Poor old Diamond Bob – a martyr to Barclays’ brand values

June 28, 2012

BarclaysA lot of people are accusing Barclays Bank and its chief executive Bob Diamond of racketeering. Acting like white-collar gangsters, in other words. They say the bank and its principal directors colluded in serial distortion of the interbank rate, Libor. What this means in plain English is that they beggared us – the saps who are their customers – with artificially inflated interest rates on loans and mortgages  – in order to enrich first themselves, through bigger bonuses, and then their shareholders, through bigger dividends. Barclays has been fined a total of £290m by the regulatory authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. But it’s the thin edge of a very thick financial wedge. Once the lawyers get weaving on behalf of aggrieved customers, who knows where the liability will end up?

Martin Taylor, a former Barclays CEO himself, summed it up best on this morning’s Today Programme. He said that Barclays had engaged in “systematic dishonesty” between the years 2005 and 2009. While he didn’t explicitly link Diamond – who then happened to be head of BarCap, the division most closely tied to the scandal – with the gigantic swindle, he did say that chief executives set the cultural tone of the businesses they run. Implication: Diamond should retire to the discreetest room in his penthouse suite and make good use of a service revolver. Diamond – Taylor implied – may, or may not, have colluded in such corrupt dealing practices; but because they happened on his watch, he was at very least grossly negligent.

Now I know what I’m about to say isn’t going to be popular, but I’ll say it all the same. Was Bob so very wrong in what he did – or rather, for the sake of any legal eagles looking in – er, what he didn’t do? I mean, at least Barclays Bank co-operated with the investigative authorities, whereas other banks did not. Barclays is paying the price of being first to fess up: a media Exocet amidships.

Then again, the bank took not a penny of public money in the wake of the Lehman Bros collapse. All right, it was pretty stupid to allow such an unredacted and inculpatory email trail to get into the hands of the regulators. But at least you won’t hear any trading floor intercepts along the following lines: “Dude, thanks a billion in Treasury credits. I owe you big time. But not as much as I owe the taxpayer. Come over after work and let’s break open the Bollie.”

I’m not sure the same will be said of RBS and Lloyds. Both were big recipients of taxpayers’ bail-outs, and both – along with HSBC, Citigroup, JP Morgan, UBS, Deutsche Bank and others I probably don’t even know of yet – are, so it seems, up to their gills in interest-rate-rigging mire too. Poor old RBS. Talk about reputational damage: it’s not only guilty of systemic incompetence with customers’ direct debits, but of “systematic dishonesty” in charging them higher interest rates as well. Will this publicly-owned company owned by the public ever recover?

But I digress. Bob’s is the head that everyone wants to stick on a pike over Tower Gate. That’s because everything about Bob is Big and Boastful. Biggest salary, biggest bonus, biggest ego. He is, in short, the archetypal arrogant, swaggering, fat cat.

And as such, he has been entirely consistent with Barclays brand values over the years. Do you not remember Barclays brand ambassador Anthony Hopkins telling us how, if you weren’t big, you were nothing in banking circles? You don’t, do you? So, here as an aide-memoire is a superbly-crafted ad by Leagas Delaney, dating from 2000:

Sometimes, you see, advertising really can convey complex, uncomfortable, inner truths – without the client even noticing. Bob did, of course. He’s been a part of Barclays’ cultural furniture since 1996. He took the message very seriously indeed and acted out the part. What a brand martyr the man is!

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The jury’s out on Cannes’ creative verdict

June 27, 2012

One way or another the “C” word defined this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Naively, I came away from the ad industry’s annual Rivièra fest thinking “C” stood for Chipotle and Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the duo that pulled off the film grand prix and the top lion for one of this year’s new categories, branded content & entertainment. What a deserved breakthrough for the Colorado-based fast food outfit, whose wholesome message may one day may do McDonald’s some serious brand damage.

And here, just to prove that the Cannes judges not only know a winner when they see one but are prepared to back it without fear or favour, is that very “Back to the Start” grand prix winner, to the tuneful accompaniment of Willie Nelson:

How wrong I was about the “C” word, though. It turns out that “C” stands for Corruption. No sooner had WPP emerged as the top Holding Company of the Year for the second time in a row, and its subsidiary Ogilvy & Mather as Agency Network of the Year, than the allegations of vote-rigging began to fly. What, momentarily, had seemed WPP global creative director John O’Keeffe’s triumphal moment – in which he definitively proved that last year’s laurels were more than a passing fluke – was soon clouded by recrimination and counter-recrimination.

