Advertisements
 

Epica Awards give boost to France – and WPP

November 29, 2010

This year’s Epica creative advertising awards – the 24th in the series – sprang some interesting surprises. France was the lead country – both in the number of winners and total awards – for the first time since 2004. WPP’s Y&R was deemed the most creative agency group – far outdistancing the usual competition from the Omnicom Group. And one of the top winners was an iPhone app.

As one of the 26 trade journal editors drawn from across Europe to judge these awards (exceptionally, the winners are not decided by a jury of creatives) I can testify that recovery is definitely on its way – entries were up 10% this year to over 3,000. But it’s a patchy recovery. The year that has seen France emerge from a creative wilderness is also the year in which one of its two principal advertising trade magazines, CB News – founded by the legendary Christian Blachas, has gone into administration. Elsewhere, the quality of print work (at least, in my opinion) has improved after a long decline; by contrast this was not a vintage year for the television and cinema commercial.

A sign of the times was the ‘Streetmuseum’ iPhone’s app – devised by Brothers & Sisters for the Museum of London– bagging one of the competition’s top four prizes, the Epica d’Or for interactivity. With a museum as client, it was always likely to be a low-budget affair, but what good use it made of that budget. The app artfully exploits sized-to-fit historic photographs as overlays on present-day Google street-map technology to give a vivid impression of London’s past whenever a visitor looked up a landmark on his iPhone. The app shot up to 19th most popular free download and, so the museum reckons, has trebled the number of its visitors.

In the hotly contested film section (TV and cinema commercials) the winner was the somewhat controversial ‘Dot’ created by Wieden & Kennedy London and Aardman Animations for Nokia N8, a smartphone. As a piece of low-budget film-making it’s masterly and involving. On brief too: Nokia has fallen behind in our perception of a desirable smartphone brand and this film, which uses CellScope technology on a bog-standard phone to achieve a remarkable piece of micro-animation, helps to redress the balance. It is one of a series that highlights Nokia’s technical competence in the smartphone arena. The (admittedly non-creative) question mark is: how much of a media budget was spent on disseminating the message? In other words, how many people have seen it?

Stacked up against ‘Dot’ in the final heat was Fred & Farid’s bizarrely amusing ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ TV and cinema ad for Orangina. A series of animals (from giraffes to bears and gay cougars – my own favourite is the iguana sketch) impersonate the actors in a range of cliched television ads, from floor-cleaner to car polish, breakfast cereal to energy drink and zit-buster. The common factor being Orangina starring as the product in every ad. Cut to bloke watching the ads on television, nuzzling up to a sheep (presumably his wife) on the sofa. Animated hommage to Disney, satire of the advertising industry? Who knows? It could only be French. Try it and see:

In the circumstances, there were other commercials that should have made it to the final cut. For example, Ogilvy’s Dove Manthem (you know the one: sing along to William Tell), which was the winner in the toiletries and healthcare category.

Just as odd was the exclusion of Adam & Eve’s ‘Always a Woman’ ad for John Lewis. It lost out at the category stage to Sapient Nitro’s ‘Sneaker Mastermind’ work for Footlocker. Not itself a great ad, but one not dogged by a plagiarism controversy.

Fred & Farid may have been pipped at the post by ‘Dot’ but they triumphed in the outdoor category with an Epica d’Or for their Wrangler Red work. The ‘animal’ theme (lots of that this year) is not new, but the photographic execution was considered outstanding.

More interesting was the final major category, the print Epica d’Or, where M&C Saatchi’s ‘The Last Place You Want to Go’ ad for Dixons narrowly beat BETC Euro RSCG’s Evian ‘Baby Inside’ work.  Evian has made the baby theme something of a trademark these past ten years, each year developing it in a new and interesting direction. This year the image was of adults with the bodies of babies superimposed on their white t-shirts: simple and effective.

But not as startlingly unusual as the Dixons ads, which appealed to the head as much as the heart. It’s good to see outstanding retail print work, full stop; but even better when it employs witty, old-fashioned long-copy which makes elegant fun of the retailer’s rivals. In the eternal struggle for mastery between copy and image, copy definitely won out this year.

So much for the work, but what of the winning countries and agencies? It was noticeable that while France was easily ahead in all winning categories – winners, silver, bronze and total awards – Britain managed to nail three of the four Epica d’Ors (film, interactive and print). It came third overall, but behind France (a long way behind) in the categories winners’ league. Sweden was number two overall, with Germany in fourth place. Far down the league table was the usually feistier Spain.

The top agency was Sweden’s Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, with 15 awards in total, four of them category winners. Serviceplan Gruppe, Munich & Hamburg – a previous winner – came second. The more important insight to emerge, however, was Y&R’s easy dominance as top network. It had 8 winners across four offices, compared with next-placed DDB’s 4 winners across the same number. Ogilvy came third with four across three. BBDO (like DDB, owned by Omnicom), often an overall winner, has drifted well down the table  (3 over 2).

Taken at face value, that’s something of a pat on the back for WPP creative supremo John O’Keeffe, whose avowed aim is to displace Omnicom as creative top dog. O’Keeffe has his eye on the Cannes Awards, but Epica winners have often proved a useful harbinger.

Advertisements

Publicis’ sweetheart ad deal with Google turns sour after kickback allegations

November 25, 2010

When is an agency kickback not a kickback? When it’s a strategic partnership with Google – according to Kurt Unkel, senior vice-president at Publicis Groupe digital arm VivaKi.

Google and Vivaki have found themselves in the eye of a hurricane, thanks to an exposé published by the respected online journal TechCrunch. It sheds disturbing light on the highly incestuous relationship between the internet giant and agency group, with particular reference to their collaborative display advertising operations.

The technicalities are complex, jargon-ridden and difficult for outsiders to understand, involving as they do the secretive workings of so-called agency “trading desks” and “demand side platforms” (DSPs). But at heart the issue is simple. It’s exactly the same one aired in one of my recent posts on a historic kickback scandal at Grey Advertising. It’s about playing the agency client for a mug, possibly because the client in question is indifferent, but more likely because he or she hasn’t the first idea about what is going on. Or, as one anonymous Publicis employee quoted in the TechCrunch piece bluntly puts it: “Our clients are so clueless it is a joke.”

So how does the scam, if that’s what it is, actually work? Google is desperate to prove that it is not a one-trick pony, relying pretty exclusively on search advertising revenue. It has made considerable inroads into display, which now accounts for $2.5bn a year revenue according to the company itself. Some of this comes from its own sites, which include YouTube, but quite a lot is also generated via special units, the DSPs mentioned above, which are attached to all the big agency network groups – Omnicom, WPP and Interpublic as much as Publicis. According to one source quoted by TechCrunch, these DSPs already handle 10% of online ad spending but, such is their power, they could handle up to half in a few years’ time.

The issue is not whether money changes hands between Google and Publicis to boost Google’s market share. An explicit bribe would be illegal, not least because the financial inducement would not have been remitted to the ultimate paymaster, the advertising client. Rather, what seems to be going on are a series of non-monetary inducements offered by Google to improve agency performance. These, according to TechCrunch, include investment in the agency trading platform, co-marketing and training.

Google does not deny this is what is happening with Publicis. That in itself is serious enough, because it hints at abuse of market power, which could in time attract the attention of the competition regulator. In a nutshell, is Google using profit gained from its search operation to distort the display market?

But the implications are even more serious for Publicis, which depends on digital advertising revenue to sustain its industry-beating profit margins, of which we have been hearing so much from Groupe chief Maurice Lévy of late. According to a Publicis secret squirrel quoted in the piece, Publicis will run $1bn of advertising through Google this year, most search but about $200m display. To put this figure in context, digital was nearly 30% of Publicis’  Q3 €1.3bn revenues. And the rate at which digital revenues are growing – 28% in North America, which is the hub of global activity – is much higher than the industry average of 17%. Just to round off the point, there is an incestuous relationship between Google and VivaKi’s DSP technology: the technology is effectively licensed from Google.

If that’s the case, the not unreasonable question arises: are media planners at VivaKi acting in the best interests of clients when they allocate client funds, or the best interests of their employer?

I should point out at this stage that VivaKi does do business with display ad exchanges other than Google’s DoubleClick; for instance Yahoo’s Right Media. It also has a sweetheart display advertising deal with Microsoft, struck as a clinching quid pro quo during the Razorfish acquisition last year.

