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Introduction to TV sponsorship

TV sponsorship can range from a simple on-air association with a single programme or strand to a long-term, fully-integrated partnership including branded content, product placement, televised branded events, promos, competitions, licensing and lots more. Big or small, tactical or strategic, there are sponsorships to fit all. Here we look a bit closer at the nuts and bolts of this element of content partnership.

Key points

  • Many TV programmes are themselves powerful brands. Their prestige, popularity and perceived values can rub off on those brands that associate with them through successful sponsorship. 
  • Advertisers can now sponsor not only programmes, but strands of programming, day-parts, genres and even whole channels.
  • TV Sponsorship can deliver a consistency of audience, time of day and environment that is expensive to replicate through the traditional media buy. 
  • Sponsorship can be a great way for brands to first get on telly.
  • Sponsorship can be used to fulfil a wide variety of roles for brands, from repositioning, de-seasonalising, creating fame quickly and taking the high ground in a competitive market to launch and response. 

The TV sponsorship landscape

So, these days, brands tend to have partnerships with broadcasters that encompass the whole spectrum of what the broadcaster can offer.

The perfect sponsorship partnership might include the association with the property on air, around the programme and in branded promo trails across the schedule, a presence on the programme website, a competition and as many other options that are relevant for your brand: on-pack, in store, and something for the staff too.

TV sponsorship is now recognised as a powerful option for marketers. Advertisers can now sponsor not only programmes, but strands of programming, day-parts, genres and even whole channels.

Big and small, long or short

At one end of the scale you have a programme like Coronation Street, sponsored by, which is watched every week by around 14 million people. At the other end, you have a programme like Revenge on E4 which was sponsored by Chambord. The average audience may have been only 200,000 but it enabled them to speak to young adults across 22 episodes. They used their partnership with Revenge to have a highly successful launch in the UK that resulted in a 42% increase in awareness and a 47% increase in sales. This was with an investment of around £200,000. 

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Partnerships with premium content can be long or short. The longest running one is Ford’s relationship with the premiere league on Sky Sports, which has been highly successful now since 1992. At the other end of the scale is Sega Football Manager, who did a one day only partnership with Transfer Deadline Day on Sky Sports. With just four exposures an hour in the programme, the brand was able to make a really big impact in a very short space of time.  

Moreover, sponsorship can be a relatively cheap way to start advertising on television or to boost and leverage TV presence. 

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Delivering for brands

Many TV programmes are themselves powerful brands. Their prestige, popularity and perceived values can rub off on those brands that associate with them through successful partnership. 

More than anything though, good sponsorship can provide effective cut-through and targeted communication to specific viewing audiences. And of course, these days, fans of a particular programme might watch the show on first broadcast, or on a +1 channel, or later on via their DTR (Digital Television recorder), or when they want to, on-demand. Wherever the show goes, the sponsor can go too.

If the creative idea for the credits is engaging and relevant to them, viewers of all ages welcome sponsors as supporters of their favourite TV programmes. Many have said that if a programme is sponsored, it must be good!

If they do sponsor a TV programme…I would probably take that a bit more seriously. I think it makes it more credible, the fact that it is attached to a programme.

Research participant, The Truth about Youth, 2015

Sponsorship can deliver a consistency of audience, time of day and environment that is expensive to replicate through the traditional media buy. 

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What do you want to achieve and what to sponsor?    

What you choose to sponsor depends on your priorities, target audience, and of course your budget. Your objectives dictate the programming to choose and how to best leverage the association. These are the crucial questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to make a new product famous fast? 
  • Do you want to reposition or de-seasonalise your product?
  • Do you want to take the high ground in a competitive market?
  • Do you have a variety of products or variants to display over time that do not have a TV advertising budget?
  • Or do you want to change perceptions of your brand?

Sponsorship can be used to launch a brand. 

