Aviva has breached media regulator Ofcom’s broadcasting code which says companies sponsoring programmes must not include advertising messages in their credits.
The breach is in relation to two episodes of Downton Abbey, which were sponsored by Aviva Income Protection and aired on September 18 and 25, 2011.
The rules, which were created as a result of an EU directive, state programme sponsorship is different from adverts and must not contain “advertising messages or calls to action”. The rules also state “credits must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party”.
Aviva’s sponsorship credits involve a character called Gary. Each credit throughout the episode developed the story of Gary’s motorbike accident, his recovery, his inability to return to work and his decision to re-train for a new career.
One of the sponsorship credits saw Gary sitting with his wife on a sofa, reading a document. When his wife asks “what are you doing now?”, Gary replies: “It’s my insurance policy. I think I am still covered if I do that course.”
Ofcom argued the credit appeared to refer to a benefit of the sponsor’s income protection policy. Channel Television, which is responsible for the compliance of the series for ITV, has since removed the line “It is my insurance policy” and on-screen text has been amended to read: “Aviva sponsors drama premieres”.
However, Ofcom ruled that even though the line “It is not my insurance policy” and the words income protection have been removed for episodes broadcast on October 2, 9, 16 and 23, it was still clear that the character was referring to an insurance policy that covered him if he undertook the training course.
The Aviva campaign has been widely praised by advisers for getting the general public to focus on the need to protect themselves and their families.
Ofcom says no further action will be taken.
Aviva UK head of brand Sue Helmont says: “It is always our intention to comply with the guidelines and we are disappointed that Ofcom feels that we have fallen on the wrong side of the line this time. A new set of films are scheduled to go on air this Thursday, December 8 and, as always, we have worked closely with ITV to ensure that they meet regulatory rules.”