Nor does Google have an exclusive partnership with Publicis. It has a relationship with all the major advertising holding companies and a similarly structured deal to the Publicis one with Omnicom.

Whichever way you look at it, however, this exposé is a wake-up call for clients. Advertisers really need to pay a lot more attention to how their money is being spent.

POSTSCRIPT: Troubles, they say, always come in threes. To add to Publicis’ Google woes, there is a still-breaking corruption scandal in its China media buying operation, plus fresh news that Matthew Freud’s high profile PR subsidiary is plotting defection. For more information on this last, see what my old chum Stephen Foster has to say over at More About Advertising.


The ASA gives Rimmel falsies a proper wigging

November 24, 2010

At last, a palpable hit in the regulator’s ongoing skirmish with the beauty industry over authenticity in its advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a campaign for Rimmel mascara, on the grounds that it uses ‘falsies’ to achieve misleading results.

The campaign for 1-2-3 Looks was devised by JWT and, in the TV versions, featured model Georgia May Jagger swaggering down a catwalk and getting on a motorbike. The voiceover claimed “adjustable lash volume from light to dramatic…three hot looks in one mascara”. And the ad, which includes two print versions, showed Jagger’s eyelashes growing longer in three stages.

The trouble is the effect was not achieved by the mascara, but by three sets of separately sized lash inserts. The ASA concluded that Coty UK (owner of Rimmel) “did not make it clear that the lash inserts used were of different lengths.” The ads were neither honest (CAP 3.1, substantiation) nor truthful (BCap 5.1.1, misleading advertising). There were a lot of other things the ads were not as well, but two of the four fundamental tenets of the advertising code will do for now.

So, bang-to-rights you may conclude. But it was not ever thus. The beauty industry has a habit of confusing truth with fantasy (it is after all in the business of peddling dreams). And the ASA has not always been so vigilant in cracking down on it. I refer to a previous post on the curious case of Cheryl Cole’s preternaturally bouncy hair extensions, which made their appearance in a campaign for Elvive shampoo and conditioner. Like the Rimmel ads, the client ran a small on-screen disclaimer that all was not what it appeared to be (in Rimmel’s case the warning was “shot with lash inserts”). Unlike the Rimmel ads, the ASA chose to give Cheryl and Elvive a clean bill of health.

The ASA will no doubt counter that different technicalities were involved. But the two situations have an uncanny similarity. Part of the thinking in cracking down on one campaign but not the other must surely be that the climate of opinion is changing. See, for example, the evolving debate over airbrushed models in advertising.

At all events, it looks as if the beauty industry will have to up its game: sloppy, misleading assertions will no longer do.


VAT reverse means healthy Innocent smoothies must remain a guilty pleasure

November 23, 2010

“It’s crazy,” says Innocent chief executive Richard Reed. “This ruling is definitely not in the interests of the nation’s health. It’s absurd that smoothies, which contain two portions of fruit and help people live more heathily are subject to VAT when junk food like burgers, chips and doughnuts are sold tax free.”

Yep, Richard. Not many of us will disagree with you there – unless of course we work for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the Treasury, which is slavishly serves.

Reed’s anguish and ire stem from a three-year legal wrangle over whether Innocent – and its customers – should continue to pay 17.5% VAT on its smoothie products, which it has just lost.

Only the healthy one on the left is subject to VAT

Reed chooses to classify smoothies as “liquified fruit salad.” It’s an oddity of our tax rules that, while people in this country need pay no VAT on “essential foods” such as the aforementioned burgers, “luxuries”, such as smoothies, are not exempt. But even if smoothies are categorised as a “beverage” (which, in all honesty, they more commonly are), Reed would still be in trouble with the tax authorities. Beverages – which for tax purposes are defined as “liquid commonly consumed to increase bodily liquid levels, to slake thirst, to fortify or to give pleasure” – are non-exempt. Unless they happen to be milk, tea or hot chocolate.

Where’s the fairness in that you, like Reed, might ask? Fairness, sadly, is not in the rule-book of an institution which joyfully plunders our just earnings, without so much as an apology when it is caught in the act. Its instinctive reaction on those rare occasions when it suffers a legal reverse is to vindictively rewrite the law in its own favour – lest future appellants succeed in pulling the same stroke.

