Max, Dan, Jerry – 2012’s out-performers

December 14, 2012

League tables of achievement are as commonplace as turkeys right now. Why burden you with another one? Well, I’ve been asked to – by the good folk at More About Advertising. So:

Ad of the Year. Yes, I liked BBH’s “The 3 Little Pigs” and Creative Artist Agency’s Cannes Chipotle winner. Also, Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi’s work for – of all improbable B2C clients – air-conditioning specialist BGH. Of which this, directed by Juan Cabral, is the latest instance:

As MAA’s Stephen Foster puts it – “bleakly comic”.

My favourite, though, was “Follow the Frog”, a quirky satire of the desk-bound yuppie eco-warrior fantasising about making the World A Better Place. Writer, director, copywriter, art director is Max Joseph – clearly a bit of an Orson Welles in the making. The commercial was produced by Wander Films, a creative boutique in Los Angeles. The moral? You don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to save the rainforest. Just Follow the Frog by buying kitemark-certified Rainforest Alliance products. They’ll do all the ethical heavy-lifting for you: sustain the forests, uphold socially equitable farming methods, and guarantee that what you buy is economically viable:

It’s long – but isn’t nearly everything these days? The measure of the made-for-internet film is not its length, but how well it sustains our interest. On this criterion Follow the Frog succeeds very well. It’s got a good tale to tell, is directed with panache and enlivened by bold use of graphics. Oh, and it uses gentle humour to camouflage the piety of its evangelical message. Yes “Siri”, it get’s my vote.

Agency of the Year. I won’t beat about the bush: it’s got to be Wieden & Kennedy. International networks frequently produce isolated instances of brilliance (Del Campo being an example within the Saatchi organisation). Exceptional work, simultaneously executed on a number of fronts, is another matter. To take an investment analogy, W&K is a momentum stock outperforming in all its main markets. Whether that’s Clint fronting for Chrysler at the Super Bowl:

… London winning the £110m Tesco account – but also producing some of the most interesting creative work since “Grrr”:

Or Amsterdam’s slick spoof for the latest James Bond film, which neatly segues into its current Heineken campaign:

Person of the Year. Tempting to mention the name of Joel Ewanick, isn’t it? No one can be said to have made a bigger splash in the world of marketing over the past year. Arguably, however, the now-dismissed chief marketing officer of General Motors made headlines for all the wrong reasons. A change agent he certainly was, but were any of his changes for the good? And what sort of permanence will they have? We hacks miss him, but I suspect the wider marketing community will not.

Jerry BuhlmannInstead of anti-hero, therefore, I’ve plumped for a gritty go-getter: marketing services’ answer to Daniel Craig. Like Craig, he certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice as the archetypal smooth operator. But his coolness under fire cannot be doubted. Step forward Jerry Buhlmann, chief executive of Aegis Group plc. If there is one thing archetypal about Jerry, it’s that he’s a self-made media man. He started off in the “five to one” slot, in other words the lowest of the low in the full-service agency hierarchy, at Young & Rubicam in 1980. Nine years later, he was setting up his his own media-buying outfit BBJ – along with ultimately less successful Nick Brien and the downright obscure Colin Jelfs. BBJ – nowadays Vizeum – though successful (it handled for example the BMW account) was originally a “second-string” shop for conflicted WCRS media. Buhlmann’s career really took off when WCRS’s Peter Scott had the inspired idea of acquiring Carat – Europe’s largest media buyer – and floating off the combined operation as a separate stock market entity, rechristened Aegis. Buhlmann and his company were soon swallowed up by the independent media specialist, which offered him much wider career opportunities.

But was he a man capable of capitalising on them? While no one has ever doubted Buhlmann’s single-minded ambition to succeed, a lot have wondered whether he had the competence to do so. Yes, he had a mind like a calculator and razor-sharp commercial acumen, but where, oh where, were those human skills no less essential for making it to the top of the corporate pile? There was much mirth in the senior reaches of the media industry when Buhlmann got his first big break as head of Aegis Media EMEA in 2003. “It’s like William Hague trying to emulate Margaret Thatcher” was a typical response to his promotion. Then, as later, Buhlmann’s critics completely underestimated his ability to learn on the job. When he became group chief executive in 2010, the reception was scarcely less friendly. The master of ‘focus’ and ‘detail’ was incapable of taking the broader view vital to successfully running a publicly-quoted company, it was said. And then there was Jerry’s far-from-diplomatic demeanour: how long before he rubbed the City up the wrong way and had to be dispensed with?

It wasn’t as if Aegis was an easy company to run, either. As a (near) pure-bred media specialist, it was susceptible to squalls in the media every time the inevitable financial scandal broke. Inevitable, because media buying and peculation are bedfellows and peculation distorts financial performance – meaning in Aegis’ case it had to resort to highly public mea culpas every now and then. Other major media outfits, by contrast, have been able to rely on defence in depth from the much bigger marketing services organisations to which they belong.

