Adam & Eve sets its seal on creative style with Google+ work

April 5, 2012

All advertising is, in a certain sense, the cultivation of cliché. Agencies first determine – with whatever artifice their planning departments can provide – suitable socio-economic stereotypes which their creative departments then bombard relentlessly with the most seductive messages they can contrive.

Success and consistency in this trade leads to agency work acquiring a highly recognisable hallmark. “Branding”, if you like; “generic cliché” if you don’t. For example, Boase Massimi Pollitt became widely known for its attachment to furry animals, Allen Brady & Marsh for its mastery of the jingle-ad and Bartle Bogle Hegarty for its creative reinvention of pop culture.

I was reminded of this insight when reviewing Adam & Eve’s first work for Google+, the search giant’s overarching response to Facebook and Twitter. Here it is:

Notice anything about it? Yes, it is another fine piece of work from a hot-shop coming of age. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has missed out the Seventh Age of Man in “All the World’s a Stage”. But since it’s all about Second Childhood, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, and this is a piece of consumer advertising, the agency can be forgiven for the omission. Something else?

Yes. The “Journey Through Life” theme, which A+E (not to be accidentally confused with A&E) has made its own. Particularly in a suburban, middle-class context. Here, just to remind you is some John Lewis advertising by the same agency:

It’s a theme that the James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest team seem to have imported from Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R – from which they spectacularly broke away in 2007. Judging, at least, by this early Lloyds Bank commercial from the self-same:

I have my own modest contribution to the “Life’s journey” genre. It’s taken from John Dryden:

Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; the world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.

No takers in advertising, I suspect. But it was the inspiration of a famous play.

Debenhams brushes off the past, Burgess loses his Local Jewels, Loaded is spent and Foster’s will get funnier

August 23, 2010

Four thoughts on a week spent away:

1. Debenhams has irrevocably hitched itself to the voguish positioning of “natural beauty” pioneered by Unilever’s Dove – with its decision to bannish “air-brushed” fashion models. The department store has been making a number of gestures in this area recently – for example, using a size 16 and a disabled model. But this latest initiative looks definitive.

Debenham’s rallying to the cause raises some embarrassing issues for other elements of the fashion industry which, shall we say, have been less forthcoming on the permissible limits of artifice in projecting an advertising image both unrealistic and unattainable. L’Oréal, for instance, seems entirely comfortable with lightening the skin pigment of rock star Beyoncé Knowles. And let’s not forget the vexed case of Cheryl Cole’s preternaturally bouncy hair extensions, which featured in an Elvive campaign. The Advertising Standards Authority gave Cheryl a clean bill of health. But I cannot help thinking this was a wrong call, out of step with the times. What Dove and Debenhams are doing is the thin edge of a wedge fast being driven into a post-production fixated fashion industry.

2. Now Unilever’s “Local Jewels” really have lost their setting. The departure of Matt Burgess, UK managing director of Marmite, Peperami, Pot Noodle, Bovril and Slim-Fast, seemingly brings to a painful conclusion Unilever’s interesting Chrysalis project, which was formally dissolved last month. Like its architect James Hill, Burgess has moved elsewhere in the organisation. Details remain sketchy, but he would – lucky man – appear to be assuming responsibility for integrating the Radox, Brylcreem and Sanex brands offloaded by Sara Lee into Unilever’s skincare division. Not without a last hurrah, however. The crowd-sourced Peperami ad, described in greater detail by Louise Jack on Pitch, may not be to everyone’s taste. But it’s a wake-up call to agencies.

3. IPC’s willingness to dispose of Loaded, a nineties best-seller, is a reminder of how much the lad’s mag phenomenon has been butchered by the internet. According to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, Loaded lost over 26% of its circulation in the last year. That may be a disaster, but it’s by no means a unique one. FHM, now owned by Bauer Media, lost about 18%; while the weeklies Zoo (Bauer again) and Nuts (IPC again) plunged 22% and 17% respectively. From Phwoar! to Uh-ah! in less than 20 years.

4. While on matters laddish, was I alone in being underwhelmed by Adam & Eve’s first stab at refashioning the Foster’s campaign? To the untutored eye, it looked very much like a seamless continuation of the hackneyed stuff that has been pouring out of M&C Saatchi these past few years. Where was the simple Big Idea the client claimed had won A&E the account?

Now we know. Simple, but brilliant. One-off remakes of some of our best-known laddish comedies – Alan Partridge and the The Fast Show have been mentioned – using where possible the original writers, producers and stars; all inexpensively posted on the internet. And all intended to build on Foster’s title sponsorship of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and Channel 4 comedy. Let’s see how the idea catches on.