This, apparently, is how the current eccentric definition of exempt and non-exempt beverages came about in the first place. It dates to a tax tribunal case in 1993, when HMRC (then Customs and Excise) was thwarted in its attempt to impose VAT on slimming aid Bio-Light.

Someone really should push Health Secretary Andrew Lansley a little harder. It’s time this government did more joined-up thinking on food policy, and Lansley leaning on George Osborne at the Treasury is where they should start. There is an inherent contradiction in the DoH’s position. On the one hand, it seems to expect the food industry to pour infinite resource into propagating healthy eating. And on the other, it lifts not a finger to criticise another department of state when it actively undermines that goal by reinforcing an out-of-date and absurd tax regime, with a view to screwing every last penny out of the consumer.


Murdoch and Jobs – Frenemies of the Internet

November 22, 2010

Now we know why James Murdoch, heir apparent at NewsCorp, has been so messianic about the iPad recently. The Times/Sunday Times “apps” experiment is merely part of a bigger picture – perhaps a small one at that.

It has emerged – rather curiously via US fashion industry journal Women’s Wear Daily – that Murdoch Sr is working closely with Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on launching an entirely new, exclusively apps-driven newspaper (there will be no website or print ancillaries) that can be purchased on an iPad. Other tablet formats may follow (though Jobs’ views on this egalitarian gesture are unknown). What we can say is that the news vehicle will be called the Daily, that it will appear as early as the end of this month, that it has an upmarket skew, that it will cost 99 cents a week, and that it will probably be edited by NewsCorp’s blue-eyed boy Jesse Angelo, currently managing editor of The New York Post.

For the fuller implications of a personal alliance between these towering giants of the media and technology worlds, turn to Tim Berners-Lee. Spookily but – so far as I know – entirely independently, the founder of the internet has just published in Scientific American a searching critique of what he regards as internet abuse. Unwittingly, it provides considerable insight into why Murdoch and Jobs are batting in the same team.

Berners-Lee casts his net widely. He sees the internet – once a kind of communitarian brotherhood in virtual space – as increasingly under siege. The attack on its ‘inalienable’ freedoms comes from a number of sources, many of which are themselves firmly rooted in web culture. High on his list of targets, for example, are social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. To these he adds Google and US telecoms carrier Verizon, which earlier this year struck an agreement to exempt mobile access to the internet from web neutrality; that is, from the accepted principle that no web service may be prioritised over another by a pricing structure imposed on its delivery. And finally, he rounds on mobile and desktop applications – Apple’s in particular – which operate behind a walled garden of restricted access.

Berners-Lee’s wider point is that these forces have something in common. Each in its separate way is parcelling out the freedom to communicate on the internet by hiving off “silos of content”. Berners-Lee believes this development is a Bad Thing, because it will eventually choke off innovation by creating a more fragmented internet.

There is, however, another way of looking at Berners-Lee’s argument – and one likely to find far more favour with Messrs Murdoch and Jobs: turn it on its head.

While the internet remains a free, or “near-perfect” (in the economist’s jargon) market, no one can enjoy a lasting commercial advantage. Look no further than the record industry, or the media itself. This is good for internet joyriders, who want their news, views and music free, but unsustainable in the wider capitalist economy. Without a carefully managed investment programme and the principle of reasonable investor returns, innovation on the internet is just as likely to be stunted as it is by the dark forces of silo monopolies that Berners-Lee sees gathering on the virtual horizon.

Murdoch and Jobs have every reason to cooperate. The internet may, in the longer run, have much to lose if they do not.


Anomaly seeks financial assistance

November 15, 2010

Anomaly, the maverick marketing services group set up by former TBWA chief Carl Johnson (left), is seeking financial assistance after its business strategy stumbled – according to sources familiar with the situation.

A cash injection is likely to take the form of partnership with another organisation – if negotiations work out. Whether this partnership would involve a private equity specialist or investment by an international marketing services holding company is unclear at this stage.

Anomaly has a volatile track-record in winning large accounts, which include Converse, Nike and Virgin America. It held Diesel for only 9 months before losing it to WPP-backed Santo, and has recently ceded a large chunk of its Sony Europe business to Grey, also owned by WPP. However, its financial problems are not thought to relate to advertising but a specific division, Anomaly IP.

