Borrowing brands to create a brand: the commercial mediation of Paralympic athletes

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    In this paper I argue the need to cross disciplinary boundaries in order to understand how onscreen representations are produced within the newly emerging collaborative branding contexts of sports media production. Research has shown that, in 2012, there was a shift of perceptions towards disability and [dis]ability sport, that was triggered by Channel Four’s media coverage of the London Paralympic Games (Jackson et al. 2015). The success of that media coverage was then consolidated and built upon for Rio 2016, and has been attributed in huge part to the success of the marketing. However, brand associations were also carefully managed, crafting new meanings for disability sport and its sub-set of elite athletes. In this paper I will show that these new meanings were embedded into the mainstream television culture by collaborating with particular brands, borrowing from other brands and creating a new brand of para-athletes. It is perhaps common to assume that artistic creatives create content and that commercial advertisers and marketing teams promote that content. A key finding of my research, within this 2012 case-study, is that these roles and relationships were much more complex, and that interdisciplinary perspectives are needed to untangle marketing, branding and creative decision-making at the production level.
    Drawing on interviews with the key decision makers, conducted shortly after Channel Four’s historic 2012 Paralympic media coverage, my empirical material illuminates how the process of social change relied heavily on branded meanings. Alongside the unorthodox visual portrayals, partnerships with very familiar brands were felt to be necessary to help resonate normal feelings for the viewers and reinforce mainstream cultural acceptance. It wasn't enough to just change televisual representations of para-bodies and saturate the TV/online schedule with elite-style programming, the producers knew they needed to use the meanings associated with commodified brands to reassure the public as well. This marriage of marketing, creativity, sponsorship and sports production delivered a greater than normal social significance for the previously invisible group, thereby mitigating a history of social injustice and unfairness for them in the previously lacking media coverage.
    The shared use by media organisations of brand associations is an important dimension to consider for representation and production research more generally, as we continue to develop insights into the social-shaping and cultural dimensions of televised sport and the commercial mediation of para- sports bodies in particular. What this means for representation research is that brands, where borrowed or utilised by producers, have to be taken into account because they have values and emotions attached to them which affect meaning-making. My research, explored in this paper, is based on the articulated thoughts of cultural producers who sought to create particular representations through their production. The role of marketing and branding is well recognised across a range of disciplines, and exactly how their power is used to create meanings within this 2012 case-study, that trigger social change, especially within sports media production remains a critical one.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 24 May 2019
    Event69th Annual ICA Conference: Communication Beyond Boundaries - Washington Hilton, Washington DC, United States
    Duration: 24 May 201928 May 2019

    Academic conference

    Academic conference69th Annual ICA Conference
    Abbreviated title#ICA19
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityWashington DC
    Internet address


    • media production
    • representation
    • meaning making
    • branding
    • sport
    • Paralympic


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