At the centre of the row is Amir Kassaei, worldwide creative head of Omnicom-owned DDB, who has accused WPP agencies on the Cannes jury of wresting what he clearly regards as Omnicom’s rightful crown from it by foul means. WPP racked up 1,554.5 points in the competition, and Omnicom – at number two – 1375.5, leaving Publicis Groupe trailing a distant third on 1032. Here’s what Kassaei had to say:

“We had a meeting in New York just ahead of Cannes, and I made a very, very clear statement to all our jury members that this festival is about integrity and responsibility. I said to them, you have to vote for the best work, no matter which agency is behind it.

“I have since been notified by no fewer than 12 jury members that people from other holding companies this week are being briefed to kill Omnicom, especially BBDO, DDB and TBWA, this is a fact.

“This is not about being a bad loser, or even supporting Omnicom, this is about the integrity and responsibility of the Cannes Lions Festival as a beacon of excellence around the world.”

Right on, Amir. But actually, no. It’s just part of the rough and tumble that afflicts Cannes voting patterns every year. Next year Omnicom may boycott Cannes, you say? Come off it. It’s about as likely as me selling my grandmother (if I still had one) into slavery.

The Great Holding Company Award Scandal is simply a continuation by other means of a long-running guerrilla war between WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe over who’s best boy creatively. Before the award was given official embodiment two years ago, the bosses of the three big network groups used to engage in a covert but nevertheless acrimonious tally of who had actually bagged the biggest statue haul. Frankly, Omnicom used to win by a country mile, even after discounting any creative arithmetic; which meant that the most entertaining part of the contest – vigorously disputed by WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell and head of Publicis Groupe Maurice Lévy – was over who had come second.

But with WPP out in front – and officially out in front at that – Omnicom seems to have lost its seigneurial disdain for such squabbling.

Not that WPP is exactly blameless in this regard. Clearly nettled by the fact that Omnicom-owned Manning Gottlieb OMD won the Media grand prix for a Google campaign, Sorrell recently told Mediaguardian:

“One thing I’ve noticed this year in particular [are] some practices creeping in that are a bit disturbing. Practices of pressure on the jury by [the chairman] of the judges. There are some techniques to these things. I was at a dinner and there was lots of chatter about one of the functional areas [awards categories] where lots of pressure was put on an organisation in terms of voting.”

Although Sorrell is not category-specific in his complaint Group M, the WPP media buying network that includes Mediacom and Mindshare, is known to have made a complaint to the Cannes festival management. While a little mischievous to do so, it is worth mentioning that the chairman of the media category judges was Mainardo de Nardis. De Nardis is, of course, chief executive of Omnicom-owned agency OMD Worldwide. But perhaps just as importantly, he is not best buddies with Sir Martin. The feud dates back to the Marco Benatti scandal, when de Nardis was a WPP employee.

Plus ça change, as they say at Cannes, plus c’est la même chose.


Yes, we Cannes: WPP, McDonald’s and McKinney grab top Effie Index rankings

June 18, 2012

It might seem counter-intuitive to announce the global Effie ‘Effectiveness Index’ winners at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity but then, as my colleague Stephen Foster points out, Cannes has become such a monster event it serves as global launchpad for virtually any marketing services event these days. So, before becoming immersed in a week-long self-congratulatory orgy of advertising creativity, let’s just remind ourselves of those advertisers, brands and agencies that actually bring home the bacon:

  • Unilever is the most effective advertiser;
  • McDonald’s is the most effective brand;
  • WPP Group is the most effective advertising holding company;
  • Ogilvy & Mather is the most effective advertising agency network;
  • Ogilvy & Mather (Mumbai) is the most effective individual agency office;
  • McKinney (Durham, North Carolina, USA) is the most effective independently held advertising agency.

Yes, I was wondering about that last one, too. It recently appeared in ‘The Pitch’, AMC’s unscripted programme in which two agencies vie over 7 days for  a piece of business, in this case Subway restaurants. McKinney won. It’s notable for its Audi A3 campaign, Art of the H3ist, which garnered two Effies and a Cannes Lion. And also for something called “connection planning”, which I take to mean an integrationist skill that ensures campaigns work smoothly across all channels.

Good for McKinney, I say. But I do have a qualification. Last year’s winner in this category was the slightly more universally recognised Wieden & Kennedy of Portland, Oregon. Now, I’m all for merit making its way to the forefront without having to await Buggin’s Turn. But I also look for consistency in results. The Effie Effectiveness Index, which is sponsored by insight portal WARC and compiled from 39 individual national Effie competitions, was only inaugurated last year and therefore lacks granular historical perspective. That said, there is a repeat winner this year: McDonald’s, with the most effective brand accolade. Here, for quick reference, is last year’s roll of honour:

  • Procter & Gamble was the most effective advertiser;
  • McDonald’s was the most effective brand;
  • Omnicom was the most effective advertising holding company;
  • BBDO Worldwide was the most effective agency network;
  • Sancho BBDO (Bogota, Colombia) was the most effective agency office;
  • Wieden & Kennedy (Portland, Oregon, USA) was the most effective independent advertising agency.
I don’t suppose that Sir Martin Sorrell will be worrying too much about historical perspective, as he wipes the blood away from his nose. One way or another, WPP has collared most of this year’s top Effies. So, he is worth it, after all.

Rita Clifton to step down as UK chairman of Interbrand

June 16, 2012

Rita Clifton, one of the UK’s best-known brand experts, is stepping down as UK chairman of Interbrand, the Omnicom-owned brand consultancy which she has headed for 10 years.

Clifton will officially leave on July 31st, although she is thought to have submitted her resignation earlier this year. She has long served on a three-day-a-week basis, and has a well developed career portfolio that includes several non-executive directorships. Besides being non-executive chairman of opinion pollster to The Times Populus, she is also a NED of Dixons, the electrical retailer, and BUPA, the global healthcare company. Since 2007, she has been a trustee of WWF-UK. In 2009 she was appointed president of the Market Research Society.

“Ten years in the chair (and 5 years as CEO before that) is quite long enough when it’s not your own company, and I have wanted to set up a private office to run/extend my non-exec and pro bono portfolio and do independent speaking and writing about brands for some time,” she says.

Clifton is a prolific writer on brands. Among her publications are the Future of Brands, published by Interbrand, and Brands and Branding, published by The Economist.

She began her career as an account planner at DMB&B and J Walter Thompson (JWT). In 1986 she moved to Saatchi & Saatchi London where she rose to deputy chairman and executive planning director in 1995.

Started in 1974 by John Murphy in the UK, Interbrand has morphed into a global organisation with nearly 40 offices and claims to be the world’s largest brand consultancy. It was acquired by Omnicom in 1993.

 


Taint of scandal touches Google as ICO reopens Street View investigation

June 13, 2012

I wonder what we should call it? Googlegate? Datagate, perhaps? Google’s inept handling of rogue data captured in the course of its Street View surveys is giving the search giant an unsavoury corporate reputation. It’s hard not to detect parallels here, albeit on a minor scale, with the Murdoch scandal.

And these parallels are? Out-of-control employees apparently breaking the law in pursuit of a private agenda; the abuse of private data; a corporate cover-up involving middle to upper reaches of company management; weak and complaisant regulators who have been forced to reexamine the inadequacy of their earlier rulings.

The UK spotlight has been turned back on Google only because of some disturbing findings uncovered by a Federal Communications Commission inquiry into material gathered by Street View cars – which have specially adapted cameras – in the US. Earlier, the UK regulator – The Information Commissioner’s Office – had dropped a probe into the affair after receiving assurances that Google had collected the data – which includes emails, email headings, visits to pornographic sites and personal medical information – purely by accident.

Not so, it now transpires thanks to the US investigation. A Google software engineer – we’ll call him Engineer Doe, because that’s what the FCC calls him – deliberately built a program capable of capturing all this stuff and then put it into operation between 2008 and 2010. Engineer Doe, it seems, “intended to collect, store and review payload data [as it is known] for possible use in other Google projects.” I wonder what these could have been? iSpy or Gotcha perhaps.

Engineer Doe told two other engineers working on the project what he was up to, one of whom was a senior manager. But the senior echelons at Google deny all complicity.

Having reopened its inquiry, the ICO now wants to know what type of data was captured; when exactly Google managers became aware of the rogue capture; and why Google had previously failed to disclose to the ICO the exact nature of the gathered data.

Extraordinarily, Engineer Doe and his two colleagues still appear to be in the employ of the company. Although, presumably, they are deployed on alternative projects.


Is this man wearing a Burberry?

June 11, 2012

Here’s this week’s brand identification test. Study carefully the following image of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman taken from a scene in the classic movie Casablanca.

