Dave ‘n Dave – an agency/media dialogue

January 31, 2011

Dave, the UKTV digital channel, has just lost the first – and quite possibly only – round of a name-change battle with the eponymous Engine subsidiary which first bagged it in 2003 and has since mounted a legal challenge, claiming conflict of interest. Here we imagine some witty banter between the two Great Portland Street neighbours…

Agency Dave: So – er –Dave, looks like you’re going to have to change that moniker now, doesn’t it (sarcastic titter)? What a silly boy – didn’t do our homework did we? Of course, if you’d come to a proper brand specialist – such as ourselves – before taking the plunge, you wouldn’t have got into hot water with all this EU Office of Harmonisation in the Internal Market bollocks. ‘Stead of which, you’ve taken a right old pasting. Time for another radical repositioning exercise, my son. Ooh, expensive!!

Media Dave: Don’t be so sure, Dave. We’ve lost the first round but not the battle. We’ve got two months to appeal. And even if we don’t, you can whistle for the money – and the name-change. It will take you and your legal chums Lewis Silkin over a year to get anywhere. Which is long enough to show the industry how bloody-, or is that petty-? minded, you’re being about a matter of zero interest to any client. In the court of public opinion, there’s no contest. We chose a name – un-trademarked as it happens (how unprofessional is that, Dave; call yourself a brand consultancy?) – which perfectly encapsulated our programme content and audience. You know, Top Gear, Red Dwarf, Mock the Week… Doh! It’s about blokes, innit?

Whereas you picked any old name off a heap to “distinguish” your agency from all the others. “Distinguish” (snort): don’t make me laugh. “Dave”? Distinction, from what? It’s the commonest name out there. Oh yes, we remember now: from all those other agency monikers that come in triplicate, or quadruplicate – like Wight Collins Rutherford Scott, for example. Must have taken all of five minutes in the head-banger to come up with that one. And what a corker when it popped out! Dave, as distinct from Woo, or perhaps Personal, or even Engine. Pure stream of consciousness, with branding seared right the way down the rock – not.

Agency Dave: You may laugh, but we’ll have the last one. We’re  talking about the EU here, not your court of public bloody opinion. We warned you back in 2007, when you came up with this hare-brained rebranding idea – there would be consequences. But you chose to ignore us, you arrogant git. And now you’re going to pay.

Or maybe you haven’t got the money? Tell you what. We’ll settle for nothing. You come on air with a blank screen and we’ll let you keep the Dave name (which obviously means so much to you) on your decorative magnets and stationery. Now, how tender-hearted is that?

Are you a Googler or a Zuckerbug?

January 26, 2011

Think carefully before you answer. There’s a great deal more at stake than the passing satisfaction of an intellectual parlour game.

What we – consumers and advertisers alike – are being asked to debate is the future shape of the internet – the way we approach it, the way we use it. Up to now, it’s been pretty much a search-shaped universe, moulded around the success of its greatest information engine. Now we’re being asked to look at it a different way – the social network way – thanks to the meteoric success of Facebook.

Whoever wins the battle of ideas also scoops the global jackpot. Russian oligarch Yuri Milner and investment bank Goldman Sachs have already made their bet. They stand to be the biggest financial winners when (rather than if) Facebook becomes a publicly quoted company. But what about the rest of us?

Superficially, Google has little to worry about. It has just produced a record set of fourth quarter figures. To those who complain that it is, strategically, a one-trick pony, it can point to success on other online platforms. Video, of course, with YouTube; and more promising still, a potentially market-leading position in mobile with the aid of sub-brands Android and Chrome. What it does not get – CEO Schmidt’s recent enigmatic remarks about developing “serendipitous search – search results searchers didn’t even know they needed” notwithstanding – is social. An upstart rival has excluded Google from the market’s most dynamic area of expansion; from zero in 2004, Facebook’s global reach is now approaching 600 million.

Which brings me to my column, posted on marketingweek.co.uk this week, and its focus on the recently announced change in leadership at Google.