IP is an incubator which seeds early-stage businesses, in which Anomaly itself takes a stake and a share of the eventual profit, if any. Projects include Avec Eric, a joint-venture with Eric Ripert, head chef and co-owner of the Michelin triple-starred Le Bernadin restaurant; eos – a line of women’s shaving and skincare products; Shop Text, a mobile commerce platform; and By Lauren Luke – a co-venture with the eponymous English beauty-products doyenne, also known online as panacea81.

Johnson, a former planner, set up Anomaly in 2004 with a number of like-minded individuals from backgrounds such as TBWA, Wieden & Kennedy and Nike. It was founded in New York, but now has a London office as well. Like Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Anomaly has sought to define itself as an antidote to traditional “legacy” agencies which – it claims – only cater for the services they have experience in providing, rather than for what clients actually require. When Anomaly beat stiff competition to win Virgin’s start-up US domestic air-service in 2006, it produced not only an advertising strategy, but designs for the interiors of Virgin’s new fleet of Airbus A320s, the flight attendants’ uniforms and the content for a pay-per-view entertainment system.

If it is to find a financial partner, Anomaly may have to strike a difficult bargain with its founding principles. A recent $600m bid by Dentsu for digital group AKQA – later withdrawn – exposed tensions between the majority owners, GA Capital, and its two founders. Ahmed Ajaz and Tom Bedecarré were opposed to the Japanese bid and reported to prefer an IPO as a means of buying out the private equity investor. Siding with a traditional agency holding company, on the other hand, might lead to charges that Anomaly had betrayed its principles.


I’m dreaming of a John Lewis Christmas

November 14, 2010

Christmas is terribly important. And I am not talking about the Season of Cheer and Goodwill to All Men. Oh no, this is something much more fundamental: the rush to get punters into the shops with their wallets open for a last hurrah spending fest.

Up to 25% of UK retailers’ annual business is generated in the narrow period from the Christmas run-up to the end of January. And this year could well be a bonanza. Retail expert Verdict reckons it’s going to be the best time to pluck the goose since 2007, if only because a massive hike in VAT will make all of us feel much poorer by the end of January. Verdict is not alone in this opinion.

So, why do retailers saturate television air-time with so much boring, formulaic, rent-a-celeb advertising that largely fails in its primary objective of distinguishing one brand from another? With so much at stake, you’d think they’d try a little harder than throw lots of money at a small idea with big production values.

Tesco received a lot of stick for its feeble Amanda Holden vehicle. Admittedly the Belcher/Belle Chère gag isn’t that funny, but it’s a smidgin more memorable than Peter and Danii not putting a foot wrong over at M&S; Hester and Delia mouthing off at Waitrose; or the lovely Coleen prancing about like a demented fairy in the Littlewoods Christmas mansion. If you’re looking for meaningful, branded, celebrity, there’s still nothing to beat Jamie at Sainsbury’s. But that’s not saying much these days. Who wants to watch him doling out another stuffed turkey – even if it is in Halton Gill, Yorkshire’s prettiest hamlet?

One or two retailers have taken the hint and steered away from celeb culture. Asda has focused on its suppliers with a well-shot cameo of Young Farmer and Farmer of the Year Adrian Ivory and his beautiful Asda-bound Charolais. Pity he’s so wooden speaking to camera. Morrisons has been trying to teach kids the nutritional value of brussels sprouts; meagre fare – good luck to them with that one. Boots has injected a little more personality into its long-serving ‘Here Come the Girls’ theme with some slice of life stuff from five comediennes. And there’s the twinkle of an idea in Argos’s ‘Crooner’ – extinguished the moment Bing picks up the microphone and attempts to ‘update’ a White Christmas. Dream on. No amount of “Argosing” can improve on a classic; and any way, Volkswagen did it so much better with Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain.

The big present at the bottom of the tree must surely go to John Lewis’ Crimble effort, which just manages to veer clear of the saccharine, while reminding its audience – now here’s a lovely touch – that Christmas is as much about giving as taking. There’s even an oh-so-tasteful nod to celeb culture in there: Critics Choice 2010 BRITT Award winner Ellie Goulding backs the ad with a singalong rendition of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’.

Shame on the rest of the field for allowing that johnny-come-lately to TV advertising, John Lewis, to upstage them.


%d bloggers like this: