27 March 2007

Letter to Friends of the ABC re brand names

To: Glenys Stradijot
Friends of the ABC, Victoria

Dear Glenys

Thanks for your thoughtful response to my piece in Crikey re ABC and brand names. Believe it or not, I am a "friend" (with a lower case "f") of the ABC, a regular ABC viewer, listener and contributor (both formally and informally as a talkback caller on radio). I would be grateful if you could share my thoughts in reply with your members – I would be interested to hear what they think.

I’m sure you are correct that a sizeable section of the Australian community supports the principle of keeping the ABC free of advertising. But you are also right when you note that, in an era of what I would call "integrated marketing communications", the distinctions between advertising and other forms of promotion are increasingly blurred. And that’s precisely what makes the ABC’s current practice look so ridiculous.

Leaving aside the Grand Prix (which simply wouldn’t exist without commercial motives), in a week where ABC announcers were not allowed to say that Tasmania had won the "Pura Cup", this "citizen" encountered the following on ABC radio, TV and internet channels:

• ABC radio business news items featuring commentary by "stock market analysts" from Goldman Sachs JB Were and "currency strategists" from Macquarie Bank and ANZ Investment Bank;
• Several minutes of TV footage and dozens of web images showing sponsors’ logos (Ford, Emirates, HSBC, Vodafone, QBE, LG, etc.) on sporting jerseys and boundary line signage across multiple sporting codes;
• Numerous interviews with visiting actors, authors and musicians, all with a commercial property of some sort to promote, like singer-guitarist Tony Joe White, whose latest album we were told "is released by Warner Music" which no doubt sponsored his tour and the limo to Southbank for the interview;
• News items – on radio and online – reporting on a poll conducted and publicised by AC Nielsen – a commercial market research company – showing that 59 per cent of Australians are opposed to the "WorkChoices" industrial relations legislation (a name for which three separate Trade Marks have been applied by the Commonwealth);
• A cerebral palsy fundraiser to be held "at Riverside at Crown", which begs the question of whether mention of a commercial property like Crown is OK when it’s for charity?
• etc.

None of these constitutes "advertising" on the ABC. That is, in none of these cases did the commercial entity pay money to the ABC in exchange for airtime, so the national broadcaster’s conscience can remain clear. Neither, to my knowledge, does National Foods Limited attempt to pay the ABC to say "Pura Cup". Yet, in every one of these instances, there is a clear underlying marketing communications objective to the provision of expert commentary, the availability of a guest for interview or the sponsorship of a charity or community event by a commercial entity. It’s a simple question that I’m asking: Why should AC Nielsen – which benefits commercially from every mention of its name in a credible news service like the ABC’s and no doubt calculates a dollar value for every column inch or second of airtime such a poll generates – be entitled to acknowledgment by our national broadcaster when Telstra and Pura are not?

It’s highly likely that many of the concerned citizens that your organisation represents also support the principle of freedom of speech and are opposed to censorship, especially when it’s arbitrary and not transparent. Unless FABC has a better classification system than I do (and I teach marketing communications to postgraduate students) and you can mount a rational argument as to which of these cases deserve to get to air and which don’t, then I reiterate that refusing ABC announcers permission to say "Telstra Dome" or "Vodafone Arena" is not only unworkable but is a form of censorship of our national broadcaster and hence should be regarded as unconscionable.

Stephen Downes

No comments: