Opinion: It's a poorer world if everything has a price

In my local market town, there's something rather endearing about the way in which flower-bedecked mini-roundabouts are named after local hairdressers and butchers. But I'm not so sure I would feel the same way about London landmarks such as Speakers' Corner and the Serpentine being associated with multinational fast food chains or airlines.

In reality the difference is only one of scale - although ducks are on offer for a snip at £25 - but the announcement by the Royal Parks Foundation that its parks, trees and even deckchairs are now open for business seems pretty shabby. Admittedly the move hasn't been driven by greed, but rather a freeze on government funds that has left Royal Parks needing £50m for maintenance and new projects.

The foundation has said that everything is potentially up for sponsorship, but the line has been drawn at the Albert Memorial, the memorial gate for the Queen Mother and Diana Memorial Fountain. Which is a missed opportunity, really. If you are going to go down this route, the Diana memorial would probably solve half its problems in one go.

But where will it all end? Will one day everything be open to brand association? Obviously the boundaries have already broken down regarding inanimate and animate objects - we have had branded cows, footballers and now ducks. But however pressing today's financial imperatives may be, we need to consider the long-term impact on the effectiveness of sponsorship if every facet of public experience becomes associated with a brand.

Ducks aside, the opportunities for sponsorship have never been greater and media convergence has even removed the taboos associated with branded programming. The increasing fragmentation of the media and emergence of highly specialised digital and IPTV channels (television delivered over the internet) enable far greater targeting of sponsorship spend than when the airwaves were dominated by a few monolithic channels. And now, 3G TV-to-phone services delivered by networks such as Orange create an even greater market, not only for sponsored television content, but also brand-driven TV content for a highly targeted marketplace.

The real question is who will be best placed to profit from all this expansion. To date, public relations has played a crucial role in terms of sponsorship exploitation, but now PROs are urgently needed to act as the voice of reason when it comes to negotiating opportunities. Everything must not necessarily go.

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