For example: Chambord is a premium, French black raspberry liqueur. With awareness at almost zero, Chambord’s primary objective was to make more people aware of Chambord. TV sponsorship was established as the best way of achieving this and it debuted on TV, in an exclusive sponsorship with E4’s ‘Revenge’ – an American drama set in the millionaire’s playground of the Hamptons. A perfect fit with Chambord’s decadent and fantasy brand positioning. They smashed all targets and increased sales by 47% year on year.

The Thinkbox research ‘TV sponsorship: a brand’s best friend’ established that sponsorship can help make brands famous by association. The study shows that for fans of the content, brand fame is increased by up to 10%. Brand fame is a key driver of effectiveness. The study also showed that sponsorship not only makes brands famous but increases purchase intent, favourability and 'for me-ness'.

Sponsorship can help establish authority. 

Waitrose sponsored ‘Food on 4’; a sponsorship that gave them the perfect vehicle to increase share of mind and frequency, as well as reaffirm their position as the authority on food. 

Sponsorship can be used to drive response. 

These days, brand activation is a more important part of the mix and the accessibility of response channels – especially online – means that consumers can respond or find out more much more easily than in previous eras. The result of all this is that we are getting increasing evidence that programme sponsorships can generate significant levels of consumer activity in themselves.

For example, Surf was a relatively small brand in a low interest category, but it used TV sponsorship to outshout its rivals. By sponsoring ITV2’s “The Only Way is Essex”, and maximising interest in the TOWIE characters to the full. This included TOWIE “star” Joey Essex launching a new limited edition of Surf D’reem which bottled the smell of summer. The campaign was amplified with Tweets from Joey Essex to his 1.5 million followers. It generated an additional £1.2 million in sales for the brand. 

(This campaign won Best use of TV Sponsorship & Content at the Thinkbox TV Planning Awards 2013)

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Thinkbox has explored the power of online as a response channel for TV in several research studies. This is creating shorter, more intuitive and effective consumer journeys, and the viewer is fully prepared to respond to the right ‘message’ or brand communication. Even programme sponsorships, which rarely even contain a call to action, are benefitting from this complementary relationship.

Sponsorship can be used to encourage reappraisal 

Some sponsors are looking to stand out quickly, and deliver a boost to their advertising during a key sales period. Some need to launch a product and arrive on the market with a bang. Either way, sponsorship can mean a reappraisal of the brand. 

All in all, there are quite a lot of things sponsorship can do for your brand, and you can find more examples of what roles it can play in our content partnerships overview and find examples in our case studies section.

Aside from your marketing aims, also consider timing and risk. TV programmes have a lifecycle. Some burn brightly for short periods of time, others display a more classic curve of growth, maturity and decline over a longer period (like many American comedy series). And some, of course, simply run and run. 

All of these factors, together with the expertise to be found at your Agencies and Media Owners, will determine the best option for you.  

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Creative work on screen 

The most crucial area to get right is on-screen credits. These are how the audience will judge the brand. They should engage the audience while bringing out a common value between product and programme, which gains credibility in the territory you want to occupy. It’s vital to make sure that the on screen work has enough time and investment to produce something you can be proud of. It should never be left until the last minute or unplanned within the budget. 

We’ve put together a section on how you can get the most from your TV sponsorship creative here. It’s a set of tips based on research insight.


Research Specialists and Media Owners provide bespoke solutions to each client. Many also have longer term tracking studies available. The basic challenge for any sponsorship is to isolate the sponsorship effect as far as possible from other activity that may be running in parallel. So we often test differences in attitude, awareness and likelihood to purchase among those who have seen the sponsorship (i.e. viewers to the programming) vs those who haven’t. This requires pre and post research and a mixture of qualitative and quantitative testing. Because you need to prove your money has been well spent, research planning can’t be an afterthought. Your objectives need to be clear and realistic from the outset. 

Although there’s plenty of evidence and a barrage of case studies (many here on the Thinkbox website) demonstrating the power and effectiveness of sponsorship, the Thinkbox research ‘TV sponsorship: a brand’s best friend’ demonstrated that the effects of sponsorship are felt most strongly on the emotional and implicit mind, which means that tradition explicit, recall-based methods of evaluation are destined to underestimate the true value of TV sponsorship.

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