WHAT IS AFP

Advertiser Funded Programming (AFP) and product placement are not new concepts. In fact, the phrase ‘soap opera’ comes from the 1920’s when Proctor & Gamble frequently sponsored radio programmes. By the 1980’s Coca-Cola had acquired Columbia Pictures and Pepsi-Cola Entertainment Group was established. Cue, Marty McFly and Back to the Future. By the turn of this century a plethora of show formats were being created for the small screen with brands stitched into the funding model – for example, The Apprentice.

Closer to home there is not much legacy of brands funding bespoke content for the Irish television market. The model in this market has tended to be restricted to standard sponsorship – funds in return for sponsorship assets (i.e. stings and promos). However, in more recent years, and off the back of the success of formats in the USA and UK, a number of programmes have been licensed for this market with the aim of securing funding from brands. Most of these shows have been international hits such as The Apprentice, Masterchef, The Voice, The Great Irish Bake-off etc. What these shows all have in common is that they are (a) licensed formats (b) proven hits (c) not new concepts. For this reason, you could argue that they are not AFP, they are in fact immersive sponsorships which allow for licensed IP and good product integration opportunities.

Livewire distinguishes between, what we call ‘immersive media sponsorship’ and AFP. In our view, AFP is programming which simply would not exist without the advertiser input. At Livewire, we work with brands to move from AFP to ACP. That is, Advertiser Created Programming.

WHY HAS IT BECOME POPULAR

AFP is a powerful proposition in a highly competitive market – whereas commissioning of content used to be dominated by RTE, AFP has opened the door to TV3, UTV et al. to compete for content. For example, The Restaurantthe restaurant used to broadcast on RTE but was eventually dropped. In years gone by that would have been the end of the show, for a time at least. However, in this instance, the producers (Visual Independent Productions) were able to find an advertiser to fund the show (Aldi) and bring it to TV3 where it has been revitalised with Marco Pierre White. The 2015 series of The Restaurant reached over 1.13 million adults, with a share of 9.9%.

AFP DONE WELL

Livewire’s key principle for AFP is based on the following litmus test: were the brand to be removed, would the content remain compelling? The answer must be ‘yes.’ It is critical that AFP features the fundamental elements of good television (content). For example the following (not exhaustive list):

  1. Strong narrative
  2. Characters with human flaws
  3. Turning point(s)
  4. Audience “Take Out” is very important. Viewers are getting something of value be it entertainment, insights, tips etc.
  5. Production values – quality
  6. Editorial integrity

Putting this into practice; The Toughest Trade, AIB’s The Toughest Tradewhich broadcast on TV3 in 2015 and again on RTE in 2016 is an AIB AFP – or, as we see it, an ACP. While the series was born from the same insight as the existing AIB marketing strategy, features brand logos and was created to meet brand objectives, were AIB to be removed, the content would not be affected and would remain compelling viewing. This is what distinguishes AFP from advertising. The brand benefits from brilliant content that entertains, informs or excites an audience. While AFP can be used to affect bottom line objectives (e.g. sales) the real strength lies with affecting brand equity. To do this, the brand most often than not, must hand over an element of control (to producers / broadcasters). In other markets, where there are a greater number of commercial networks, brands can retain greater control. However, this is often to the detriment of the content.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT

For a brand to benefit from product placement – audio, exposure, contextual – there must be an acceptance by the viewer that it is relevant or beneficial to the content. In theory, this is called ‘persuasion knowledge.’ When persuasion knowledge is high, the brand is likely to be perceived negatively. When persuasion knowledge is low, the brand will benefit. A good Irish example of this is the SPAR shop in Fair City. The placement of the brand is relevant, believable and, in many ways, adds to the credibility of the show. In contrast, there are literally hundreds of examples of brands (producers / directors) who have got this wrong with disastrous effects. One of the worst offenders was the Converse product placement in Will Smith’s i,Robot (2004).

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

The advantages of AFP have been touched on above. Essentially it creates an opportunity for a brand to add value to the consumer on their terms. It places a product or brand in context within the viewer’s chosen experience. The key advantages of AFP are as follows:

  • Addresses market trends: traditional advertising impact is decreasing; both in terms of viewing and consumer impact. At the same time people still elect to watch great programmes. On their terms.
  • Provides a platform to tell the brand story in a more compelling and longer format – albeit with restrictions of not being an advert
  • Trusted: editorial has always had more power over advertising
  • Still reasonably untapped medium – unlike online branded content – AFP (broadcast) still fresh
  • AFP can travel to other markets – with potential for financial return (rights fees)

There are a number of disadvantages with AFP, general and specific to this market. They are as follows:

  • The brand does not have as much control (compared to advertising)
  • AFP is still a relatively new concept for Irish broadcasters, therefore negotiation and management is not always straight forward
  • The Irish broadcast market is relatively small: RTE, TV3 and UTV
  • AFP is still perceived to be expensive. However, value is what you get out of AFP rather than what you put into it
  • It is difficult to measure the impact of AFP. While standard media metrics are easily measured, the impact of brand exposure, product placement etc. on brand equity can be hard to isolate from other brand marketing activity
  • There is increasing sensitivity with regards to commercial influence of editorial – in particular by RTE which is moving to a PPS model – Programme Production Support

Overall we consider ad funded and ad created programming, as well as immersive media sponsorships, as powerful tools for brands to engage with increasingly savvy audiences. The challenge for brands in this space is to add value to the viewing experience. To do so it is important for advertisers to be prepared to give-up an element of control. Those that do can expect to enjoy significant benefits.