Leadership is one of the paradoxes of this sector. The products and services are highly sophisticated, the organisations which create them highly complex, but the leadership issue is often brutally simple. Continued success frequently comes down to the single-minded vision of a guru-like founder.

Zuckerberg: The $50bn leadership question

Looking ahead, that may well be Facebook’s defining issue as it moves inexorably towards public ownership, with all the grown-up demands that makes on a company’s leadership.

It is a frightening thought that one of the world’s most powerful brands is – and will probably remain – the brainchild of a 26-year-old genius with borderline Asperger’s Syndrome (to take a cue from The Social Network). His obsession with teaching the world to communicate electronically was born out of his own inadequacy at chatting up Harvard girls. Let’s see how he manages in the adult world of the capital markets, where you don’t always get your own way.

Omnicom closes $100m Communispace deal

January 25, 2011

Silence reigns at Omnicom Towers on its mooted $100m deal with eCRM and insight company Communispace. Which is odd, for two reasons. First, it is the biggest deal engineered by the marketing services juggernaut since its ill-fated acquisitions of Agency.com and the somewhat more successful Organic in 2003. Second, and rather crucially – I hear the deal has gone through.

At all events, Communispace founder, president, chief executive and 10% shareholder Diane Hessan is packing her bags (now presumably heavy with loot).

The question is, what happens now? In an earlier post, I pointed out that $100m is a very steep price – yet, curiously, it does not seem to have been a stumbling block for that wily operator John Wren, Omnicom president and chief executive officer.

At the time I concentrated on the financials, and speculated that there must be something very special about this deal for Omnicom to hazard such an over-priced acquisition. That logic can be applied with equal relevance to Communispace’s clients. True, there are many the two parties have in common, plus a few that Omnicom would like to lay hands on. Yet it’s hard to ignore the conspicuous conflicts. Not just on the brand side, either. A slug of Communispace’s business flows from Omnicom’s rival agencies. Here’s an excerpt from AdAge that neatly summarises the conflict dilemma:

One reason why an Omnicom deal would make sense? Communispace lists as its clients several marketers that work with agencies under the holding company’s banner, including HP, PepsiCo, FedEx, Kraft and Campbell. But the Communispace client list also includes agencies at rival holding companies, like Havas’ EuroRSCG, Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Martin Agency. Were an Omnicom deal to happen, such alliances would likely have to dissolve, as would accounts with clients like Verizon, a major competitor to a big Omnicom client, AT&T.

I’d add WPP’s Ogilvy to the list of competitors as well (check out Jim Edwards at BNET on this one).

How does Wren plan to steer himself around that one? His last experience with a major acquisition, controversially managed through off-balance-sheet vehicle Seneca Investments, was not a happy one. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself.

Centaur’s Sherren gets back into the saddle

January 25, 2011

I’m glad to see my old boss, Graham Sherren – formerly chairman and chief executive of Centaur Media – has had no truck with retirement. Within a few week of stepping down as a Centaur non-exec, he has got straight back into the saddle – as a major investor in a digital media start-up.

Sherren has teamed up with Mike Bokaie, founder and former head of Caspian Publishing – which like Centaur is a B2B specialist although on a much smaller scale. Caspian publishes, among other things, the horizontally positioned Real Business and Real Deals, a vertically targeted private equity publication. Bokaie quit Caspian, in what seem to have been tearful circumstances, at the beginning of 2009.

There is a distant business connection between Sherren and Bokaie: both worked at Morgan Grampian, the trade publications group where Sherren was chief executive before he set up Centaur.

Given the pedigree, it’s no surprise to find where the new publishing and events company, called Casis, is focusing: business; although with an exclusively online platform.

Dan Matthews, editorial director of the new venture and himself an ex-Caspianite, is quoted in NMA as saying:

“We’ve uncovered a niche in the market. It’s not a vertical title, it’s a horizontal title for a demographic of people, rather than a profession. It’s a business title that covers all sectors.” We know, because he tells us, that it will be launched next June and the project is named ‘Love’.

