Are these two electric car ads for Renault and Nissan by any chance related?

May 30, 2011

The chances are you won’t have seen Renault’s expensive new global campaign, promoting the virtues of its ZE electric model. That’s because it won’t be airing in Britain until September.

Which is a pity, because it’s a nicely crafted piece of advertising that fetes the coming of the electric revolution in an unusually humorous, ironic way. Irony being a hallmark of neither the automobile industry nor the French ad industry.

It’s produced by Paris-based Publicis Conseil and driven, as it were, by the agency’s chief creative officer Olivier Altmann. And here, for the uninitiated, it is:

Nifty, isn’t  it? Now, here’s another campaign, produced by TBWA for the Nissan LEAF. It has just begun airing in the USA. I wonder if you can spot the differences:

Spookily similar aren’t they? In fact, so similar you would draw the obvious conclusion that these rival car giants were collaborating in a global generic push for their electric car technology.

Nor, at first sight, is that such a silly conclusion. After all, Nissan and Renault are related. Renault, run by Brazilian whizz kid Carlos Ghosn, is the dominant partner in an alliance, with a 44.3 % stake in Nissan; while Nissan has a strategic cross-holding of 15% (with no voting rights) in Renault.

However, the collaboration is firmly anchored in technological development, production improvements and a bit of badge engineering. It does not extend to sales and marketing – which are still regarded as totally separate operations and highly competitive ones at that.

Yet that’s precisely what Publicis Conseil and TBWA appear to be doing with the electric platform – collaborating. The production values of the two ads may be slightly different, and there are significant variations in the development of the story board, but the creative concept appears to be identical.

Not so, I’m told. There is fury in both agencies, which have taken to accusing each other of plagiarism. At very least there must have been a leak. Legals have been threatened … though I doubt the threat will come to anything. So, come on boys, tell us: who had the idea first?

UPDATE: The answer to my last question may be, “Neither”. A chum in Italy, Tommaso Ridolfi, tells me there is a third ingredient in this thickening plot: Mitsubishi Motors. Mitsubishi launched its i MiEV(Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) on the European retail market at the end of last year. Check out this ad, ‘Let’s Go Electric’, for similarities to the above. It bears an uncanny resemblance, particularly to the Nissan spot. The only thing is, it appears to have preceded them, airing in March. Mitsubishi is certainly not an ally of Renault or Nissan. For more commentary, see Joelapompe’s site.

Is Ipsos poised to buy Synovate from Aegis for €550m?

May 20, 2011

A rather interesting rumour is doing the rounds of the City. And it is this: Aegis, the media buying group, is about to divest its market research operation, Synovate, for a princely €550m (£481m). The lucky recipient? Paris-based global market research empire Ipsos.

While I have no idea whether any deal will go through, let’s say it’s not a surprise that the two parties should be talking. After all, we’ve been here before – or at least, somewhere very nearby.

Back in 2009, Aegis launched a formal strategic review to determine whether or not to sell Synovate. At the time, GfK was felt to be the most likely buyer. GfK – privately held but the world’s fourth largest MR group even so – was still smarting after it came off second best to WPP in the acrimonious £1.1bn bid battle for Taylor Nelson Sofres.

But it might just as well have been Ipsos, the fifth largest, that was doing the talking. Both MR groups are in the grip of the same strategic imperative: they need to grow bigger in the wake of the 2008 TNS deal, which catapulted WPP to near top position in the world market research league table, just behind Nielsen. The consolidation question is not a ‘whether’ but a ‘when’.

What’s more we know the Ipsos management team admires Synovate and believes it would be a good fit. Don’t just take my word for it. In late 2005 Ipsos’ chairman and chief executive Didier Truchot publicly described Synovate as “a very nice and dynamic organisation.”  Of course, he didn’t go so far as to say he would actually buy it. Then again, he didn’t say he wouldn’t. He merely pointed out that it was “a little too early” to entertain such a possibility.

Truchot was at it again in 2009, when announcing a robust set of results for the previous year: he danced around the idea of buying Synovate without actually saying it.

Perhaps five-and-a-half years has proved long enough to mature his plan.

All of which does little to shed light on Aegis’ motives for selling the business, if that is what it is doing.

Admittedly, the market research division is currently an underperformer. In the latest, Quarter 1, financial results, the Media division turned in an impressive 10.1% improvement in sales, well ahead of the 7% analysts had been expecting. Synovate, on the other hand, undershot, if only by a small amount.

Furthermore, divestment would provide more ammunition in the war-chest. Aegis chief executive Jerry Buhlmann has already embarked on a strategy of shoring up Aegis’ position as a pure-player global media buyer with the £200m acquisition of Mitchell Communications.

But there is a wild card in all of this. What of 27% Aegis stakeholder Vincent Bolloré? Despite his very public disavowals of any further interest in a takeover, Aegis would surely become more, not less, tempting as a target. After all, what Havas – of which he is president and the principal shareholder – most needs is a more effective media buying operation.

UPDATE 6/6/11: Evidently the rumour was true: Aegis has just confirmed it. What matters, now the veil of secrecy has been stripped from the talks, is whether Ipsos is allowed a clear run at the acquisition. Or will others, such as Publicis Groupe, barge in with better terms? Anyone interested in the financials (Ipsos is about twice the size of Synovate) might care to look at Bob Willott’s newsletter on the subject.

Are brand valuation tables simply telling us the blindingly obvious?

May 10, 2011

No surprise to see Apple’s topping performance in the annual BrandZ survey, put together by WPP subsidiary Millward Brown.

Or is it? If we are to believe in these league tables which regularly assess the brand values of some of the world’s largest corporations, we should surely expect a certain consistency between them.

This is far from always the case. Take Apple itself. For the last year or two is has been the world’s top, or near top, company by market capitalisation with a simply stunning profit record. No one in their right mind would argue that branding, through Steve Jobs’ long career, has not been a salient feature of the technology company’s success (even when some elements, such as profitability, were clearly lacking). Put the two together, and you would surely expect it to be near the top.

But that’s not so when we turn to BrandZ’s principal rival, the longer-established Interbrand Best Global Brands, owned by Omnicom. Curiously Apple comes in at a sickly 17, up from 20, in the Interbrand rankings for 2010, published last September – the latest available.

Apple may be the most conspicuous anomaly, but it’s certainly not the only one when we compare the two league tables. Why is Disney so highly regarded by Interbrand (it’s ninth), but relatively lowly by BrandZ (it’s 38th)? Why is Samsung only 67th in the BrandZ charts, while it is ranked 19th by Interbrand? Doubtless there are other glaring disparities, which the more eagle-eyed will spot.

Such mis-attention to detail, you say. It’s the differing methodologies isn’t it? A bit of capitalist differentiation in the brand valuation market. You pick the one you trust more and go with it.

Well, not exactly – despite the anomalies, there’s plenty of consensus too. Technology companies, however ordered, now overwhelmingly dominate the top ten (and in BrandZ’s case, the second ten as well); mostly the same names crop up as well. Louis Vuitton is clearly the top-ranking French brand: both tables have it in their top 30. Even some of the valuations are pretty similar. Coca-Cola’s brand-worth, for instance, is estimated at $74bn in BrandZ (just out); and $70bn in the Interbrand rankings. While BMW is valued at at just over $22bn by both.

Admittedly, Interbrand tends to be a little more economical with its overall valuations, in dollar terms. Then again, the real importance of these tables is not the absolute, but relative values conveyed: it resides in the dynamic interaction of the brands contained therein.

And yet it is precisely here that their biggest difficulty lies. Amusing though it may be to pick out the winners from the losers and also-rans, are we any the wiser once we have done so? True, such tables serve an important function as a marketing propaganda tool within the investment community – helping to prop up, or knock down, share prices. But many of the conclusions they reach seem blindingly obvious rationalisations after the fact.

So, in the case of BrandZ, Blackberry is down 20% and 11 places to number 22; while Nokia has tumbled 38 places to 79th and lost 28% of its value (now $11bn). Well strike me down with a feather. Nothing of course to do with the two brands well advertised failure to crack the current consumer smartphone market I suppose?

Mind you, at least the BrandZ analysis is consistent, attributing due weight to the two phone brands’ nemeses, Apple and Google. Which is more than you can say for the Interbrand picture.

On the subject of which, expect a major brand revaluation this autumn. Here’s a fairly safe prediction. If not actually top, Apple will be one of Interbrand’s top-performing brands this year.

NOTE: BrandZ table here. And Interbrand table here.

Osama bin Laden reaches his target market

May 4, 2011

Finding the marketing angle on mass murder might sound like mission impossible. But not if you’ve got good old American know-how behind you.

Determined not to be outdone by the hoopla surrounding our own royal wedding, Americans have with breathtaking speed and ingenuity turned their commercial talents to creating a May Day souvenir-fest celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Best-selling, according to America’s mass market newspaper USA Today, is the inevitable T-shirt – retailing at about $20. Merchandise legends and designs range from “Obama killed Osama” to “Fish Food”, alluding to bin Laden’s expeditious burial at sea.

But it is the sheer scale and range of the merchandising that impresses: buttons, coffee mugs ($15 each), caps, bumper stickers, ties, phone cases, thongs, and (best of all perhaps) dog T-shirts with a Facebook-friendly thumbs-up logo.

“People wear these things to inflict the final indignity on bin Laden,” says a cultural anthropologist reported in USA Today. “And $25 isn’t a lot to pay to gain entry into the national act of ridicule.”

But isn’t all this crowing about what was, after all, a bloody political assassination, just a bit tasteless?

Joe Schmidt, senior vice-president of retail at CafePress – one of the principal souvenir-peddling websites, is unabashed:

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as being a mirror to the culture. What’s more important than personal expression?”

What more indeed?

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