Love Island returned to our screens last week, sweeping the nation with 3.7 million people tuning in for the first episode – viewed to be a resounding success. Brands in their swathes have been eager to align with the show, including Uber Eats sponsoring the show for £5m, and Superdrug, Ministry of Sound, Jet2Holidays and Samsung all partnering with the ITV2 hit. Clearly the show has tremendous reach, and a cult-like following, but could there be a risk for brands aligning with the show?

Love Island has faced recent criticism around the amount of mental health support available for contestants upon leaving the show. Two former contestants, Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon, both took their own lives. For some, this has raised debates around ITV’s support for contestants after filming ends, and has served to shift public opinion of the show. This debate is concurrent with the halt of long-running ITV show Jeremy Kyle due to an incident on May 9th, which was said to have some parallels with the Love Island debate. The show was immediately cancelled, unfortunately leaving Love Island open to criticism from some quarters for not suffering the same fate. Others have argued that there are many external factors that could be to blame for these tragic events and it is unfair to place all blame on the men and women working on the show. Furthermore, ITV have recently announced that contestants will receive at least eight therapy sessions after leaving the show, so have actively responded to the call to increase aftercare.

The feel-good reality show has also faced scrutiny stemming from the issue of representation on the show. This surrounds the absence of body diversity within the show and the perpetuation of heteronormative ideals. Despite the creative director’s claim that he just “wants them to be attracted to one another” and that including same-sex couples would “take something away from the format” according to ITV boss Paul Mortimer; perceived lack of representation on such a wide scale with the attention of 57% of 16-34s around the UK has been deemed by some as irresponsible and non-inclusive.

A recent study by Sprout found that 65% of consumers thought it was important for brands to take a stand on social or political issues. Given this, could brands be opening themselves up to the same criticism as Love Island and ITV by association? Unilever has run extensive campaigns for their Dove brand to hero body positivity and inclusivity, yet another in their stable, VO5, is the official hair partner of the show. Is it disingenuous for them to wax lyrical about diversity while supporting Love Island? Or is it less important for a house of brands to keep a red thread throughout their comms, as their portfolio have different priorities?
When all is said and done, 80,000 people were reported to have signed up for the fifth season of the show, and brands have found themselves a rare opportunity for mass awareness amongst this hard-to-reach audience. And so at this time they have more to gain from aligning with the show than they have to lose by opening themselves up to criticism. The scales are tipped in their favour, but it’s a delicate balancing act.

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