Brands put the “r” into bands

January 31, 2013

imagesLeonardo da Vinci was dependent on the Duke of Milan, Cesare Borgia and the King of France; Wolfgang Mozart, the Archbishop of Salzburg – while the aristocratic Esterhazys supported Joseph Haydn. Throughout the ages, artists have had a necessary, if problematic, relationship with patrons. Or, as they are now known, sponsors.

These days, the rich and the powerful bestowers of largesse are brands; one thing that hasn’t changed is the contentious issue of artistic integrity. How far should talent go in prostituting itself in order to earn a crust? Some would say the New Seekers, who re-recorded Coca-Cola’s immortal “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercial as a chart-busting single back in 1971, crossed the line in genuflecting to Mammon, however “altruistic” the message.

But whatever The New Seekers may, or may not, have done is a moon-cast shadow compared with today’s flexi-ethics. With record labels going down the tube, and online piracy rampant, how is the gig going to make money? The answer for many (should they be so lucky) is to insert an “r” into band. Brands have not been slow to exploit this opportunity. Nike, the arch ambush-brand, may not “own” the rapper Drake, but it certainly makes sure he’s well supplied with every imaginable item of swooshed kit. Likewise Martell has picked up on the “gnac” in hip-hop culture and uses music as a means of penetrating the African-American market, where (exceptionally) brandy is on an upward consumption curve.

My old chum Peter Krijgsman has, slightly cynically, gone one step further in “cutting out the middleman” and making an explicit appeal for product placement in his latest (and possibly only, he tells me) album, Digital Age Blues. Of particular interest is this little C&W number “Sponsor Me”, containing such catchy lyrics as:

“Don’t think of me as a humble song, but as an opportunitee, Yes sir. You’ll get a big bag of crochets for a very modest fee, you’ll grow like a pig from Idaho when you sponsor me.”

I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek this “offering” is from Peter, whom some may better remember as a comms director at BarCap and ING. But it can’t be denied it is slick.  The band is Krijgsman and Sid Stronach. Helen Knight and Claire Macauley are the backing singers. And here it is in full: Sponsor_Me.

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Wonga scores own goal with social media subterfuge

November 21, 2012

Sally Bercow and Alan Davies  – who you may recall were a little too keen to blacken the name of Lord McAlpine – are not the only prominent twitterati caught abusing social media recently.

Wonga, the so-called payday loans company (that’s “usurer” to you and me, readers), has found itself at the wrong end of a Guardian exposé after systematically attempting to undermine the reputation of its chief  gadfly, anti-payday loans campaigner and Labour MP Stella Creasy. It did so by using a bogus Twitter account to suggest she was “mental”, “nuts” and a “self-serving egomaniac”.

The Twitter account in question was operated by one “Daniel Sargant” – an alias for what Wonga management, when put on the spot, characterised as a “junior employee” – evidently with the idea of suggesting that he or she was an unauthorised maverick. Bearing in mind the likely educational attainments of most junior employees at Wonga, this is a remarkably sophisticated one whose talents are obviously being wasted in the lower ranks of a payday loans company. A more compelling theory – voiced in The Guardian – is that “Daniel Sargant” is none other than Luke Manning, editor of Open Wonga, a website dedicated to educating consumers about the brand. Its inference is based on the fact that at least one of “Daniel’s” blog comments has the same internet protocol (IP) address as a computer used by Manning when, quite separately, he made a comment on another blog. (Manning, by the way, has denied any suggestion that “Daniel” is his alter ego.)

While it is entirely understandable that Wonga should wish to bury its best-known brand attribute of  “4,214% APR”, manipulating phoney Twitter accounts is probably not the way to do it. Not least because this kind of conduct cuts directly across the company’s credo of “Straight Talking Money.”

As does fiddling its Wikipedia entry to polish the corporate facts. And yet maybe, in a perverse sort of way, we should be grateful to Wonga for its underhand, if hamfisted, tactics. Had it not been for a determined attempt to erase any reference to its recent and controversial £25m (they say) sponsorship deal with Newcastle United, I would never have known that a survey of 1,000 fans had uncovered serious concerns about the deal, and the people behind it:

“… fans are disappointed that the club has not attracted a sponsor that enhances Newcastle United’s profile and is not the type of premium brand previously associated with the club.”

Not, admittedly, the sort of thing you want trumpeted about your brand.


Barclays bully should do his homework on Stonewall’s Bigot of the Year award

November 1, 2012

Tonight’s the night. The night, that is, when we finally discover who has won the much-uncoveted title of Bigot of the Year at the Stonewall annual awards.

Stonewall being a charity dedicated to promoting the civil rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, it requires little to imagine what kind of bigot might qualify for this category. Take any ante-diluvian churchman or off-guard Tory politician and you’re practically there as far as the longlist goes.

So far, so dull. But wait. This year, sponsors have decided to spice up the awards – by threatening to pull out if Stonewall goes ahead and announces a Bigot of the Year winner.

