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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.

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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.


Why Confused.com is trying to put a back-seat driver into everyone’s car

July 24, 2012

Fit a black box in your car and slash those top-heavy insurance premiums at a stroke. That’s the intriguing new pitch from Confused.com, one of the UK’s biggest price comparison services.

Apparently, the European Court of Justice has ruled that from December 21st, 2012, car insurance premiums must be gender-neutral. Which is bad news if you are a 22-year-old female driver of spotless record, because you’ll now be subsidising all those 19-year-old acned, testosterone-junkies who treat driving as a form of personal combat. Car insurers are therefore on the hunt for new ways of assessing risk.

Such as through telematic devices fitted in your car to monitor driving performance. Telematics? Generally, any form of inbuilt electronic servo, such as SatNav, in-car entertainment centres and plumbed in mobile units. They’re particularly big in the States, although ironically regulators there are now voicing concerns about how many accidents they cause.

That’s clearly not the branch of the science Confused.com has in mind. Rather, your car will have a purpose-built in-board computer constantly monitoring fuel-consumption, mileage driven and how harshly you corner, accelerate and brake.

The idea is that the insurance provider fits this device free of charge to its customer’s car. The better the driving, the greater the chance of premium reductions on renewal. Customers who use the device can also monitor their driving manner online through a secure personalised portal.

As an additional safety benefit, the telematics device will inform the insurance company of an accident, and may even contact the emergency services where necessary. In addition, the device acts as a tracker, meaning the car can be located if stolen.

Confused.com reckons it has got 5 insurance companies signed up already: insurethebox, Autosaint, Coverbox, AA Drivesafe and Bell. It’s running a 30-second TV ad – produced in house – to announce the fact this week.

Intelligent individual mass-marketing in the digital age, or Big Brother at the wheel? We leave you to decide. LOVE to show you the ad, but I’m afraid it’s not up on the Confused.com site yet. So here’s a rather pedestrian infomercial instead:


Is Zipcar the Amazon of car ownership?

April 17, 2012

Our man on the spot Robert Dwek quizzes the car-sharing company’s UK boss Mark Walker about its future

It’s been years since I got rid of my car. As a resident of central London, I was tired of hitting traffic jams the minute I left my driveway or of having to go and sit in my parked car with the engine running just to prevent another flat battery. But waving goodbye to my “second home” was inevitably difficult. It’s one thing to embrace public transport in theory and quite another in practice. Still, I adapted soon enough.

And then along came Streetcar, the UK’s first car-sharing company. They owned the cars and, hopefully, left them parked near to your home. You paid only when you used them, for as little as an hour or two at a time. I was a so-called founding member of Streetcar – a great honour I’m sure but, more importantly, a perk that allowed me to be forever immune to the annual fee that was later introduced (still only £50).

After a few years, Streetcar was taken over by Zipcar, its larger and more established US rival. As a Founder Member of Streetcar I was offered a sort of sweetener to convert to Zipcar – about £150 of free rental. The only problem is, it’s going to expire in just over a month and I still haven’t got round to using it. Granted, I now have a toddler who requires a special car seat – something not offered by this kind of service. But even without a baby on board, I’m still not completely sold on this (r)evolutionary new market.

In fact, I have used it just a handful of times over the years. Yet despite not voting with my wallet, I’m convinced that the automotive times are a-changing: in the US, big car rental players like Hertz (Hertz on Demand) and Daimler (Car2Go) are moving into the market. And despite this heavyweight competition, I have a feeling that in Zipcar a brave new brand is being born – a sort of Amazon-ian first-mover.

With that in mind, I put a couple of questions to Zipcar’s UK general manager, Mark Walker:

I live in central London and have noticed numerous ZipVans in recent weeks but not so many Zipcars. How big could the van side could become ?

Mark: We heavily brand our Zipvans and I’m pleased you’ve noticed them! In London, Zipcars actually outnumber Zipvans by a factor of 8-to-1, but the cars are not branded, so our members travel around the city with rather more discretion. We’re working closely with the London Boroughs to see how we might make car club parking bays more readily visible, so local residents and businesses know just how close their local cars are.

The traditional van rental market is extremely large and we’re very happy with the progress Zipvan is making within that market. The combination of their convenient locations, together with the ability to use a van for just a few hours – and only pay for those few hours – is very appealing to our members, be they private individuals moving flat or businesses delivering goods.