What can we infer from this? Well, it sounds remarkably like a reprise of Real Business – aimed at eager entrepreneurs and SMEs, but with a digital spin. Both major participants certainly have form in this area. Bokaie’s I’ve already mentioned: he set up Real Business, a controlled circulation monthly magazine, 14 years ago. Sherren’s dates from his launch of Your Business, later the Money Spinners, at Centaur in the Eighties.

I’m told that “Love” is actually a contraction of “Love London Business”, which if correct sounds like sensibly restricted targeting (Matthews, whom I talked to, denied this is the title, but was elusive about the London Business bit). My source reckons the publishing concept owes more than a passing salute to Crain’s ChicagoBusiness. Last year Crain – which also publishes AdAge – closed down a satellite publication, Crain’s Manchester Business. But that was print-based and Crain, so far as I know, has never had a go at London. Print-based horizontal business magazines have traditionally been squeezed in the jaws of high production costs and display advertiser indifference in the face of heavy competition. Keeping it digital may sharpen the offer and control costs. Matthews also suggests the proposition will be much more editorially led.

Sherren is thought to have put several hundred thousand pounds in a £1m-plus investment pot. Also involved is veteran investor Edgar Cullman, of Culbro, who was a long-term private equity holder of Centaur stock. Bokaie claims to be the biggest individual shareholder.

Creative momentum for M&C, Wieden, Del Campo and – of course – BBDO

January 24, 2011

Just like the business and financial world, the advertising creative industry has its reporting seasons. The Cannes Festival represents the annual benchmark and we are now at the interim stage, with the Gunn Report and AdAge – the industry’s biggest trade paper – issuing their verdicts.

To stretch the analogy a little further, these awards “analysts” heavily favour momentum stocks. That may be because – like their financial counterparts – they’re at heart an unadventurous lot who don’t like nasty surprises. Win at Cannes, and the chances are you’ll pick up a truckload of gongs elsewhere. King of the number-crunchers is the Gunn Report, which resembles Wall Street’s Quants in more ways than one. To quantitative analysis, which monitors an agency’s creative performance over many years and almost every conceivable awards scheme, is added a mysterious proprietary ingredient. We’re never quite sure of the relative weight put on the data. How else explain BBDO’s preeminence as top network for the fifth successive year?

Enough of this. The point I’m making is there are no great surprises at the half-way stage, although some of the results are well worth highlighting (BBDO’s not excluded). Rather pleasingly, M&C Saatchi’s print campaign for Dixons (honourable mentions at Cannes; it also picked up a top award at Epica) was Gunn’s global winner. The art of long copy is not yet dead.

With similar predictability, Wieden & Kennedy was garlanded  AdAge’s Agency of the Year, primarily on the strength of Old Spice Guy. And rightly so. Anyone who can create celebrity out of Procter & Gamble advertising deserves a medal: especially so when the now lionised brand was as hopelessly quaint as Old Spice.

While we’re there, a nod in the direction of AdAge’s International Agency of the Year, Buenos Aires-based Del Campo Nazca Saatchi. Del Campo, which has just celebrated its first ten years, is the epitome of a rolling creative revolution which has now persuaded some premier league clients to consider Latin America as their first port of call when devising a global campaign. In Del Campos’ case, it has just been added to Coca-Cola’s international roster.

The secret of its success seems to be a carefully blended balance of creativity and planning, reminiscent of Boase Massimi Pollitt in the Eighties. Here, at any rate, are a couple of examples of its work. The famous Teletransporter commercial, for Andes beer, which was lauded at Cannes:

And Chocolate Meter, for Kraft, which has apparently resulted in a 50% increase in Cadbury sales:

Hugh Curly-Whirly’s TV campaign single-handedly triples Sainsbury’s sales of Colin

January 18, 2011

Oh, the awesome power of celebrity endorsement, especially when it is attached to a good cause. Our local fish-lady (stockist, not mermaid) reckons that Hugh Curly-Whirly, as she insists on calling the eminent TV chef, is now revered as a latter-day saint by fisherman at the Cinque Port of Hythe.

