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Chris Wood helps to launch top-end male fashion brand Dom Reilly

March 28, 2013

Dom ReillyFor years, you’ve run your own brand consultancy. After successfully selling it, you step into the limelight as chairman of the Central Office of Information, only to find that mad axeman and part-time cabinet minister Francis Maude is cutting off at the knees the very organisation you’ve just been invited to head. What next?

I caught up with Chris Wood recently and found out. It transpires he is helping to give lift-off to a new top-end fashion brand called Dom Reilly. Never heard of it? Well, unlike Chris Wood, you’ve probably had nothing to do with Formula One. Wood, in his spare time, is an unreconstructed petrol head; and Dominic Reilly (pictured) – the eponymous brand name –  is the former head of marketing at Williams F1 Team.

Reilly’s company, where Wood is a non-executive director and adviser, is ambitiously pitching itself at the very top of a very discriminating market – with a price-tag to match. The initial range, admittedly exquisitely hand-crafted, starts at £95 for a tooled leather phone case and escalates to an eye-watering £1,400 for a weekender bag (roughly the price of a Manolo Blahnik handbag or a Jimmy Choo tote).  This new brand has no intention of being a Mulberrry also-ran, no siree.

So why is Reilly so confident about his ambitious positioning? The answer lies not so much in the quality of the goods – that’s a given when competing with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and Alfred Dunhill – but in a judicious soupçon of Formula One. A soupçon, because too much of it will asphyxiate the brand with the rank odour of “petrol-head” and “anorak” – in short, death by downmarket male. While there’s no escaping Dom Reilly’s essentially masculine appeal, the idea is to imbue the brand with FI’s sophisticated reputation for engineering excellence and technological innovation. One of the accessories, for instance, is a beautifully finished crash helmet case; and some of the collection features a special high-density foam used in F1 cockpits that absorbs almost all shock on impact.

Reilly, given his 6 years as head of marketing at Williams, has second-to-none access to one of the world’s most sophisticated R&D departments. But he has to be careful how he plays the Williams card. Few team brands, with the exception of Ferrari, have much charisma off-track. And in any case, Williams has not performed well of late (one, but only one, good reason, why the Williams name is not directly associated with the brand). Instead, an aura of cutting-edge R&D is being subtly diffused through the person of Patrick Head, co-founder of Williams F1 and its fabled chief of design – who just happens to be a founder shareholder in Dom Reilly.

Dom Reilly EnglandIn truth, the attractions of launching an haute gamme fashion brand are there for all to see: salivating margins and high resilience to recession. Equally, so is the demerit: everyone’s at it. The sector has become crowded with participants touting increasingly obscure and recondite “provenance”: the 17th century Huguenot diaspora, the Empress Josephine’s personal dressmaker etc (I made those up, but you know what I mean). So attaching your brand to future-directed technology with wide aspirational appeal is certainly a point of difference.

But that’s not to say fashion and high-octane auto culture are natural bedfellows, as the history of the Ferrari brand all too clearly illustrates. “It’s interesting,” says Wood, “That in the last Top Gear programme I watched, they were extolling the virtues (and innocence) of Pagani (750bhp hypercars, costing three times as much as a Lamborghini and correspondingly rare), while referring to the Maranello mob (i.e. Ferrari) as ‘purveyors of key rings and baseball caps’. And about Lamborghini as a contrivance of Audi. Out of the mouths of children, and even Clarkson, can come a certain wisdom.”

Indeed.

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Richard Pinder launches global network with Maserati as a client

March 26, 2013

Richard PinderAfter years of being a jet-setting senior suit in someone else’s service, Richard Pinder has decided to go global on his own account with the ambitious launch of international network The House Worldwide.

Pinder, it will be recalled, was head of Publicis Worldwide for five years until group succession politics (the imposition of Jean-Yves Naouri as executive chairman) made further tenure of his position unrealistic.

That was two years ago. Since then, Pinder has been pondering how to cash in on his experience with global clients (he’s worked for over 25 years in Asia, Europe and the USA; for Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey, as well as Publicis) by building a new-model worldwide agency network.

No mean cliché, the cynic will object. We’ve heard the rhetoric before. What’s the reality?

It’s true that the agency world has long been struggling with a “post-analogue” structural solution to the increasingly financially unviable traditional creative agency network, with its army of regional bureaucracies. Some have proffered a solution in the form of the fleeter-footed international micro-network (step forward BBH, Wieden & Kennedy and – in its heyday – StrawberryFrog.