We continue to grow the Zipvan business – it’s especially popular with small and medium sized businesses – and it could, indeed, grow to be a very substantial business in its own right. You can expect to see more and more Zipvans.

The US now has a so-called “point to point” player, Car2Go, which seems to operate like London’s Barclays Cycle Hire (“Boris Bikes”). I have to say, both as a Zipcar customer and a Boris Bikes user, that the ability to use a car one-way only does seem very appealing. What are your thoughts on the subject and do you foresee a time when you might offer this kind of service?

The car club/car-sharing category is growing fast and innovating rapidly. The Zipcar model is proven to be convenient and great value for money, especially when compared to car ownership. For the cities where we operate, the Zipcar model is proven to reduce congestion and pollution: every Zipcar takes at least 15 privately owned cars off the streets; Zipcar members drive less, use public transport more and walk/cycle more than car owners.

We are constantly analysing where and how to develop our service for the mutual benefit of members and cities alike. Recently in the US, we invested in Wheelz, a peer-to-peer car sharing company, which opens up some interesting complementary opportunities in that particular segment of the category.

The point-to-point model is also potentially interesting, as it could complement our existing model. Given the types of vehicles used and the per-minute pricing, it lends itself to very short trips, which would otherwise be taken in a taxi, on public transport, by foot or – in London – using a Boris bike. The issue we have yet to fully understand (and where more research is required), is the extent to which point-to-point car-sharing reduces the use of taxis, public transport, walking and shared bicycles; and increases car use in cities. If this is found to be the case, then the model might prove to be contrary to our objectives of reducing congestion and pollution in cities, while providing convenience and value for money for our members. So, while point-to-point might be something we add in the future, it needs to be based on a better understanding of the impact on member behaviour in relation to taxi use etc, congestion and pollution.


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.


Willie Walsh uses BA brand power to put a spoke in ‘Boris Island’ airport hub project

January 19, 2012

British Airways may not be the brand it was when the Saatchi brothers landed Manhattan at Heathrow nearly 30 year ago. But, as national flag carrier, it still packs a punch: it’s still the largest UK airline based on fleet size, number of international flights and international destinations.

What’s more, as a founder member of International Airlines Group, BA has with Iberia created the world’s third largest airline service by revenue and the second largest service in Europe.

So when its chief steward (or perhaps that should be pilot), IAG chief executive Willie Walsh, says he doesn’t like something, the politicians have to listen whether they like it or not.

And right now, their ears will be ringing, because Wee Willie is beside himself with rage. Not only has he been denied ‘his’ precious third runway at Heathrow – more or less BA’s individual fiefdom and a world brand in its own right. But to add insult to injury, he has also been dragged into – as he sees it – the Government’s hare-brained scheme to build a mega-airport in the Thames Estuary.

Over his dead body. In a move reminiscent of Fool’s Mate in Chess, Walsh seems to have played a blinder on the politicians.

David Cameron, his Transport Secretary and Mayor of London Boris Johnson (who originally espoused the idea) have seemingly done little else over the past few days beyond eulogising the £50bn hub project at “Boris Island” and the transformative effect it will have on the British economy.

Er, no. Walsh crash-landed their airy delusions with a simple, crushing declaration. He’s not moving from Heathrow:

“I don’t think it can be financed. If I throw my weight behind it, people will expect me to be part of the solution financing it and I won’t. The only way you’d make it financially successful is say you’re going to build it and, as part of that, you’re going to close Heathrow. If you leave Heathrow open and you build this new airport, we’re going to stay at Heathrow.”

According to Walsh, these socio-economic engineering projects cause staggering disruption for precious little return, financial or otherwise. The new hub at Montreal didn’t work when they tried it; nor did the one at Kuala Lumpur.

If BA – which holds most of the Heathrow slots, not to mention exclusive rights to state-of-the art Terminal 5 – is not moving to Boris Island, none of its rivals will be either, for fear of losing what slots they have. Or so he reckons. And who is to call his bluff?

Manhattan may once have landed at Heathrow, but Heathrow will definitely not be landing at Thames Estuary Airport. Ah, the power of a global brand flexing its muscles.


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