Spain Blurs the Line Between Programs and Ads With Extended Telepromotions

Is Allowing Marketers Extra Time Exploiting a Legal Loophole?

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LONDON ( -- Spain is flouting European Union laws on maximum ad time by allowing telepromotions -- features that blur the boundaries between programming and advertising -- to air over and above the 12 minutes of commercial airtime that is legally permitted each hour.

Telepromotions masquerade as TV content while communicating clear commercial messages and are part of the marketing mix for major marketers including Procter & Gamble, Yoplait, Vodafone, Playtex and Unicef.

For the first 30 seconds of a telepromotion, the brand is not mentioned. Then the brand is brought into the content and the word "telepromotion" appears in the corner of the screen.

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As of Dec. 19, 2009, the EU allows 12 minutes of advertising per hour in member states. The Spanish government, however, has unilaterally added another two minutes for telepromotions, as well as five minutes for a TV channel's own self-promotion.

Originally the Spanish government wanted to allow a full 12 minutes of telepromotions, but thanks to lobbying by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the Associacion EspaƱola de Anunciantes (AEA), as well as pressure from the European Union, this has been reduced to two minutes. As part of the campaign, Spain's ad industry created a "Not another minute of TV advertising" website (

Spain has been hit hard by the recession, and there is an argument that more advertising means more consumption, and more money for TV stations. On the other hand, many industry professionals argue that too much advertising is counterproductive as well as illegal.

"Telepromotions are being used to exploit a legal loophole," said Stephan Loerke, managing director of the WFA. "This is an obvious breach of EU directives. I can see why they are doing it, because the Spanish economy is under pressure, but it's not in anyone's long-term interests."

Mr. Loerke added, "Too much advertising kills advertising and undermines its effectiveness. We have been lobbying the Spanish government with a wide coalition that includes advertisers, TV viewers and consumer groups."

Telepromotions vary in their creative execution. A recent example for Procter & Gamble's Gillette, created by BBDO, ties in with the brand's "to shave or not to shave" international campaign that humorously presents clean-shaven men as more appealing to women, and is a rare example of a telepromotion being consistent with the brand's wider message.

The telepromotion can be a useful format, suited to a product that needs more explanation than a traditional spot provides. P&G has also used them for the Venus female razor and for Gillette men's skin-care products.

Often, however, their content is second-rate. Alex Pallete, chief strategic officer at Lowe Group's Lola Madrid, said, "Normally [a telepromotion is] done by the TV channel and the agency is not involved. You see things that contradict the essence of the brand. The style of the show can overshadow the brand positioning and damage the brand."

Telepromotions are usually bought as part of a wider airtime deal. A TV station will try to maximize profits by producing a telepromotion as inexpensively as possible.

Even before the EU's Audio Visual Media Services directive came into effect Dec. 19, Spain was the subject of an infringement procedure, started in July 2007, for its refusal to include telepromotions in the hourly limit set by EU law.

In Italy, telepromotions are also part of the advertising landscape and are sold over and above the regulation 12 minutes of advertising space. However, because the Italian government has not pushed for as much telepromotion airtime as Spain, the issue isn't as controversial in Italy.

Alessandro Cedrone, deputy general manager of Publicis Roma, said, "Telepromotions are not second-rate, they are fourth-rate. They bring down the branding and are cheaply produced -- the longer a TV host talks about a product, the more harm they do."

However, Publicis Roma does sometimes create them. "The last one we did," Mr. Cedrone said, "was for a Playtex bra for women in their 50s, where the product features were more important than the product image."

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