Why Government partnership marketing schemes are in the ascendancy

LONDON - The practice of brand-backed public information campaigns is on the rise.

On first inspection it sounds like a marketing match made in hell: stuffy government departments partnering with irresponsible, scandal-riven corporate brands in the name of public information campaigns. 

Yet this form of marketing is rising in popularity with both parties. A plethora of brands has signed up to support the government's anti-obesity drive, Change4Life.

Meanwhile, last month, Fiona Seymour, head of marketing at the Department for Transport, made a direct appeal to car marketers to drive awareness of its energy-labelling system in their dealerships under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Act On CO2 banner.

So what is the attraction for public and private sector marketers? According to Jane Asscher, managing partner at marketing agency 23Red, the motivation for government marketers is quite simple - campaign messages need to be received when consumers are at their most receptive. 'Government is often responsible for the development of a campaign, but not delivering it at grass roots, because it does not have a strong enough voice at the point of purchase and consumption,' she says.

The public sector is also only too aware of its perception problems among consumers, according to Steve Bell, chief executive at partnership marketing specialist Iris. 'The government is keen to borrow the trust that brands have with the customer, and exploit where brands have an influence over the target audience,' he says.

Motivations are far more convoluted on the brand side, however. Rupert Howell, managing director of brand and commercial at ITV, has given a promise that the broadcaster will support the Change4Life campaign to the tune of £40m over four years. Its first programme in support of the activity, The Feelgood Factor, screened on ITV1 last weekend.

'Rather than being seen as part of the problem, brands want to be seen as part of the solution,' says Howell. 'It is all about the power of collective efforts. If you get together, you might have the desired effect. But there is more to this than just corporate social responsibility - if people live longer then they are worth more to brands.'

 Practical considerations

Yet there are more pragmatic reasons for brands to keep close to government campaigns. Marketing recently revealed that major drinks companies such as Diageo and Bacardi Brown-Forman have conspired with Gordon Brown to roll out a national campaign, dubbed Project 10, with the aim of making binge-drinking socially unacceptable among young people. 

Project 10 is the latest in a series of drink awareness campaigns from the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Drinkaware Trust. Michael Thompson, head of communication at the Portman Group, says it is vital the industry is involved in such marketing initiatives to steer them in the right direction.

'We meet regularly with the government to make sure that what the industry is doing fits with their strategies,' says Thompson. 'Brands can help to amplify government messages, and the language we can use may cut through better than the more authoritarian tone of government ads.'

Furthermore, many brands will see joint marketing initiatives as an opportunity to directly lobby ministers. However, Alan McLaughlin, communications manager at Centrica, who worked at Tesco at the time of its sponsorship of the Millennium Dome, warns brands to forget about winning favour from the government.

'If you do a government project to curry favour, you're doing it for the wrong reasons,' he says. 'People like to think companies can gain in other ways from these partnerships, but they're wrong. You simply need to work out whether this campaign is relevant to the brand, or you're just chucking money at it for no reason.'

Moreover, if the chequered launch of the Dome proved anything, it was that marketers should be sure they know what they are signing up to first. The closer brands can get to government to help shape the campaign, the better it will be for them in the long term.

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