VW’s Super Bowl ads – from “Little Darth” to just plain daft

February 2, 2012

Commercially, it’s the greatest show on Earth, with 30-second spots commanding over $3.5m apiece – an up to 30% increase on the previous season. ITV chief executive Adam Crozier can only gaze upon his 2016 Rio Olympics slots, wish he was at the helm of NBC, and despair.

Yes, it’s the Super Bowl, coming your way (if you have satellite or cable) this weekend – a US sports fest so intense that no advertiser of substance – in cars, beer, movies, softs drinks or snacks – can comfortably afford to exclude itself from the 111 million expected viewers and not-to-be-surpassed Nielsen awareness ratings.

So great advertising too? Frankly, despite the unique showcase, most ads aren’t as super as they might be. That’s for a variety of reasons. Some clients like to play it safe (and can you blame them, with that amount of money at stake?). Others overdo it. Drunk with earlier success, they get too tricksy and self-referential.

I wonder if Volkswagen and Deutsch LA haven’t fallen into that trap. Last year, they stole the show with “The Force” (aka “Little Darth”), which made Nielsen’s coveted annual “Most Liked” list and took a Cannes Gold Lion for dessert.

This year, they’ve stuck to Star Wars but gone for animals rather than children. See what you think:

I’m afraid I’m with the Dark Father on this one. The bloke with the funny prosthetic nose is just plain wrong.


ITV’s new broom Crozier fails to sweep CRR under the carpet

November 3, 2010

It’s always refreshing to see a new broom sweeping clean, and Adam Crozier, recently installed chief executive of ITV, did not disappoint as he squared up to a House of Lords select committee this week.

Among the invigorating insights he privileged us with was an admission that ITV programmes were crap. Sorry, I’ll rephrase that in commercial media-speak. ITV has been driven into a “ratings rat race” by burdensome regulations that force it to produce low-quality, cheap-to-produce, popular programming (such as The X-Factor?). When what it should be doing is investing in high-quality but low-ratings programmes about the arts (such as Lord Bragg’s recently disbanded South Bank Show).

Crozier’s agenda, is of course, to blame the woeful quality of ITV’s current schedule on Contracts Rights Renewal (CRR), which ITV lobbying has so far failed to repeal. He reckons it has cost the broadcaster £262m in lost revenue since its introduction in 2003.

That kind of argument may play well with people on the Lords communications committee (like Bragg himself) but it will be received with hollow laughter at ISBA, the advertisers’ trade association.

If ITV isn’t about building mass audiences for advertisers, then what is it about? Excuse my cynicism, but Crozier’s argument is precisely the one usually wheeled out by commercial broadcasters to batter the overmighty, “ratings obsessed” BBC. Isn’t the BBC the broadcaster which is supposed to concern itself with piddly arts programmes that cater to a minority audience – leaving the commercial boys to graze unmolested on the sunlit prairies of popular fare?

Crozier will have to do better than that if he is ever going to convince advertisers of the need for a CRR rethink.


Marketing ITV – it’s all about content, stupid!

July 15, 2010

Does marketing really belong in the commercial department? Not according to ITV’s new bosses, who have just made it a subset of content creation.

How serious they are about the proposition is, of course, a matter of debate. At one level – the level of employment lawyers – what’s going on looks suspiciously like constructive dismissal. Change the senior reporting structure in a company and you potentially diminish the authority and budgetary power of those who are “reorganised”.

That’s certainly one interpretation of the imminent departure of group marketing director David Pemsel and head of research Chad Wollen, announced yesterday afternoon. Only a week ago, it emerged that marketing and research, hitherto separate and under the control of the commercial department, were to be integrated and rerouted to content czar Peter Fincham (aka director of television, the chief commissioning role).