Pinder, however, has gone a step further in presenting a top-down managerial solution – or perhaps that should be management consultancy solution – in place of the piecemeal creative one. His starting point is that the traditional global advertising business – unlike professional counterparts such as lawyers and accountants – loses most of its senior talent to the management of regional geographic fiefdoms, which are there primarily because of historical legacy. What this talent should be doing is servicing the client’s agenda rather than their own corporate one. The exception, where the client really can insist on top-level personal service, is a vanishingly small number of mega-clients, such as Ford and Procter & Gamble, which have specially structured teams to pander to their requirements.

Pinder’s idea is to provide this level of service for global, or at least international, clients further down the budgetary league table. Each client should be serviced by no less than three senior people at any one time. To do this, he has joined forces with a core team of like-minded senior executives: initially, Peter Rawlings, former chief operating officer DDB Asia, Chris Chard, former chief strategy officer of Lowe Worldwide in New York and Ben Stobart, former senior vice-president (chief suit) of Burnett Chicago. These will deal directly with top clients on a day-to-day basis; the specialist skills base, on the other hand, is to be provided by a network of over a dozen associated network companies, of which the best known is Naked Communications (see AdWeek for a full list).

Note the absence of an overall chief creative officer. This is deliberate: Pinder does not believe a single individual can adequately address the creative needs of all client types.

Why is Pinder convinced this model can operate from a single fixed geographical location (well, actually two in THW’s case – London and Singapore)?  Because of consolidation on the brand management side. More and more marketing power is being concentrated into the hands of Chief marketing officers and indeed chief executives; less and less being delegated to regional and country power bases.

But, the acid test is: has Pinder got any clients? Yes he has. He has been collaborating with two over the past year in honing the organisational structure of THW, during what he calls “beta mode” (how digitally au courant).

And they are? Maserati and an upmarket specialist haircare brand, GHD (stands for “Good Hair Day”). Both, he tells me, are poised at an interesting fulcrum of development, from the brand and new product point of view.

Maserati, an ultra luxury sports car marque lodged in the Chrysler/Fiat stable, has been given a €1.6bn injection to broaden its model range and take on Porsche.

GHD – which produces premium-priced hair stylers – is also cash-rich after being bought for £300m by Lion Capital. Lion is investing in npd, with a view to bringing GHD out of the salon and onto the international stage. Inevitably, that is going to involve careful brand positioning as GHD moves into a broader market segment.

However, Pinder is coy on the subject of who, apart from Maserati and GHD, is bankrolling all of this. It seems likely that both principal founders (Pinder and Rawlings) have skin in the game. But a project of this scope is financially beyond most individual investors, even if they are relatively wealthy admen. Private equity seems to the answer. Among the list of network associates is, rather intriguingly, a UK-based hedge fund called Toscafund, whose chairman is former RBS bigwig Sir George Mathewson. Pinder claims Toscafund is very handy on the “analytics” side. No doubt. But my guess is it’s providing a lot more resource than that.


Ford shows it doesn’t care a Figo for Indian political and cultural sensitivities

March 25, 2013

Ford Figo/HiltonGood advertising is, like good comedy, about timing. About sniffing out the zeitgeist and then putting an inimitable twist upon it.

Judged by such criteria, Ford’s latest “offering”, in India, for its Figo model ranks very high.

What could be more timely than demonstrating the little car’s exceptional cargo-carrying capacity than three nubile women, one scantily clad, all three bound and gagged, occupying the boot space?

Closer inspection of the ad reveals that the caricatures are supposed to represent actual celebrities. In the front seat is Paris Hilton, looking over her shoulder and winking at us. The gagged lovelies are Kim Kardashian and her two sisters. It’s all good clean fun, in the best possible taste. And part of a wider humorous narrative in which well-known personalities get their revenge on rivals by confining them to the back end of the surprisingly capacious Figo. We can tell this from another execution in the campaign, which shows ex-Formula One ace Michael Schumacher dealing with his rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, in the same summary manner. Oh, and get this. There’s a third ad with Silvio Berlusconi in the driving seat… need I go on?

Naturally, we’re never going to get so far as savouring the full complexity of the Team WPP (for it is they) humorous palate; not once our attention has been arrested by the sight of a restrained, near-naked Kardashian – and the tumultuous outcry which has accompanied it within right-thinking circles across the Indian sub-continent.