Fearnley-Whittingstall recently devised and fronted Channel 4’s three-parter Fish Fight campaign, which appears to have had a galvanic impact on national fish-consumption.

Curly-Whirly’s purpose was to highlight our over-dependence on certain edible fish, namely cod, tuna and salmon. That and the inanity of current EU regulations which, in seeking to inhibit over-fishing, actively promote “discards” (dead and dying fish thrown back into the sea) on a biblical scale – playing no small part in the destruction of our marine fishing industry while they’re at it.

The net result (if you’ll forgive the pun) has been shoals of consumers shimmying around all our best known supermarkets, in a desperate effort to buy up every available “alternative” fish and seafood species. Words rarely heard outside angling circles, such as “coley”, “whiting” and “dab”, have now become the common currency of over-the-counter exchanges with baffled in-store fishmongers.

What Sainsbury’s persists in calling “colin” (that’s pollack to you, with a French accent) is now going out of its doors three times faster than last week, when the programmes were aired. And Tesco, the country’s biggest fish retailer, claims that sales of fresh sardines, coley, brown crab, sprats and whiting have grown between 25% and 45% over the same period.

Mind you, one of the things you won’t hear Tesco trumpeting is sales of its tuna. The saintly Hugh used one of his programmes to excoriate the supermarket’s antediluvian attitude towards netting its own-brand stuff. Whereupon – Hey Presto! – Tesco instantly dropped its attachment to the wasteful but cut-price “purse seining” technique of slaughtering millions of innocent fish. It was a move cynical enough to leave Princes stranded at the bottom of the tuna eco-league table but, in the event, did not elevate Tesco further than fifth place.

So, nice one Mr Curly-Whirly. Just a single piece of advice from our local fish-lady and the good fishermen of Hythe, if I may. Before you direct consumers on an indiscriminate trawl for every available alternative edible fish species, do you think you could do something to educate them on their seasonal availability? All this demand at once – it’s simply unsustainable.

It’s Campbell’s Soup, Andy, but not as we know it

January 17, 2011

Some observant souls may have noticed that an iconic brand is about to stage its UK comeback after 5 years’ absence.

Yes, Campbell’s Soup, whose depiction 32 times on a silkscreen print propelled a certain A. Warhol to fame in 1962 (I’ve spared you the other 31 images), will shortly be available in a grocer near you.

Or will it? The Campbell’ Soup UK relaunch raises some interesting issues about what a brand actually is. It’s Campbell’s, Andy, but not as we know it.

In a sense, Campbell’s never left in the first place. Let’s go back a few years to 2006, when Campbell’s UK was acquired by Premier Foods. Under the terms of the deal, Premier was allowed to sell the tinned condensed soup until March 2008, when the licence to use the brand name ran out. It then rebranded Campbell’s Condensed Soup as Batchelor’s Condensed Soup, keeping exactly the same recipe. Everywhere else in the world, for the next 3 years, Batchelor’s continued to be marketed, by Campbell’s, as Campbell’s.

But now – with the passage of 5 years since the original deal was struck – Campbell’s UK self-denying ordinance has expired. And, guess what? Campbell’s Soups are back. Except that they’re not – well, not exactly. Sure the name is here, but there’ll be no tins of the stuff, only dried “cup soups” in packets and boxes manufactured under licence by dried-food specialist Symington’s.

So which is the authentic one? The tinned soup manufactured to the original recipe but marketed under the Batchelor’s name? Or the Campbell’s-branded relaunch, to which you add water? And does it really matter what it “says on the tin”? A pity Andy is no longer around to tell us.

Blind soup-tasting test anyone?

Digby down, but never mind. ITV bonanza on the way – CRR is going too

January 13, 2011

Say what you like about him, veteran ITV sales director and professional rough diamond Gary Digby will be sorely missed.

One rival, reported in the FT recently, put it this way: “Media buyers will now see ITV as an easier place to do their negotiations and will expect to save millions.”