Now answer the following multiple-choice question. Is Bogie’s trench-coat:

a) A Burberry?

b) An Aquascutum?

c) Neither of these?

If a), Burberry could be in serious trouble. And certainly the Bogart estate, represented by 63-year-old son of the actor, Stephen Bogart, thinks it should be. So much so that the estate is suing Burberry over trademark infringement (that’s Bogie’s trademark, not the trench-coat’s) after the London fashion house allegedly purloined an image of the actor wearing the coat for a Facebook page.

According to Bogart Jnr, the image is there purely and simply to promote Burberry sales – and shows a marked “disrespect” for the family’s legal rights.

Not so, says Burberry. It has riposted with a counter-suit alleging the picture of ‘Bogie’ was a historical reference in a timeline, and protected under America’s First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Lawyer Michael Crain, representing the Bogart estate, reckons his client’s case case is historic because it tackles the issue of identity theft in social media. But that will only be so if Burberry fails to establish that its purpose in using the image was educational, and therefore not commercial.

A more nagging question for brand buffs – and perhaps for Burberry itself – is whether Bogie’s coat, which makes its appearance in the closing scenes of the 1942 movie classic, is actually a Burberry.

Young Stephen raises the tantalising prospect that it is not. “It is well known,” he tells us cryptically, “that my father was a loyal Aquascutum customer in his personal life.”

So, perhaps Aquascutum should get in on the legal gravy-train as well. Who knows? It could end up costing Burberry millions of dollars.


Smart cookie Microsoft fails to keep track with advertisers

June 11, 2012

Microsoft stirred up a hornet’s nest among US advertisers a couple of weeks ago when it introduced a new version of Bing. Why? Because version 10 of its internet Explorer browser in Windows 8, which accompanied the Bing relaunch, has apparently gone soft on the civil liberties lobby, and set up a nasty precedent for restraint of trade.

Need a bit more unpacking? Fair enough. It’s our old friend behavioural targeting – sometimes called behavioural analytics – that’s causing advertisers’ pulses to race. BT is the new frontier, allowing advertisers to plot an accurate path through our internet interests via specially implanted cookie files (more on this in my earlier post here). Without it, they are flying blind, or rather they are dependent on old-fashioned demographics-based contextual advertising, which is a bit like trying to find your bearings from a soggy map in the open-air cockpit of a pre-war biplane.

Anyway, back to Microsoft. It has embedded a ‘Do Not Track’ functionality in its highly popular browser, with a default setting in the ‘On’ position. And the Association of National Advertisers, the US equivalent of  our Incorporated Society of Practitioners in Advertising (ISBA), is very angry about it:

“Microsoft’s decision, made without industry discussion or consensus, undercuts years of tireless, collaborative efforts across the business community — efforts that were recently heralded by the White House and Federal Trade Commission as an effective way to educate consumers and address their concerns regarding data collection, targeted advertising and privacy. We reject efforts by any provider or other group to unilaterally impose choices on the consumer in this critical area of the economy…”

…. says Bob Liodice, president & CEO, of ANA. Just why ‘imposing choices on the consumer’ is such a bad thing is not immediately apparent. Surely choice is at the core of the consumer society? But we know what he means: Microsoft hasn’t exactly been helpful to the cause.

I have yet to discover whether Microsoft will be inflicting a similar burden of choice on consumers in Europe. UK  advertisers have been breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the tireless efforts of ISBA, the Internet Advertising Bureau and EASA (European Advertising Standards Alliance), which had been arguing for a laissez allez approach to BT, have finally borne fruit. Privacy regulator The Information Commissioner’s Office (director-general, Chris Graham, pictured) has, after much havering, decided that what the new EU ePrivacy directive actually means is “implied consent” to carry on cookie-tracking. Which comes as a huge relief to thousands of website owners, let alone advertisers, who feared they were going to have to bombard users with innumerable trade-impairing pop-up warnings every time they wanted to activate a cookie. “Implied consent”, in other words, firmly shifts responsibility in law from the advertiser and website owner to the consumer.

Not unnaturally, the industry has praised Graham – former director-general of the Advertising Standards Authority – for his “pragmatism”. But doubts remain about what will happen to the British position – which is, shall we say, a unique interpretation of the ePrivacy directive – once it is tested by case law elsewhere in the Community. Doubtless Microsoft’s decision back in the Land of the Free will not be considered helpful.


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