugby establishment would have tolerated the sight of Irish internationals covered from head to toe with dye from an advertisement placed in the middle of Lansdowne Road?

Large supermarkets, newspapers and crisp companies have targeted education as a new opportunity for sponsorship. Parents and pupils are enjoined to collaborate to provide computers for schools.

What next? Headstone ads? A half hour with the kids to get them eating the right burgers?

The welfare of corporate Ireland is not synonymous with the welfare of the Irish people.

But the way we are going all the power in our society will be channelled through the corporate sector.

And ultimately we pay for all this advertising. In two ways.

Profitable companies charge promotion to the bottom line. Secondly, all promotion is tax deductible.

But the real question – is there a bigger price?

Some time ago a large advertiser with this newspaper group threatened to withdraw advertising over a story we were to run. We ran it anyway and the advertiser stayed on board.

Last year Today FM accused the Independent Group of withdrawing advertising over content on The Last Word programme.

It must be the case that across the advertising industry sponsors want a say in how they are treated by the recipient of the sponsorship.

We are spending a fortune at the tribunals to reveal the rotten relationship between politicians and business.

Meanwhile, in every other facet of life we are becoming dependent on commercial interests.

If we want a civic society, where a broad range of people from across the community can have an input, we are going to have to find an antidote for sponsorship.

The lure of easy money is hard to resist and, for the most part, sponsorship is benign.

But as the old saying goes: he who pays the piper calls the tune.


As well as that…

And a sponsorship too far

AS a member of the GAA I must say that I am aghast at the decision of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and some of the top players to press ahead with sponsorship outside of the GAA.

I find it particularly depressing to hear the players and their apologists claim the move as some kind of liberation.

The fact is that there is a two way relationship between the players and the GAA. None of these players would be marketable if it wasn’t for the GAA.

The GAA put hurls in their hands. Volunteers brought them to matches throughout their childhood. Volunteers built grounds, spent countless hours in thankless fixture meetings. They organised the championships that made the players famous. Unpaid.

The GAA’s policy is that in sponsorship the individual player gets 50% and the rest goes to their colleagues and the county board. Under this deal the player gets 80%, the GPA gets 20% and the GAA gets nothing.

So for 30% more these players have decided that the GAA’s contribution is worthless.

The players think what they do on their own time is their own business. Fair enough.

Let them find something else to do on Sunday afternoons. Suspend them!