A back-handed compliment if ever there was one. Digby and the three senior members of his staff who also got the boot have been closely associated with ITV’s Lazarus-like commercial recovery last year. Conservatively, ITV made about £1.55bn from advertising revenue in 2010, an increase of over 15%.

Fru Hazlitt, the new ITV commercial director who did the booting, evidently sees root-and-branch restructuring of the sales department as a vital prerequisite to streamlining ITV’s analogue and digital offer. Which it may well be. But the media buying community has a different take on things: Kelly Williams (ex-Channel 5) and the rest of the Hazlitti imports are going to be a push-over by comparison with the Digby regime.

Personally, I wouldn’t like to speculate on how weak the ITV ratecard will be from now on. I make just one observation. If relief is ever needed in the ITV Alamo, then the cavalry is certainly on its way.

Yes, Jeremy Hunt – the newly empowered government media czar and part-time culture secretary – has unambiguously signalled that he intends to abolish Contract Rights Renewal – the advertiser-friendly sales corset that squeezes tens of millions of pounds off ITV’s revenue line every year. The only trouble (from ITV’s point of view) is that some waiting is involved before the relief arrives. Hunt intends to bundle repeal of the hated constraint into the Communications Bill which may, or may not, pass into law by the end of next year.

What Hunt’s motives are we can only guess. Some point to his ideological preference for laissez-faire capitalism. Others, more politically cynical, suspect that the CRR gesture may not be unconnected to Hunt’s invidious task of adjudicating the Murdochs’ controversial bid for the 61% of BSkyB they do not already own. After all, what could be more even-handed than to wave through both measures? Strictly in the interests of media plurality, you understand.

You know what your problem is Moneysupermarket? Your ad’s too British

January 11, 2011

What’s to dislike in Dare’s latest recasting of its Moneysupermarket.com campaign, starring Prezza? It’s spot on creatively, with a tightly directed script that makes the most of the former deputy prime minister’s touchy truculence and natural gift for hostility. From two jabs on the punchbag we move quickly to that other Prescott signature theme, his two Jags nestling under a tarpaulin, and the point of the ad – car insurance, and how you can cut a better deal with Moneysupermarket.

This is much the best in the series so far. Omid Djalili, the British-born Iranian stand-up comic, excels as the impish critic of our national reluctance to haggle: “You know your trouble? You’re British.” And in bulldog Prezza he has at last found the perfect foil. What an improvement on the leaden counter-weight of one-time Formula One champ Nigel Mansell, nice bloke though he no doubt is.

So, it’s an engaging mainly-for-TV campaign which appears to dispel the myth that digital agencies can’t really handle big brand stuff. Or does it?

If I have a quibble with the Moneysupermarket work, it’s this. Compared with the best work in this field – financial price comparison sites – the campaign fails to create an unforgettable mnemonic out of a difficult-to-remember brand name. Think of meerkats and Comparethemarket (VCCP); and then of that gravitationally challenged Edwardian opera star Gio Compario (GoCompare; ads created by an in-house team that originated at Boase Massimi Pollitt and was also responsible for Sheilas’ Wheels). Both enshrine the brand name. Moneysupermarket and Dare, on the other hand, have created a brilliant platform for Omid Djalili and whichever guest celebrity happens to appear in his 30-second TV show at the time.

I suspect this shows up in the research. A lot of people will identify that funny foreign bloke making jokes about selling insurance. But I wonder how many will remember the brand.

UPDATE 13/1/11: Spookily, Moneysupermarket has just put its ad account up for review. New broom Paul Troy, formerly Barclaycard’s head of advertising, has decided to hold ‘chemistry meetings’ with up to six agencies in early February. My point about digital agencies not cutting the brand mustard may seem a little unfair, given that Dare, one of the most widely respected digital shops, received an infusion of traditional agency talent after its merger with MCBD last November. However, although MCBD actually won the account in 2009, it is Dare management that is now driving the agency.

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