Ford, of course, is mortified. Though whether by the political and cultural insensitivity of the ad, or the chorus of execration that has greeted its appearance, is not altogether apparent. No doubt Team WPP will also be walking about with its tail between its legs for some time to come.

The official explanation is that the ads were created merely for “in-house” use (whatever that might mean) and that they somehow got posted on the internet.

Isn’t it a bit early for April 1st?

Or do creative teams really live in such a cultural bubble that they are wholly insulated from events in the wider world ?

Come to think of it, what were their bosses doing while all this harmless in-house glee was going on?

UPDATE 27/3/13: Now we know the answer to that last question. The bosses were implicated up to their gills. And have paid the price in full with forced resignations. Bobby Pawar, JWT India’s chief creative officer & managing partner, as well as Vijay SimhaVellanki, creative director at Blue Hive, a WPP unit dedicated to managing the Ford business, are no longer on Team Ford – or for that matter, employees of WPP. More on this at MAA.


Fake Pepsi viral takes punters for a ride

March 15, 2013

Jeff GordonThere’s a rather thrilling viral doing the rounds that features top NASCAR (US stock car) racer Jeff Gordon giving a car salesman the ride of his life in a used Chevrolet Camaro. A heavily disguised Jeff is posing as a mousy middle-aged punter, and the stunt is, allegedly, in the service of Pepsi Max, which gets a prominent product placement plug, as can be seen here:

Except the viral seemingly has nothing to do with Pepsi’s agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, and the real driver wasn’t even Jeff Gordon. It’s a stunt staged by actors, a 100% fakaloo. The only fact beyond doubt? That this “ad” is the week’s top viral, having been shared by millions of people. According to the website Jalopnik, which seems pretty clued up on the subject:

A report in Concord, NC’s Independent Tribune verifies what our insider told me: “Racer Brad Noffsinger, who works with the Richard Petty Driving Experience, did the stunt work for the production.”

And there are, in addition, a number of giveaways about the authenticity of the viral relating to the car itself. The video was in point of fact produced by Gifted You, which is owned by Will Ferrell‘s Funny or Die company.

Was this commercial even put together at Pepsi’s instigation? Maybe we have a “Grassy Knoll” situation here.


The man who didn’t cause the world’s most infamous marketing disaster dies

March 8, 2013

edselsThe death late last month of Roy Brown Jr, aged 96, is a timely reminder of that old adage: success has many authors; failure but one scapegoat. The reality, as we shall see, is not uncommonly the inverse.

Brown was Ford’s top designer during the Fifties and it was his misfortune to be saddled with historical responsibility for one of the greatest marketing disasters of all time. The Ford Edsel was conceived in 1955, born in the 1958 model year and unceremoniously euthanised in late November 1959. In that time it had cost Ford a record $350m, the equivalent in today’s money of about $2.8tr.

Critics rounded on the controversial “horse collar” or “toilet-seat” chrome grille, in which some amateur psychologists even descried a vulva, as the car’s killer feature. Admittedly, over 50 years later, it’s hard to regard that grille as an aesthetic triumph – but, with hindsight, it’s surely no more than a fairly conventional attribute of the overblown fin-styled float-boats of the time. In any case, Brown was not ultimately responsible for the grille. His concept was a much more restrained vertical opening, perhaps à la Alfa; it was overruled by Ford engineers, who deemed it too narrow for radiator-cooling efficiency.

The wider truth about the Edsel – and the calamity that engulfed it – is that it was not just an automobile style, not just a car, but a range of cars, a new manufacturing division and, most disastrous misconception of all, a market segment that never existed.

In reviewing the consumer boom in 1950s America, Ford market “research” had concluded the car manufacturer was in need of more careful market segmentation. Its top end range – Lincoln and Mercury – was found to be competing – horror of horrors – with more downmarket marques such as Oldsmobile and Buick at General Motors. Solution: push Lincoln further upscale with the new Continental marque, which would compete more credibly with Cadillac. And introduce a new mid-market marque, the Edsel, which would slot in just below Mercury and just above Ford.

Simple, eh? Except Ford senior management then went on to commit a series of textbook marketing errors. The research was fatally flawed: by 1957 middle Americans were tightening their belts as a mini-recession beckoned. If anything, they were looking downmarket, at more value for money. Speaking of which, Ford then committed error number two, it got greedy with its pricing. The new segment competed nearly head on with Mercury, undermining the latter’s perceived value. At the same time, the bottom end of the Edsel range overlapped Ford’s better-equipped and better-value-for-money Fairlane 500.

