17 March 2007

Double standards at the ABC (Anti-Brand Corporation)

It's been a standing joke for years on the Coodabeen Champions' shows on ABC Radio: the ABC (so the apparent justification goes) is a Government broadcaster and doesn't carry advertising, so no brand names can be mentioned on-air. Of course, it's almost impossible to discuss modern life without reference to brands, so the Coodabeens have become experts at creating elaborate and humorous euphemisms to get around this restriction. In so doing, they clearly illustrate how ridiculous the policy is.

It seemed rather less ridiculous and a lot more bizarre when I was approached last year by ABC Local Radio to do an interview with Helen Razer about whether too much choice makes consumers unhappy (see this earlier blog entry). I was expressly cautioned by the producer not to mention any brand names! Asking a marketer to discuss consumer behaviour and decision-making without mentioning brands is like asking a football commentator not to mention the teams or the players.

But the inconsistency and hypocrisy of this policy was never more obvious than in today's 9 am news bulletin on ABC Local Radio in Melbourne. Back-to-back items referred to (1) the final of the AFL "pre-season cup" to be held "at Docklands" tonight and (2) the relative performances of the Ferrari and Red Bull teams in practice sessions yesterday for the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix.

How can it be inappropriate or unacceptable for the ABC to say "NAB Cup" and "Telstra Dome" but perfectly OK to say "Ferrari" and "Red Bull" in the next breath?

It's a no-brainer that participation by a company like Red Bull in motor racing is entirely about brand positioning. It follows, therefore, that every single mention of the Red Bull racing team on the ABC over the course of the Grand Prix "festival" is a piece of marketing communications initiated by the brand owner. Significant and undeniable mass-market brand positioning objectives also underlie the participation of car makers like Honda, Toyota, BMW, Renault and even Ferrari.

And then ABC motor sports commentator Will Hagon - current holder of the world record for irrelevant, self-aggrandising name-dropping - will spend hours of airtime on "our ABC" rabbiting on about Bridgestone and Michelin tyres and Zylon anti-penetration panels (both trade marks, naturally).

Of course, names like AFL and Formula 1 are themselves highly-protected trade marks and commercial properties. So why aren't ABC announcers instructed to refer instead to "the national Australian Rules football competition" or "the elite international motor sport event being held at Albert Park"?

And, yes, I said "hypocrisy". Consider the ABC's own brands and commercial activities (while it may be "not-for-profit", it most certainly has commercial operations). The national broadcaster (see - I'm not using a brand name) has spawned a number of immensely successful brands: The Wiggles, PlaySchool, Triple J, the Hottest 100, Gardening Australia and The ABC Shop are just a few examples of brands from which the ABC earns revenue directly and through licensing agreements. Every mention of those lovable Bananas in Pyjamas on ABC TV, Radio or websites helps drive profits for a variety of commercial entities that pay the ABC to use the images of B1, B2 and Rat In A Hat.

Don't let's forget that the ABC also does tremendously well out of leveraging the equity of many other brands, both in terms of its programming and via sales through ABC stores: think Little Britain, SeaChange, Planet Earth, etc.

It's time we called things what they really are - let's name names. The bottom line (whoops, that's a bit commercial, isn't it?) is that the ABC's "policy" amounts to arbitrary censorship - it's applied inconsistently and unfairly, and it's entirely unworkable, unnecessary and unwelcome.

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