A glimpse of stocking is nothing shocking for John Lewis

May 5, 2010

So, who tipped off the News of the World about spooky thematic similarities between the much-applauded new John Lewis TV campaign and one made for Italian lingerie brand Calzedonia in 2007? One thing’s for sure: the hacks didn’t find them by casually browsing YouTube for potential copycats.

Despite staunch denials from the Never Knowingly Undersold department store, the likelihood of – shall we call it – “comprehensive inspiration” is hard to deny. Here, helpfully juxtaposed, are two life stories about two toddlers who blossom into attractive brunettes, then get married and have babies. All tastefully arranged to the strains of Billy Joel’s 1977 hit, She’s Always a Woman. All right, there are significant differences. In the case of the John Lewis ad, the story continues into old age and, oh yes, it’s not actually the original Billy Joel but a special version sung by Fyfe Dangerfield from the Guillemots (very close to “direct quotes” in French, perhaps in itself a Freudian slip). Fewer flashes of knickers as well. Then, too, it’s undeniably better crafted and makes more intelligent use of the sound track. In fact, there’s little doubt that Never Knowingly Undersold’s is going to be one of the best regarded UK campaigns of 2010 (all the more creditable since a retailer is the client), whereas the Calzedonia one, though competent, will not have picked up any prizes. But hands up, someone at the ad agency Adam & Eve definitely had prior knowledge.

Now we’ve got that off our chest, does it really matter anyway? Advertising is a trade; there to titivate saleable goods, not create a work of art (although plenty in the industry would like to harbour that delusion). While we’re there, true creativity is extremely rare. I wonder how many Renaissance great masters were happy to pass off their apprentices work as their own? Quite a few, as long as the quality was up to snuff. But we don’t think any the less of them for that.

You decide:

Would you Adam & Eve it?

November 11, 2009

Martin SorrellWhere does he find the time? Besides dealing with “fundamental strategic issues” every day of his working life (ie, every day), WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell has developed a formidable talent for litigation.

The latest scalps are a group of executives who conspired to swindle WPP over the purchase of one of Australia’s most venerable agencies, George Patterson. Briefly, two Patts execs (as they say Down Under), md Anthony Heraghty and ecd James McGrath, were secretly channelled $1.5m by the former owner, Pacific Equity Partners, to stay on for a year, as an inducement for WPP to pay a higher price. They duly did, then quit: which obviously left Hamish McLennan, the group ceo of acquiring WPP agency Y&R, looking extremely vulnerable; if not quite so vulnerable as certain strategic Patts accounts.

That was three years ago. Dogged legal pursuit has resulted in an unreserved apology from Heraghty and McGrath, and well over $10m damages extracted from all the defendants, including PEP. PEP, while admitting it knew about the agreements, has blamed lawyers Clayton Utz for poor advice. Sorrell is now, separately, pursuing Clayton Utz.

And the message is? Watch out for the High Court in London on Monday, November 23rd, when Sorrell attempts to extract a similar package from Adam & Eve, the agency that had the temerity to break away from WPP without asking. I am assured that nothing less than a grovelling apology and a great deal of money will suffice.

Baillie and Hatton defection to Ogilvy creates ripples at BBH

October 14, 2009

Baillie/HattonWhat’s really interesting about the appointment of Hugh Baillie as chief executive of Ogilvy Advertising is that he’s part of a breakaway. And the break is away from Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Former group business director Baillie is being joined by Rachel Hatton as group head of strategic planning, and planning director at the ad agency. Hatton was head of planning at BBH during what may come to be seen as its heyday, when it won all those awards, culminating in the IPA Grand Prix and Agency of the Year title in 2008. Baillie helped to win the global Johnnie Walker business and has led some of the agency’s key accounts, Axe/Lynx, Britvic and Surf among them. Both are BBH stalwarts, Baillie having joined from Saatchi & Saatchi in 1998, and Hatton from Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP) in 2000.

So, this is a significant coup for Ogilvy and a significant set-back for BBH. Baillie and Hatton come as a team (for example, they both worked on Britvic). It’s a little like that buddy-buddy wrench at DDB London when Paul Hammersley, then ceo, and David Hackworthy, planner, quit to go to The Red Brick Road in 2005.

