When was the last time you heard anything about Frank Lowe-inspired Red Brick Road – you know, the Tesco agency? I thought so: when it lost its only other account of note, the global Heineken business, to BBH a few months back.
Finally, something to cheer up adland: the hunting season is about to reopen. The advertising regulator has just announced it is seeking to abolish 9pm watershed restrictions on TV condom advertising; and may also permit pro-abortion ads for the first time.
Result: hysterical consternation among Catholic and anti-abortion groups. But what do admen care about that? This new development can only mean one thing: some frenzied pitching – at last! – all in the worthy cause of cutting teenage pregnancies.
The controversy has been stirred by an outline proposal from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which have decided to review the current advertising rules. We can now expect almost round-the-clock condom advertising – the exception being when programmes are aimed at children under 10. So not during Horrid Henry but straight after GMTV. It’s all part of a review of advertising codes which is being put out for public consultation. The scrutiny closes on July 19th.
Currently condoms cannot be advertised on Channel 4 before 7pm and on other channels before 9pm. But the soaring growth of teenage pregnancies has prompted calls for change. (Hands up, by the way, anyone who can remember a condom ad on telly, even after the watershed? I thought so: the manufacturers clearly don’t see TV advertising as the way forward.)
Not surprisingly, there has been more outraged opposition than support for these controversial proposals. More particularly for the one that would allow abortion clinics to advertise on TV. The ever-entertaining Tory MP and blogger Nadine Dorries has already registered her disgust. It’s “just plain sick”, she says.
Maybe it’s just reverse psychology. That harassed, careworn fisog is so traced with the parchment lines of gloomy cynicism that, in a curious way, its every appearance on the box acts like an antidote to depression (or rather, since we’re talking business here, Depression). Search me for any other convincing reason that explains the charmed life of The Apprentice.
Who really calls the shots at a successful advertising agency, the top suits or the creative supremo? It’s a tired old saw which received new stimulus earlier this year at an IPA Client Services debate featuring Robert Senior, ceo SSF Group, and Ed Morris, recently departed executive creative director at Lowe.
The result was a foregone conclusion. Senior flattered to deceive by exalting creative excellence as “the fuel without which the bus goes nowhere.” Leaving Morris to argue the lame pedestrian virtues of the account man as “grand orchestrator between creativity and commerce.” The vote? Er, 44 to 6 in Senior’s favour.
But wait just a moment. Doesn’t history tell us something entirely different, and isn’t Mr Senior the living embodiment of this alternative truth?
I call to witness none other than Garry Lace, one of London’s most consummate suits. Lace it was who first highlighted an increasingly bizarre phenomenon in creative agencies: the wilful decision to dispense with chief executives and entrust agency management to the precarious hands of creatives, planners and the like.
For Lace, of course, this unfortunate trend has the poignancy of a parable – with himself cast in the role of Jesus Christ. Look what happened to Lowe after I left, he might say: a creative (Morris) and a planner (Rebecca Morgan) have presided over its ruin. And now just a planner…
Strictly speaking, that’s being a bit economical with the truth. Lace’s flamboyance was his own undoing; and besides, there was Amanda Walsh in between.
But in a wider sense, he has a point. Euro RSCG, which has recently dispensed with the services of its chief executive, Mark Cadman, seems embarked on the same path of self-destruction – led by a planner (Russ Lidstone) and a creative (Mark Hunter).
Self-serving though these words of Lace may partly be, I feel I ought to quote them in full. “I’ve always worked on the assumption that companies need a leader” he says. “That person for whom people will work harder and care more because they are able to construct a vision for the business based on experience and instinct and articulate it in a powerful and motivating way. That person who proves to be a magnet for talent and clients alike and for whom nothing is impossible.”
Lace may yet get an opportunity to prove his point. He has been languishing recently as managing director and part share-holder of Admedia the “out-of-home” (read toilet advertising) specialist. But rumour is the strangest thing. It has thrown him into a start-up venture with Robert Campbell, former creative powerhouse of RKCR and current co-founder with ex-Times man Toby Constantine of tgi50, a website portal aimed at the ‘just over’ 50s.
Even stranger is another rumour: the one that links Mark Cadman with … Ed Morris, in a similar venture. If either of these ventures gets going, maybe we’ll be a little closer to the truth. Who really does rule at an ad agency, the suit, or the creative?
Phew! The drinks industry and the supermarkets can breathe a sigh of relief – for the moment. Gordon Brown has cracked down sharply on the suggestion made by his influential chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, that any alcoholic drink should cost a minimum of 50p.
Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay, he chortled in his joy. As well the knight of Farm Street might when he received news that WPP had wrested back Vodafone’s strategic creative account, which had embarrassingly eluded his clutches for the past 3 years.