Emirates global account quandary as Strawberry Frog splits with Amsterdam

July 11, 2013

emirates46_460If what I hear is correct, Scott Goodson, chairman of micro-network Strawberry Frog, hasn’t been kissing enough princes lately.

The mercurial Goodson – famous for saying his agency wasn’t up for sale, while putting the finishing touches to a deal with PR group APCO – has had a bust-up with his Amsterdam agency, Media Catalyst. That’s Amsterdam agency number two. He also managed to alienate Amsterdam agency number one, headed by SF co-founder Brian Elliott, which now trades as Amsterdam Worldwide. And then he fell out with his Brazilian partner, Alexandre Peralta, of Peralta Sao Paulo – an agency that has gone on to rather greater achievement without him. So, there’s a bit of history to this kind of thing.

But I digress a little. The latest split is unusually serious, because SF Amsterdam/Media Catalyst is the lead agency for SF’s backbone client, Dubai-based Emirates Airline – one of the world’s largest. The Frogs won the account against considerable competition from the likes of BBDO and Grey, back in 2010. And what an account to win: lead agency for a global rebranding campaign worth (according to AdAge at any rate) $300m. This wasn’t just a feather in the cap, but full plumage for a small digitally-inspired creative boutique making its way in the world. Timely sticking plaster as well, given the above-mentioned ructions going on elsewhere in the organisation.

It’s important to point out that most of the credit for winning – and retaining – this account seems to have been down to Amsterdam CEO Hans Howarth, the majority shareholder in Media Catalyst. Goodson, with his habitual talent for self-publicity, owned about 30% of the agency from which he has now been ejected, but somehow managed to maximise most of the plaudits.

The Emirates brief was to turn the airline into an aspirant, lifestyle brand (isn’t one enough in the world?) and SF duly delivered with “Hello Tomorrow”, announced with great pizzazz last April by Sir Maurice Flanagan, executive vice chairman of Emirates Airline : “Our new corporate image and global marketing campaign both underline the confidence we have in our existing products and services, and the vision we have for the future growth of the airline. Emirates is not just offering a way to connect people from point A to point B but is the catalyst to connect people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations.” What this boils down to is getting a younger “audience” hooked on the brand by dextrous use of social media.

Only last month, Omnicom – in the guise of BBDO New York and Atmosphere Proximity – won Emirates North American business, against competition from WPP’s Grey and JWT. At the time, we were assured that the pitch would not in any way affect Strawberry Frog’s tenure of the global branding account. But that was before news of the split with Amsterdam broke. It would be surprising if some of these agencies’ biggest guns are not, at this very moment, on a Boeing 777 heading for Dubai airport. An Emirates one, naturally.

Where all this leaves SF – apart from picking up the pieces – is anyone’s guess.

Ryanair’s two-fingered salute to social media

February 2, 2013

Michael O'LearyI was amused to read that the incoming head of comms at Ryanair (forgive the oxymoron) has “deliberately” ruled out a social media strategy.

New boy Robin Kiely tells us – apparently without irony –  that such an initiative “would not be helpful” to Ryanair as “we would have so many people looking for a response.” A dedicated Facebook account, for instance, would probably mean “hiring two more people to sit on Facebook all day.”

Just two, Robin? Surely a legion would not be enough to handle the sycophantic email that would inundate your site.

As an after-thought, Kiely mentions that customers of Ryanair are, in any case, handsomely provided for by the budget airline’s “customer care line”. Has anyone ever managed to find a living being on the other end of this, without being connected to the ether for half an hour beforehand? Just checking.

Social media is, as you can imagine, heavily populated with accounts trading on the Ryanair brand, few of them complimentary. A quick trawl revealed an official PR Twitter account which has been dormant since August. By contrast, one altogether busier account, on Facebook, is that of the RyanairPilotGroup. It’s replete with commentary on Ryanair’s alleged infractions of European working regulations; tax evasion; and imminent strike action.

A bit worrying really, if these people really are Ryanair pilots…

You know what they say, Robin: journalists, like Nature, abhor a vacuum. If you’re not there, you’re not a player.

Avis drops classic ‘We try harder’ tagline – and a clanger with new ad campaign

August 28, 2012

Remember when Sir Richard Branson stole the national flag for his own airline after British Airways said it didn’t want it any more? Well, there’s a similar golden opportunity beckoning for any cheeky entrepreneur working in the car-hire sector.

After 50 years, Avis has decided to discard one of the most famous taglines in advertising: “We Try Harder.”

Apparently, no one thinks they do any more. Avis has slipped down the global batting order from second, behind Hertz, to third, behind Entreprise Holdings, which owns the Alamo, Enterprise and National brands.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And these measures really are desperate, as will be seen.