What makes this worse for BBH is that the defection of senior staff to WPP agencies is becoming a habit. Richard Exon, ceo of RKCR/Y&R, once occupied a similar position to Baillie at BBH. True, he was seduced across at managing director level, and got the top job only after James Murphy set up his own agency, Adam & Eve. But let’s not split hairs. There was also the unfortunate matter of John O’ Keefe, who sat in the BBH creative pantheon only one echelon below Sir John Hegarty. He decided to seek his fortune as global creative director at WPP. Then there’s Guy Murphy, head of global planning, and Russell Ramsey, executive creative director, JWT London. Why has JWT come knocking on BBH’s door? Well, who else’s? BBH is the one to beat in JWT’s competitive creative set, and has the most clients in common (Unilever, Diageo and Vodafone spring to mind). If you can’t beat them, get them to join you, you might say.

Nor is the BBH exodus confined to WPP. Derek Robson quit to go to Goodby, in the USA, as a managing partner; Penny Herriman is managing director and – some would say – soon to be ceo of WCRS; Chris Harris was poached as managing director of Leagas Delaney.

Swallows not making a summer? Well maybe. Any agency which has attained the status of BBH is fair game for the headhunter. In a  sense, it’s a back-handed  compliment that rival agencies feel the need to pillage BBH for top talent.

Nonetheless, another conclusion can also be drawn. And I would be very surprised if this did not condition the thinking of at least some of those senior people who have recently defected. BBH is now 27 years old and in the throes of generational change. It has greatly expanded (into a micro-network) – which in itself offers fresh opportunity for younger talent. And in fairness it has tried hard to bring on a cohort of younger managers – of which London chief executive Gwyn Jones is perhaps the most prominent example. This has not been enough to quell mutinous thoughts in the marzipan layer, a few to the point of defecting. Of course, some of these people may have been talented, but not talented enough. BBH, like everyone else, has had to make some harsh decisions about the size of its workforce, which has been, literally, decimated. One in ten has gone or is going. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that every one of the top-flight defectors has had an assisted exit. After all, it’s also the case that the route upstairs, managerially speaking, is now blocked; and for ambitious people that is a signal to start looking elsewhere.

It is hard to think of BBH without Nigel Bogle, Jim Carroll or Simon Sherwood. On the other hand, if they do not outline their retirement plans in the foreseeable future, the result will be rebellion or atrophy. BBH, at very best, will become less an agency, more a law firm overloaded with “partners”. Not an enticing prospect for the UK’s premier creative shop.

Day of judgement looms for Adam & Eve

August 3, 2009


Murphy: Case history

Murphy: Case history

WPP Group v Adam & Eve, which will come to court in late November, won’t be the trial of the century (if it gets that far) but it will be a salutary lesson for breakaway agencies. If you’re going to nick data to set up your new agency, don’t get caught.

A&E (the agency prefers A+E for understandable reasons) is not nearly as accident-prone as it may sound. Launched about 18 months ago to great industry fanfare, it was essentially a top-slice of talents from WPP-owned Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. Its founding partners comprised agency chief James Murphy, creative chief Ben Priest and planning chief David Golding. To these was quickly added Jon Forsyth, Naked’s head of strategy.

A&E is a classic case of a successful start-up in a recession, reminiscent in some ways of BBH in 1982. It had no founding client when it opened its doors in January 2008, but soon found one in the £8m Daily Telegraph. To this it has added a remarkable number of other wins, including Phones4U, Williams F1, EMI and most recently the £20m John Lewis account. This year, it was ranked the AAR’s third most successful agency at winning pitches, and had a conversion rate of 60%. Pretty commendable by any standards.

And all the more remarkable given the running ulcer that has been its behind-the-scenes conflict with WPP. WPP alleges that Murphy & Co plundered the Rainey Kelly database, absconding with a rich harvest of client and agency information. They are also said (it seems almost superfluous to add) to have broken the terms of their gardening leave.

Whether because this is an open-and-shut case, or because no one really wants WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell on their back for long, A&E fairly quickly decided to come to terms. It offered to pay into court half of the £500,000 being demanded. No deal. In fact I hear the price has now gone up to £750,000. Nor is there likely to be an “arrangement” whereby WPP takes its money in A&E stock. This is war to the knife.

Not something I’d like to sleep on at night.

UPDATE  4.11.09: The date of the hearing has been set for Monday, November 23rd. A&E is now understood to have paid £750,000 into court. The significance of paying a sum of money into court is that the defendant may limit his financial exposure should the case go against him. If the judge finds for the plaintiff, but awards below the sum paid in, costs are likely to be picked up by the plaintiff, not the defendant. No sign so far of WPP settling out of court. I hear Sir Martin wants a lot more than £750,000. But it’s up to the court to decide.

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