Error number three was the name. No one had a clue what it should be, so the task was delegated to Edsel’s agency, Foote Cone & Belding – which duly obliged with no less than 6,000 paralysing suggestions, none of which quite did the business. True, four of them – Citation, Corsair, Pacer and Ranger – ended up as model names. But that still left the awkward issue of the umbrella brand unresolved. What then happened almost beggars belief. While Ford chairman Henry Ford II – a known sceptic of the whole brand segmentation idea – was abroad, the board took it upon themselves to name the marque after his father, the oddly-named Edsel – in honour of the Ford family. An unintentional hostage to fortune if ever there was one.

All things considered, the Edsel actually had a reasonable launch. It undershot expectations, but still managed to be one of the biggest model launches to date. From there on in, however, it was rapidly downhill. As the recession bit and sales stalled, the vultures began to circle. Some actually thought the styling and layout of the vehicle (which shared a platform with other Ford marques) was too conventional (!). Others criticised the range for coming up with innovations, such as the Teletouch automatic transmission selector, which were too complex for the consumer of the time. And certainly there were reliability and after-market problems.

robert_mcnamaraGetting the picture? Biffed on all sides, sales tanking; enter Robert McNamara – Hank the Deuce’s axeman. Better known to history as the man who, as Secretary of Defense, thought up the “body-count” as a means of conjuring defeat in Vietnam into victory, in the late Fifties McNamara (left) was a whizz kid consultant at Ford, who shared his chairman’s deeply-held conviction (or was that prejudice?) that Ford was over segmented, and would do well to get back to core brand values. It was death for the new but massively underperforming marque by several strategic cuts – cuts in the marketing and advertising budget; cuts in the production budget and cuts in the management overheads. The separate Edsel division was soon dissolved, but the Edsel itself limped on for a while as rebadged, retrimmed and overpriced Ford models in all but name.

And Roy Brown, the man who got blamed for it in the popular imagination? He lived to fight another day, as chief designer of Ford’s first world-car, the Cortina. Not only that, he kept faith with the Edsel, an immaculate example of which he continued to drive until his dying days.

For Brown’s estate, at any rate, the Edsel will have proved a good investment. Showroom-condition models now achieve prices in excess of $100,000.



L’Affaire Renault reaches a suicidal nadir

October 12, 2012

Ah, the cynicism of the modern corporation. Remember all those years ago when Jo Moore, spin doctor to Stephen Byers, Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions secretary, emailed her boss those immortal words, referring to 9/11: “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”?

Well, now the French are having a similar moment of national revulsion at what’s called “L’Affaire Renault”. Readers of this blog will recall my post detailing Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy’s grubby attempt – successful at first – to stitch up Renault director of customer marketing Philippe Clogenson when the latter had the temerity to consider placing his business outside the Publicis empire. Clogenson was one of four senior Renault executives summarily fired (Clogenson for corruption, the other three for alleged industrial espionage) at the beginning of 2011 – only to be rehabilitated in the most humiliating way possible for Renault boss Carlos Ghosn and his number two, who subsequently had to resign.

And, guess what? The judicial investigation into the Renault scandal, now consuming many hours of M. Ghosn’s time, has turned up a new shocker. According to verified documents published in Le Parisien today, the car manufacturer had prepared draft statements for release in the eventuality that any of the executives attempted or committed suicide. The draft document, prepared by then director of communications Frédérique Le Grèves, read, “The entire company is profoundly shaken by the seriousness of this act. Our thoughts are with the family of M. XXX.” Fill in, as appropriate.

Contacted by Le Parisien, Le Grèves – now Ghosn’s chief of staff – managed to dig herself into a still deeper hole by insisting that the draft communiqué was “pure and simple anticipation, just a form of words in case we needed to respond to journalists.” The rehabilitated executives must have been delighted with that touch. But the broader point, which seems to have escaped Renault’s senior management, is the French public is aghast at the cynicism of it all. Le Grèves simply can’t understand what all the hullabaloo is about. I wonder how much longer she will remain Le Ghosn’s chief of staff.

The examining magistrate, Hervé Robert, took up half a day of Ghosn’s valuable time during his last hearing – and has threatened a 10-hour marathon during his next. I’m sure Lévy can barely wait for the judge’s attention to be turned to himself.


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