The conspiracy theory gains traction when we consider what else has been happening at ITV recently: chiefly the sacking of most of the old guard. After commercial director Rupert Howell fell on his sword and was replaced by Fru Hazlitt, we have had a very crowded departure lounge. Studio bosses Lee Bartlett and Remy Blumenfield are queueing at the exit, as is online director Ben McOwen Wilson.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Underneath, a full-scale cleansing of the Augean Stables is underway, as chairman Archie Norman and chief executive Adam Crozier take a pitchfork to the “shambles” (their word) of the Michael Grade regime. Humiliating psychometric tests applied to the 120 senior managers who remain add a defining touch to this melancholy picture. (I bet Crozier wishes he could have applied those self-same tests to the board of the Football Association during his tenure as chief executive – now there’s an organisation that really isn’t fit for purpose.)

Yet none of the above is inconsistent with implementing a strong, alternative, strategic vision; some of it already apparent in the quality of new senior hirings. Hazlitt is widely viewed as an inspired choice to succeed Howell. Her natural enthusiasm and client-servicing skills should help to repair damaged relationships with media agencies. She also “gets” digital (just as well really). Mind you, how she will co-exist with Gary Digby, master of the dark art of  TV trading, is a moot point.

Moreover, vesting more power with strong programme-led talents such as Fincham and Kevin Lygo – poached from C4 and now head of production (or ITVS, as it is called) – surely makes a lot of sense. The Grade regime talked a good game about improving the quality of content, but in reality it was fixated on refurbishing a brand built around yesterday’s trading system.

Witness the amount of corporate energy spent in repealing (fairly unsuccessfully, as it turned out) the Contract Rights Renewal (CRR) regulatory straitjacket encasing its main, analogue, channel – ITV1. Just to put things in perspective, here are a few statistics. When in 2003 Carlton and Granada merged to form ITV, the flagship channel’s share of the commercial television audience was 43%. By the end of 2008, it was 28.5%. Add in ITV’s (relatively neglected) digital channels and the figure rises to over 40% again. And yet, ITV has singularly failed to monetise that digital presence. Last year, online revenues were only £35m, up from £23m in 2006.

I’m not necessarily saying the Crozier/Norman 5-year plan will work– maybe nothing can at this late stage. But at least it represents a reality check firmly breaking with the nostalgia of the past. Superior programmes, especially hit shows that travel effortlessly across the multimedia and geographical landscape, are the only way ahead. In that sense, putting marketing at the service of the creative department is a no-brainer.


Rupert Howell calls it a day at ITV

May 27, 2010

The departure of Rupert Howell, managing director brand and commercial ITV, cannot have surprised anyone. He was simply too close to the tainted heritage of Michael Grade, formerly ITV executive chairman, to survive.

The chemistry of the new regime won’t have helped either: too many alpha males scrabbling for power in the boardroom. In that sort of environment, Howell definitely looked the weaker species. In Archie Norman he had to contend with a more commercially astute and interventionist chairman than his predecessor, and in Adam Crozier, a chief executive who had himself been a media man and advertising executive (with no doubt firmly entrenched views on how the business of TV sales should be conducted).

Moreover, Howell’s three year career at ITV has been chequered. He can hardly be blamed for presiding over ITV’s worst-ever sales slump, but he can be held to account for his poor relationship with media agencies. Howell, in a way, showed his age (about 53) in his refusal to deal with anyone but the top man. You can’t act that way with 27-year old media buyers these days – especially if you represent the diminished ITV brand.

So, high-handed and to a certain extent out of touch with the times. But Howell is nothing if not the Marmite media personality. Against his faults must be balanced great politicial skills. And there are many who admire him for his entrepreneurial drive, in the past. One of the most successful new business directors ever, he went on to found one of the most renowned advertising agencies, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury – which, in the early nineties, really was cutting-edge.

I doubt that he will (even if he wants it) land another big job in media. There are plenty out there who understand the landscape better, but are having a hard time of it. Malcolm Wall, for instance. A move back to the world of agency networks (he was once regional director of McCann Erickson Europe) seems more likely and has more mileage in it. Literally. All that hopping in and out of aeroplanes must be murder. But the pay is good, and Howell would excel at the politics. He’s not afraid of a hard day’s work, either. Good luck to him.


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