It will not have escaped readers’ attention that things have changed a tad in the car-hire business over the past five decades. The main catalyst has been budget airlines, which have successfully turned the holiday hire-car proposition into a commodity. Where once you bought, or thought you were buying, a superior service, you now buy a much stripped-down rental price. Of course, this base price is a bit of illusion, because once you have added on sat-nav, baby-seats, ski-racks and extortionate premium and super-premium insurance cover (so you don’t have to pay a £700 excess on a scraped wing or £200 for a new tyre) – Hey Presto! –  it has doubled. But that’s the way it is today – if you don’t want to pay upfront, you don’t have to. Which means the car-hire companies have had to look elsewhere to fatten their profits.

And where better than expense-accounted businessmen turning a hard morning at the presentation lectern into a pleasant afternoon at the golf club?

That, at least, seems to be the thinking of new broom Avis chief marketing officer Jeannine Haas, who has fired McCann Erickson and brought in Leo Burnett to deliver her new baby.

And what a mewler and a puker it is.

Out this week, the new campaign – called “It’s Your Space” – tries to communicate in a “lighthearted way” how the space inside a rental vehicle can be a productive environment where business travellers can “recharge their batteries”. Health and safety executives might have something to say about the way they do it but, that aside, judge for yourselves the quality of the ads:

What a pity you can’t say they are so bad they make you laugh. But they aren’t: they’re just bland beyond belief. It’s Your Space might be more appropriately titled “A Waste of Space.” Which is all the more unfortunate given the brand’s legacy.

The line “We Try Harder” was introduced by DDB in 1962 after Avis CEO Robert Townsend turned in desperation to the agency after many profitless years. Bill Bernbach himself is supposed to have cracked the problem by asking a number of Avis employees what it was about their service that distinguished it. But it was copywriter Paula Green who actually came up with the line.

There are not many occasions when you can unequivocally point the finger at advertising as the agent of success, but this was one of them. Within a year, Avis had turned a profit for the first time in over a decade.

I can’t, somehow, see similar spectacular results arising from the present campaign.

So, arise Sir Stelios and steal this opportunity while you may.

Carnival’s carelessness over the cruise ship Concordia is costing the sector dearly

February 3, 2012

If only it were possible to blame the whole Friday 13th disaster on Captain Schettino’s recklessness, Carnival – ultimate owner of the Costa Concordia – would surely have succeeded in cauterizing a brand crisis of epic proportions.

No one could have moved faster to pin it all on human error. The holding company of Costa Cruises chose its target well. As scapegoats go, Schettino is a pretty egregious one: less Captain Courageous than Lord Jim aboard the steamship Patna. Once having foundered his ship, he assured his place in infamy by abandoning it before many of his passengers.

At first, Carnival’s corporate strategy worked. Cruise bookings only shivered in the wake of the disaster – most people seeming to accept that the shipwreck was a unique occurrence. Only later did some awkward questions begin to bubble to the surface. For example:

  • How come, if Schettino was such a clown (he apparently had previous, non-lethal, form), that Costa entrusted him with the destiny of over 4,000 souls? What of the calibre of other Costa commanders?
  • How come, almost 100 years after the RMS Titanic disaster, an identifiably similar set of circumstances managed to overwhelm another “state-of-the-art” and “unsinkable” cruise ship? In both cases, the ships quickly succumbed to what should have been a containable collision; the emergency muster procedures were shambolic; and the lifeboats – of which there were not enough – wouldn’t launch properly. Perhaps the only real difference is that Captain Smith chose to go down with his ship. Not unnaturally, marine engineers have called into question the inherent safety of what, in effect, is a high-sided floating hotel whose design is heavily influenced by commercial imperatives.

I mention these things because what was formerly a crisis affecting billionaire Micky Arison’s cruise operator (admittedly the world’s largest, encompassing such brands as Cunard and P&O) has now clearly spilled into the sector as a whole.

Only this week, Carnival revealed that fleet-wide booking volumes declined “in the mid teens” following the disaster. Just as ominously, Royal Caribbean Cruises, the world’s second largest cruise operator, has reported that Q1 earnings could be up to 60% below expectations due to the fall-off in bookings. This during the so-called “Wave season”, the most active booking period of the year.

No doubt the cruise ship will re-establish itself in time as one of the statistically safest ways of taking a holiday. But not before a few more waves from this disaster have swamped the bow-deck.

Note on the image. It just proves (as I used to say when smaller-scale mishaps like this visited Marketing Week) the integrity of the editorial team. Clearly no conversation whatsoever had taken place with the commercial people. But for this to happen to the Belfast Telegraph, of all titles..! Its offices are only a stone’s throw from the Harland and Wolff shipyard which built – the Titanic. You’d think they would have learned from experience.

TUI knocking campaign enables reeling Thomas Cook to roll with the punches

December 2, 2011

Jeremy Ellis, marketing director of TUI Travel, must be feeling pretty pleased with himself. Not only has he emerged, after 20 years in the wings, as the new brand-meister of Thomson Holidays and First Choice. He has also managed to land his principal rival, Thomas Cook, a satisfying punch below the belt with his first fully-fledged ad campaign.

Whether it’s a knock-out blow remains to be seen. But “knocking” it certainly is. And for that reason it’s attracting all the wrong sort of attention in the financial press, which is savouring the prospect of a second-round comeback from punch-drunk TC.

