Red or Black deal may hurt Ant and Dec

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The Independent Online

When Ant and Dec return to TV screens this month with their Red or Black game show, it's not just the contestants who will be tempted by the offer of easy money.

Red or Black has a new sponsor – the short-term loan company Wonga, which is said to be paying £1m to hook its brand to the series. But Wonga is a controversial companion for the perky presenters and when the deal was announced protesters took to Twitter to condemn Ant and Dec for cosying up to "loan sharks".

Labour MP Stella Creasy called on Ant and Dec to reject the Wonga sponsorship, asking whether the Wonga association was really "appropriate for family favs like you".

It's naive to think that Ant and Dec have a hand in deciding which brands sign up to sponsor their show; they don't. The sponsorship deal is negotiated by ITV and, anyway, Wonga is a perfectly legal company, fully entitled to advertise its services, including through sponsorship.

But this isn't the first time that Wonga has found its commercial activities under attack. When the company sponsored free New Year's Eve travel for London commuters a couple of years ago, Transport For London was forced to review its sponsorship policy.

The problem, as some see it, is that Wonga encourages vulnerable people to take on debt at crippling interest rates, compounding cash-strapped consumers' financial problems. The suggestion is that vulnerable consumers are more likely to be lured into debt because they see some implicit endorsement of payday loans by loveable Ant and Dec or responsible, civic TfL.

The Twitter outcry against Wonga is testament to the powerful associations brands can win through sponsorship. But although sponsorship can align a brand more closely with a TV show than an ad in a commercial break, it still sits outside the editorial environment. Nothing to do with Ant and Dec you could argue.

Still, the real issue here is that both ITV, And and Dec's management and Wonga itself could have anticipated there would be some backlash, and had a more effective social media strategy in place to address it. As the nation's favourite cheeky chaps, Ant and Dec might be the real losers if the Wonga criticism mounts.