Thursday 29 August 2013

Are the sensible people at OFCOM on holiday?

I am unsure whom exactly OFCOM feel they are protecting by demanding the following sponsor line needs a ‘with’ in it to be compliant.

“Ambur Radio in Walsall has been found in breach of thebroadcasting code for not associating a weather sponsor with the weather clearly enough.

Sponsorship rules say it must be obvious that a client has sponsored a particular feature, by using the word “with” or “brought to you by” or “sponsored by” but in this instance, the station had the following:
Pre-recorded voice 1: “Ambur Radio Weather.”
Pre-recorded voice 2: “Attention all drivers, if you’ve had an accident, call One Call today, on [telephone number].”
Presenter (live): “The weather forecast on 103.6 FM Ambur Radio. Cold and mainly dry with strong easterly winds……”
Ofcom said, after a listener complained about it, that the announcement did not clarify that Ambur had a sponsorship agreement with One Call.

Who complained? I suspect someone with an atypical interest in this matter, for whatever reason.  That’s fine: it’s their right.  But one imagines they knew it was a commercial message, otherwise they would not quite have known about what to complain.

When a brand appears out of nowhere in a commercial radio context, listeners know what it is and why it is there, not least when it's delivered by a separate VO. It does not need a gold frame.  Transparency and distinction are wise tenets in the OFCOM Code and sustained through regulation of commercial communications generally; but listeners know what is advertising and what is not. 

When people see a sponsor logo on a commercial poster for an event, they are perfectly well aware what the relationship is, without any lengthy narrative.

It is suggested that listeners infer ‘commercial’ from “our friends at”. That phrase was a generous solution to help us get where we need to be in a changing world, and we thank OFCOM for it, it.  In fairness, though, it signifies diddly squat. I’ve seen no evidence that it tells a listener any more than  they can already gather.  Actually, it might even suggest the opposite of what is intended.  I have many friends who are not clients.

Long ago, the regulator quietly and wisely gave up on 'gaps' and 'jingles into breaks' to herald advertising because they presumably acknowledged that most listeners are capable of identifying what is a commercial message and what is not. We move merrily straight now from a presenter to an ad. Just as Ambur moved from a weather anno to a sponsor line and back again.

Listeners know when a presenter is talking freely about a personal experience with a commercial brand, and when money is changing hands.

Commercial radio stations now weave in and out of commercial messaging, commercial breaks, newslink ads, and sponsored material all the time. Had the offending words been just three words before, preceding the weather ident and at the end of the ads, this presumably would have been fine.  Only OFCOM executives understand the difference. And, as for a station name as the ‘separator', well station names are now often routinely part of commercial material.

The detail of the OFCOM Code is a useful thing. But probably not for listeners. They are unlikely to print off a copy and carry it on the bus with them lest they need to refer to it.  The might wisely print off a copy on firm card and use as shelter from the rain. They are likely blissfully unaware of the issue here.  And they are wholly aware that the sudden burst of commercial mention is exactly that. They are not thick.

I am not sure how many regulators have sat in focus groups with real listeners, and asked them about recall of material. Some struggle to recall something which has been on-air for five years.  They love what they love; recall what they like or hate; they zone in to what they are interested in, and zone out to what they are not.  RAB research suggests just that.  They perfectly understand what is relevant to them and what is important.  

They will neither know nor care whether this client was a 'friend' - or an enemy; and what words were used.  But when they recall that client's name, and I hope they do, I'll wager they know it's one of those commercial sponsor things; rather than some poppet popping up for no discernible reason to enthuse about his genuine love of a company.

That's why the smallprint at the end of so many ads is similarly futile and does not serve the listener. It simply protects the advertiser.

In every piece of research I have ever seen, listeners feel Radio 1 has too many adverts. I think I can guess why, but maybe OFCOM should act to correct this by sung idents chorusing: 'the following is not an ad'.  Just to make clear.  I’ll call Wise Buddah now.

If one were to ask listeners what they cared about, I suspect this issue would be low on the list of priorities. I suspect if you were to ask citizens about what they care about in their day to day lives generally, they would be rather more concerned about a whole host of life and death issues.

Regulators get little praise and lots of criticism. OFCOM, generally, deserves loud applause; it certainly contrasts well with other regulators with which we deal in our radio lives.  In radio, we should be grateful to enjoy a principal regulator which has, frankly, been utterly sensible about Code revisions and understanding a changing radio world.  That’s why this judgment surprises me.  ‘Resolved’ would have been a better verdict, if they had to trouble looking into it at all. I suggest listeners would wish them to spend their time agonising about more important things.


  1. I think it was a scam in air through radio. They definitely might be having some contract with the One Call company.

    Arnold Brame
    Health And Safety Training Peterborough

  2. Indeed, they are 'having some contract'. A wholly legitimate one. My point exactly!

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