When firms sponsor programmes, they think it's more than just a plug: they want us to feel good about them
what price Pamela Anderson? Well, pounds 750,000 if you're Wella ShockWaves, television sponsor of the new series of Baywatch. It's the perfect match, the company claims: a glorious marriage between a youthful brand that's "all about attitude and style" and a top-rating programme featuring lashings of sun, sand and sea.

Wella is the latest in a growing list of companies to acknowledge the value of broadcast sponsorship. From a standing start just five years ago, television sponsorship is now big business: generating pounds 40 million for British broadcasters last year. "The attraction is that you are trading on the loyalties and value people place on a particular programme," explains Blair Krempel, managing director of the sponsorship consultancy Sponsorvision: "You are buying their loyalty and appreciation."

Broadcast sponsorship involves an advertiser paying for the privilege of associating itself with a top-rating show. It's not advertising in the traditional sense: sponsorship is more about conveying the personality of a brand. Research shows that viewers respond positively to companies which sponsor their favourite show. While traditional advertising is designed to get consumers to buy brand X, sponsorship is more likely to make them feel good about it and come back for more.

It is also good for the television companies and their programmes. When Heineken sponsored ITV's coverage of the Rugby World Cup, ITV enjoyed branding on six million cans of beer. And through Kellogg's Frosties' sponsorship of Gladiators, the programme is plugged on the packet thereby securing a daily presence on thousands of the nation's breakfast tables.

Sponsors want popular programmes with qualities akin to their brands' values. So Beamish Stout associated itself with the dogged Inspector Morse and Tetley Tea opted for the family glow engendered by The Darling Buds of May. "Baywatch has a phenomenal audience and youth focus which matches our own. It's also aspirational," explains Wella category manager Marian Conn.

Finding the perfect match is essential, says Martin Lowde, sponsorship manager at Granada/LWT. "Viewers are looking for the fit; if they can't find it it's a problem." That was the case with AEG's sponsorship of murder mystery series Poirot. Few could see an obvious link between the great French detective and fridge freezers, although AEG thought it logical to be associated with quality drama. In contrast, Commercial Union's pounds 1 million sponsorship of London's Burning makes "perfect sense".

Getting the right fit is as important for the broadcaster, Lowde adds: "We'd rather choose to have no sponsorship for a programme than risk upsetting the viewer." When Peak Practice was sponsored by the medical insurer PPP, some viewers felt the close association between the medical storylines and the sponsor's product was inappropriate. The sponsorship was not repeated.

Sponsorship now occurs on all commercial channels. ITV accounts for some 75 per cent of the UK's television sponsorship; Channel 4 and Sky Television equally share the remainder. That's because sponsorship is priced according to the audience a sponsored programme will attract. Also, although all are bound by the ITC sponsorship code, Channel 4 imposes its own, tighter restrictions. Sky adopts a more liberal approach, which is why although it has fewer viewers its share of sponsorship matches Channel 4.

ITV traditionally seeks sponsorship after a programme has been made. No money raised through sponsorship goes into that sponsored programme. Nor does the sponsor have any say over editorial content. Instead, the sponsor buys the right to be associated with the show, both on and off- air.

Each ITV company has a "wish list" of shows available to sponsors. But they also respond to advertisers' requests, which can include suggestions for new series with which advertisers might want to become associated. ITV is responsive, Lowde adds, "so long as editorial integrity is not compromised".

That's what happened with Raise the Roof, a new quiz show sponsored by the Daily and Sunday Express. National newspaper sponsorship of peak-time quiz shows has become big business as publishers recognise the value of developing television-themed gamecard promotions for their readers. So, The Price Is Right was sponsored by the Sun, You Bet by the Daily Mirror and Wheel of Fortune by Today. However, demand soon outstripped supply, which is why Express Newspapers put money into the development of Raise the Roof in return for first refusal on sponsorship rights. But the cost of sponsorship is rising.

When potential game show sponsors were approached earlier this year they were invited to enter an auction. That's unusual, Lowde claims: "Rarely is there more than one appropriate sponsor for a particular show." The cost to the sponsor depends on the programme's popularity. Inspector Morse cost pounds 750,000 in 1992. The Darling Buds of May, sponsored by Tetley at around the same time, cost pounds 1.2m. Meanwhile, Coronation Street, for which ITV is yet to find a sponsor, comes with a pounds 10m price tag.

The most effective sponsorships are part of a marketing package. Promotions, themed competitions and point- of-sale displays are just some of the ways programmes are being exploited.

Commercial Union recently paid pounds 1m to sponsor London's Burning. The company, which claims in its advertising "We don't make a drama out of a crisis" has also invested in a portfolio of autumn marketing, using regional ITV studios and incorporating storylines from the series into a PR campaign.

Future growth in sponsorship is likely to be fuelled by the further relaxation of the ITC code. At present, restrictions ban sponsorship of news and current affairs. No company associated with the subject of "how to" programmes can sponsor that programme. No product can feature in the credit which must not carry the sponsor's advertising sloganNor can a sponsor's products be given undue prominence within the show.

However, some see further relaxation as essential. With broadcasters' funds under growing pressure, advertisers could provide extra programme funding. Others believe the existing sponsorship code gives sponsors sufficient flexibility if they think creatively.

Sponsorvision recently negotiated BT's sponsorship of This Morning. The sponsorship fits with BT's "It's good to talk" campaign. However, BT cannot say this in its sponsorship credit unless the phrase is a registered trademark. BT is now applying to register the phrase under new trademark law.