Coutts (RBS-owned, but sshh, don’t mention that to any of its wealthy customers) – which is only a category sponsor (the anodyne Writer of the Year) has already pulled its delegation from tonight’s hoe-down. And Barclays – which, rather more challengingly appears to be a general sponsor – has threatened to terminate its financial commitment.

Mark McLane, managing director and head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays told The Telegraph: “I have recently been made aware of the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ category in the awards. Let me be absolutely clear that Barclays does not support that award category either financially, or in principle and have (sic) informed Stonewall that should they decide to continue with this category we will not support this event in the future. To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment, and detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event.”

So, righteous fulmination at the underhand introduction of a new category, eh, Mark? Well not quite. Some swift desk research, which even someone as grand as a managing director and head of Global Diversity and Inclusion might deign to do before opening his mouth, would reveal that Bigot of the Year has been a staple of the Stonewall awards since 2006. And, even more interestingly, Barclays itself seems to have supported the self-same awards since 2009. Now I know that there has been a lot of staff churn at Barclays recently and corporate memory tends to be – at the best of times – short. Even so, wakey, wakey, Mark. Or is Stonewall so low down the list of sponsorable causes that you simply haven’t noticed it before?

Either way, Stonewall should sack Barclays before Barclays sacks Stonewall. With friends like that… Surely corporate bullying is just the sort of thing Stonewall is trying to stamp out?


Clint Eastwood – Romney’s Fifth Cavalry

October 24, 2012

What was it Wellington used to say? Something about Napoleon’s hat on the battlefield being worth 50,000 men. I reckon Clint Eastwood, more revered than any living president past or present, could be worth considerably more than 50,000 votes in the battlefield states.

Clint, you may remember, spent most of his time at the Republican Convention talking to an empty chair, representing the incumbent president. His performance seemed to say a lot more about Clint than it did about Mitt Romney.

Now he has finally come off the fence, openly endorsing Romney in a 30 second spot:

American Crossroads, by the way, is a major Romney PAC (Political Action Committee).

Wasted on the mayorship of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Ca, wasn’t he?


Lancing the boil of celebrity culture

October 18, 2012

For years he wove a cynical circle of deceit around the community, perpetrating the most heinous misdeeds while masquerading as a benefactor of mankind.

Of course, there were a few whispers. Doubters who thought the myth he had wrapped around himself was too good to be true. Alleged victims of his corruption who knew for certain he was a Wrong ‘Un (or so they claimed).

But who were these people? The spiteful and envious, endeavouring to poison the reputation of a noble celebrity with unfounded gossip. Or worse, Society’s sad losers maliciously fabricating tales of victimisation for their own financial gain. And why should we take any notice of them when their intended target was such a fine, upstanding, pillar of the community?

Jimmy Savile – for now, still a still a Knight of the Realm and Knight Commander of the Star, by order of the Holy See; Lance Armstrong – for now, still 7-times winner of the Tour de France: what’s the difference? They were gigantic frauds and they’ve had a good laugh at the expense of us all. But now it’s all over. Jimmy remains an untouchable – in a technical sense, at any rate, since he is beyond the grave. Lance is a little less fortunate. His life-expectancy, in view of the cancer challenge and toxic artificial stimulants religiously ingested over the years, must be severely foreshortened. Alas, not so foreshortened that he can escape the hand of Justice clamping his shoulder and calling him to account; or the incessant righteous ‘told-you-so’ opprobrium that will now rain down on his already mired reputation.

Because that’s the thing about reputations. Once trashed, there’s no rehabilitation, no going back. The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their  bones.

Who, a few months on, will want to remember that Savile, the child molester and serial pervert, was also a doer of good deeds whose work for charity raised an estimated £40m?

Who now will wish to recall that Armstrong’s reputation and sporting prowess, however achieved, was indispensable to the success of the Livestrong, the cancer charity he founded 15 years ago?

Last year $35.8 million went through the charity’s books, 82 per cent of which was passed on directly to research programmes.

Yes, they were both self-serving hypocrites, in the sense they pretended to a piety they richly did not deserve. But weren’t we all complicit in that hypocrisy as well? Not just institutions like the BBC, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, or sponsors such as Nike, Oakley and Anheuser-Busch – who clearly had a vested interest in nay-saying whenever allegations of inappropriate conduct surfaced; but the rest of us too, who were gullible enough to believe that our idols really don’t have feet of clay? After all, who’s looking at the feet when the object of veneration is walking on water?

So, if Armstrong’s sponsors are heading for the exit as fast as their own feet of clay will carry them, and Savile’s charity is now studiously engaged in an act of collective amnesia over its founder’s name, can we really blame them? They are just as obsessed with, and as gullible about, celebrity culture as the rest of us.


