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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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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.


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.


The ads that defined Tony Scott

August 22, 2012

For the late Sixties Hollywood Britpack – Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson, Adrian Lyne, David Puttnam – commercials production was the school where they learned the film-making art.

Tony, Ridley’s younger brother by 7 years, was no exception. Initially, having graduated from the Royal College of Art, he hankered after the austere, attic-lit life of the painter. But materialism – and maybe common sense – got the better of him. In 1967, Ridley Sr lured him into joining his nascent production company RSA (Ridley Scott Associates) with the promise of a Ferrari. It is invidious making a selection from the hundreds of high-grade TV commercials that followed during what the younger Scott later described as a generation of “girls, jeans, rock and roll – a wild period in advertising; … a blast.” But here, all the same, are a few milestones:

First, what we might now refer to as Barclays’s finest hour, with Anthony Hopkins in the starring role of Bob Diamond. A classic, even 12 years later:

Then the Viggen jet fighter ad for Saab, which allegedly put Tony in the frame for making Top Gun, his best-known film:

And finally, finally – his last ad, made for BBDO and Mountain Dew, and featuring Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban :

It’s all in that last line, isn’t it? “But I’m Mark Cuban!” Scott’s sudden death last Sunday remains a mystery. His wife has discounted all rumours that he was suffering from “inoperable brain cancer”.


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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