Knocking copy – the art of negative comparative advertising – is fairly unusual outside budget airlines and politics (which doesn’t, in any case, obey the usual advertising regulations).

And for good reason. It’s fraught with potential legal difficulties, and not many advertisers are robust enough to live with the consequences of an onslaught from the livid victim.

Of course, TUI doesn’t admit to the campaign being knocking. That would be to concede grubby, tactical opportunism. No, “This advertising campaign was meant” – and here I quote from the FT – “as a brand reassurance message and to clarify any confusion between the two separate companies.” And what confusion might that be? Well, “In the past there has been consumer confusion between our brands and our competitors’.” Of course there has: Thomson and Thomas Cook, they’re so alike, aren’t they?

Luckily, TUI has now been able to come up with some clear brand differentiation for the first time: ‘we’re the financially solvent ones’. As a USP it’s quite compelling, in its way.

Here’s the print ad run by Thomson: “Another holiday company may be experiencing turbulence, but we’re in really great shape.” And here’s the copy that featured on the First Choice website: “No worries about your holiday AND no worries about what you’re spending… Unlike a certain holiday company we could mention, you don’t need to worry about the way we run our business.” Ouch!

As is well known (see my earlier post), Thomas Cook has had a few tribulations this year: the Arab Spring for example, and the further collapse of its holiday market in France and Russia. All of which has resulted in 3 profit warnings, the ejection of its chief executive and the very public and humiliating supplication of its banks for £200m-worth of financial sticking plaster to bind the wounds until Spring 2013. Oh, did I mention the collapse of its share price to penny-status, overnight?

Nevertheless, Thomas Cook won’t be taking this particular drubbing, from its main competitor, lying down. It has reported the First Choice ad to travel trade body and regulator ABTA (though not the Thomson one which, bizarrely,TC’s interim chief executive Sam Weihagen earlier called “a very good ad”).

Ooooh, you say, and what are they going to do about it? Well, according to the ABTA code (Clauses 6B and 6L) no member may bring the industry body, or other members, into disrepute; nor may they make representations about the financial status of other members. Theoretically, contravention of the code can lead to expulsion from the organisation. While we’re there, I suspect Thomas Cook could also seek redress from the Advertising Standards Authority, under the CAP clause dealing with “denigration” of a competitor.

But it probably won’t; and nor will TUI be expelled from ABTA. A smack on the wrist is the worst it is likely to endure: the prospect of the UK’s biggest tour operator being ostracized by its trade body is frankly preposterous.

Nevertheless, I think TUI may have overreached itself, and for this reason.

Thomas Cook’s response to its crisis has not so far been well received, particularly by the travel agents on which it depends for much of its UK trade. The company recently ran its very own “reassurance” campaign, the key element of which was a one-off £170 saving (170 years old, geddit?) on 2012 holidays. For which read: more discounting in an industry where margins are already reduced to the bone, more undercutting of agents’ commission and, quite possibly, irresponsible dissipation of the recently acquired £200m bank loan.

Whether this perception is fair hardly matters. The point is it may well be reversed by TUI turning Thomas Cook into a maligned underdog. To Brits, if there’s one thing worse than bungling incompetence, it’s smug triumphalism.

Sooner or later Ellis may find himself smiling on the other side of his face.

Iceland’s president invites you to tea

October 17, 2011

I’ve just been viewing what must be the ultimate piece of crowd-sourcing. Practically the whole population of Iceland (roughly 320,000), from the president downwards, seems to be engaged in a single-minded campaign to reboot their poleaxed economy by inviting you to their home as a guest.

I’d hurry, though. The delicious pancakes with the president and his delightful wife, Icelandic sushi with the bashful mayor of Reykjavik and therapeutic thalasso-footbath with the comely minister of industry, energy and tourism, look like a strictly limited offer, ending in November.

The campaign has been devised by Soho-based agency The Brooklyn Brothers, and trades on an earlier multi-disciplinary Inspired By Iceland concept that recently won them agency of the year and the grand prix at the Euro Effies. Here’s what the blurb had to say:

This campaign involved Icelanders in telling their stories to the world. In July 2010, Iceland hour was created during which Icelanders went online and told the world how much they love their country. Even the Prime Minister got involved!

Within 2 weeks of the launch, over 85% of Icelanders were aware of the campaign. After 6 weeks, over half of the Icelandic public had contributed stories. Within just 10 weeks, the country was perceived as a safe place to visit again, visitor numbers were up 27% against forecasts. The first quarter of 2011 has seen Iceland’s highest tourist numbers ever.

On Facebook alone over 45,000 fans were recruited and over 2 million stories were seen and sent out by fans. Between June and August the live webcams were viewed 60 million times.

In total an additional 73 thousand tourists visited the country from Europe, worth an additional £127.4m to Iceland’s economy. The total campaign expenditure was £2m within this period, giving a short-term ROMI of 62.7:1.

What short-term ROMI will the President’s pancakes create? I must say I’m tempted to help him find out. Anyone interested in the offer should consult inspiredbyiceland.com .

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