Nike neatly sidesteps Olympics brand sponsorship rules with Paula Radcliffe ad

August 1, 2012

Here’s Nike cocking another snook at those pesky International Olympics Committee and Locog rules on sponsorship:

Had Paula Radcliffe not been injured, Nike – unlike arch-rival Adidas not an official sponsor of the Games – would have been prohibited from running this ad, featuring one of Team GB’s athletes.

Nike hints there may be more ads featuring British athletes if the opportunity arises.

During the games, athletes can only promote official Olympic sponsors, meaning they are banned from endorsing even their own.

Still more surreptitiously, Dr Dre – the rapper and music entrepreneur – has succeeded in skirting the rules with an ambush marketing campaign that persuaded British athlete Laura Robson to endorse his Beats headphones range.

Dr Dre sent Team GB members special versions of the Beats range branded with union flag colours.

Tennis player Laura Robson tweeted about receiving her headphones, although the post was subsequently removed from her Twitter account. Goalkeeper Jack Butland also responded to the gift, tweeting: “Love my GB Beats by Dre.”

For those not in the know, Beats headphones are near universally available at the Aquatics Centre. Swimmers including Michael Phelps use them to block out background noise before races.

IOC guidance published before the Olympics states that athletes are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any website. This particular stunt is a smack in the eye for Panasonic, which is an official sponsor.

Nike’s and Dr Dre’s ambush marketing comes shortly after US athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, roundly condemned Rule 40 of the IOC code of conduct, which forbids athletes from mentioning their personal sponsors on social media during the games.

Last Friday, legal advisers to Locog decided not to take action against a global ad campaign by Nike that featured everyday athletes competing in places around the world named London.

Lastly, ambush marketing, how not to do it. An object lesson from PepsiCo. This in-game ad for Mountain Dew Energy drink seen on various gaming-apps, a video sharing and a social media website, features what appears to be a teenager on a snowboard doing unrecommended things on the Underground. Catchline: “Don’t Dew this at home.” Not entirely surprisingly, the ad – devised by Impact BBDO – has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, on the grounds that it is completely irresponsible. Just getting into the Olympic spirit, eh, Pepsi?


Agencies pick over Ewanick’s GM legacy

July 30, 2012

“He failed to meet the expectations that the company has for its employees,” said General Motors spokesman Greg Martin cryptically. That looks like being GM global marketing supremo Joel Ewanick’s epitaph. The marketing whirligig quit abruptly last weekend, after two years at the steering wheel of one of the world’s biggest car companies.

But just what did Martin mean by failed expectations? It appears that Ewanick fell down badly on the small print in the 5-year sponsorship deal he signed with Manchester United. Details remain sketchy, although they will undoubtedly emerge over time. Some financial liability is likely involved should GM fail to deliver on its side of the bargain; this seems to be what Ewanick ‘forgot’ to disclose to his superiors.

GM may be glad to see the back of him, but we hacks will miss Ewanick – with his uncanny ability to manufacture a headline. Here is the man who said ‘No’ to extortionate prime-time Super Bowl advertising; and put two-fingers up to Facebook – commercially speaking – just before it foundered in a very rocky public flotation. The Manchester United sponsorship was to be his masterly counter-coup: Ewanick bringing in the vibrant Old World (China and emerging markets included) to redress a marketing overspend in the tired old New.

Alas, attention to detail seems foreign to Ewanick’s nature. Now we shall never really know whether he was a marketing visionary with a bold grasp of the Big Picture, or simply a publicity-hungry megalomaniac revelling in world-renown.

What matters from here on in is the unpicking of Ewanick’s legacy. Hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue are at stake for the agencies that signed up to the Ewanick dream. Doubtless their lawyers are already assessing the strength of the contracts they co-signed with him. What now for Carat’s tenure of the $3bn global media account? And for Commonwealth, the complex advertising vehicle set up so that Goodby Silverstein and McCann Erickson could jointly service most of the global Chevy creative account? The holding companies of all three agencies – Aegis Group, Omnicom and Interpublic – have already made substantial investments in staffing up in and around Detroit to service the newly streamlined accounts.

Advertising relationships in the auto-industry have traditionally been very personality-driven. Despite a thick coating of metrics-speak in all their public utterances, this has been transcendentally true of Ewanick and his advertising coterie.

Goodby looks particularly vulnerable, given the close personal relationship between Ewanick and Goodby founder Jeff Goodby – who shared the stage at this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

All eyes will now be on Ewanick’s (at least temporary) successor, Alan Batey, head of US sales and service.

Little is known of him other than that he was once a car mechanic. But of one thing you can be certain. Agencies, on and off the GM roster, will be doing their damnedest to find out more. Just in case.

UPDATE 31/7/12: The problem with the Manchester United shirt sponsorship deal is that Ewanick paid too much, it has emerged. He committed to a 7-year deal at £25m ($39m) a year without disclosing how “full” the terms were to GM’s board. $300m represents a premium of 25% to what the current sponsor, AON, is paying – and is a lot more than Ewanick seems to have implied to his colleagues during negotiation.


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