Opinion: Hot issue - Do companies and their logos get too high a profile in Comic Relief?

Newspaper columnist Janet Street-Porter turned her back on Red Nose Day, saying BBC guidelines on commercial promotion were 'mysteriously relaxed'. Has Comic Relief gone too far this year in publicising corporate supporters?


This question raises plenty more about the transparency of Comic Relief and its deals with companies and the BBC.

First, when the BBC's integrity is under savage attack from other media and Number 10, should it undermine its own credibility by easing its usually tight guidelines about brand names on air?

Second, does leveraging TV exposure into commercial income give Comic Relief a vital and unfair advantage over other causes that are trying to raise funds in such a tight market?

Third, do companies pay enough for their TV plugs? Beyond percentages and donations, is there an up-front fee for association with the Red Nose 'brand', plus a further up-front fee for guaranteed TV coverage?

Finally, given the business roles of many of its well-known names, from ad campaigns to film deals, should Comic Relief be far more transparent about its commercial income to avoid any hint of conflicts of interest?

Details of its commercial agreements are not freely available - the best place would be the TV show - and its annual report, which should give the full figures for its income from sponsorship and sales, cannot be found on its website. Why not?


BT is a long-term supporter of Comic Relief, working with the charity since its inception and supporting both Red Nose Day and Sport Relief.

We are a key partner, providing the telephony, network management, call centres, volunteers and online back-up, as well as undertaking cause-related marketing activities, other fundraising and promotional activities. We are proud to support Comic Relief as part of our CSR activities, specifically our charity strategy, directly using our core skills and expertise to help the charity raise vital funds for the most needy in society. Our stakeholders confirm that this is an area we should support, and we seek to communicate and engage with them. Publicity and recognition by the charity is part of this communication and is critical, given that our support is not always tangible and very visible.

The company invests huge levels of resources and time in supporting Comic Relief - planning starts at least six months before an appeal. We are in constant dialogue with the charity to identify every opportunity to offer further support. Given this huge commitment by the company, at no cost to the charity, we believe in appropriate recognition that benefits both parties.


Following an approach from Comic Relief, HMV took it upon itself to underwrite and oversee the manufacture and distribution of the Little Britain Comic Relief Special DVD. The title sells for £4.99, with at least £3.40 going to this year's Red Nose Day appeal. To date, well over 400,000 copies have been sold through HMV stores, generating the best part of £1.5m for the charity.

Our priority throughout this campaign has been to generate as much consumer awareness of the DVD as possible in order to maximise sales and raise as much as we can for Comic Relief. If we picked up any brand coverage along the way, that's been a nice additional benefit, but it's not something we set out to achieve. Certainly, in our dealings with Comic Relief, the charity made it clear that any references to the brand had to be limited and appropriate.

During the broadcast of Comic Relief, we received just two mentions: first when it was being made clear where viewers could buy the title; second, when HMV was flagged on-screen on one occasion. That was it. So, no, I don't think HMV achieved too high a profile on Comic Relief, but the people in need of our help did - surely that's all that counts, whatever some cynical journalists might think.


BBC guidelines are important, and there must be some consistency in the amount of branding they allow to appear on the screen.

However, lots of organisations look to the BBC for support, and issues in the UK and abroad are brought to the attention of the public when perhaps they would not normally be.

If there was an explicit relaxation of the BBC's guidelines, if it were to publicly recognise the need for change and the need to be pragmatic on occasions like this, an exception could be made for the benefit of charitable causes. Honesty and transparency are extremely important. Unless charities and the BBC are clear about where the boundaries lie, companies will take advantage. They will be cheeky and inventive in an effort to get their brands noticed. Organisations need to regulate and make clear what is acceptable.

The public are very smart. They have a collective and natural sense of what is reasonable. If companies go too far, the public will punish them and turn their back on the brand. They are capable of recognising what is right and what is in good taste.

- Comic Relief declined to take part in this Hot issue.

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