Not only that, Aegis’s card was marked as a public company. For years, it laboured under the strain of being a takeover or break-up target. The strain became nightmarish when Vincent Bolloré, the shareholder from hell, took a strategic stake in Aegis and began engineering a series of boardroom coups.

Some of the credit for Aegis’ eventual soft-landing – a 50%-premium, £3.2bn cash deal with Dentsu, sealed last June  – must go to Aegis chairman John Napier. But that still leaves a lot owing to Buhlmann himself. Not only did he keep all the plates spinning in difficult circumstances, he also demonstrated a strategic clarity which eluded his predecessors. He ruthlessly pruned the company of its lower-margin research operation (by disposing of Synovate to Ipsos), but at the same time bolstered its pure-play media-buying profile with the geographical add-on of Mitchell Communications.

Not a bad result, all in all, for the man once dubbed the king of the second-string.

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Audi of America boss Johan de Nysschen defects to Nissan’s Infiniti

June 5, 2012

Sometimes it’s easy to forget there are other things going on in the world of autos than Joel Ewanick shaking up General Motors’ marketing plan.

Such as Audi veteran Johan de Nysschen quitting the marque he has championed for 19 years and heading for rival luxury brand Infiniti.

De Nysschen’s decision to quit Audi of America, which he has steered with great success for 7 years, created considerable industry speculation last week. Putsched or moving on – and why? It now turns out he will be relocating to Hong Kong where, as a senior vice-president of Nissan – which owns Infiniti, he will spearhead an attempted global revival of the trailing luxury car brand.

De Nysschen’s departure from Audi was a surprise, not least because the North American unit has been performing so well recently. Annual sales exceeded 100,000 units for the first time two years ago; this year, Audi’s share of the US luxury car market has risen from 5.3% to 10%. In May alone, Audi’s US sales climbed 15% to 52,494 cars.

But perhaps that’s the point: de Nysschen likes a challenge. And with Infiniti he’s certainly getting one.

In the US, Infiniti is the brand that most closely rivals Audi in sales performance. During 2010, Infiniti narrowly outsold Audi – 103,411 vehicles compared with 101,629. But there the resemblance ends. Last year, Infiniti trailed Audi at 98,461 to 117,561. The immediate reason was production problems stemming from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The more strategic issue is an ageing and increasingly unimpressive product line.

Globally Infiniti sales, at about 200,000, are a fraction of VW-owned Audi’s 1.3 million. Infiniti has been striving to catch up, with a technology deal involving Mercedes-Benz and the promise of an extended vehicle line-up of 10, in place of the existing 8.

Clearly Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has been making all sorts of promises to de Nysschen about imminently improved product performance. Without that, it seems unlikely that Infiniti will be able to charge anything like the price of a BMW, Mercedes or Audi any time soon.

The establishment of a new global Infiniti headquarters in Hong Kong – doors opened last month – is an interesting declaration of intent in itself.

Infiniti was once exclusive to the USA, but is now being marketed in 46 countries. Significantly, China is Infiniti’s second largest market after the USA.


Regulator cracks down on car makers living in Cloud Cuckoo land

June 11, 2011

The time when the car was simply an internal combustion engine on four rubber tyres that got you from A to B has long since passed. Now it’s a mobile computer, equipped with cloud technology that maps your route automatically, gives you business listings, traffic information, sports news, stock market prices, local petrol station locations, cinema listings, reads out your email and text messages, and much more besides.

No self-respecting car marque is without its patent system. Ford has Sync, General Motors has OnStar. And even Hyundai is about to bring out its own market-challenging product, Blue Link – whose maker ATX also supplies BMW and Toyota.

Hyundai Velostar: One of the first models to get the Blue Link cloud technology launched next year

It’s easy to see why they are so popular. Customers love the gadgets, the systems give the car brand an extra cutting edge, and there’s a tasty aftermarket as well. Some car-makers charge a hefty annual rental for the services. OnStar, for example, costs up to $300. And, while we’re there, let’s not forget the commercial value of local search and location-finding services. Groupons at your local service station anyone?

Unfortunately, automobile telematics – as they are known in the business – are also killers. The top US safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reckons that every year thousands of motorists and their passengers end up in the morgue because of needless driver distraction. And what’s more it intends to douse the white heat of technological advancement with some very cold water.

Like Daniel striding among the lions, the NHTSA’s top man David Strickland chose the Telematics Detroit 2011 conference to put this unholy alliance of car and software manufacturers on notice:

“A car is not a mobile device… I’m not in the business of helping people Tweet better… We will not take a backseat while new telematics and infotainment systems are introduced. There is too much distraction of drivers,” he told a dismayed audience.

Wherever the regulator in the top automotive market goes, you can be sure the rest of the world will soon follow.


Are brand valuation tables simply telling us the blindingly obvious?

May 10, 2011

No surprise to see Apple’s topping performance in the annual BrandZ survey, put together by WPP subsidiary Millward Brown.

Or is it? If we are to believe in these league tables which regularly assess the brand values of some of the world’s largest corporations, we should surely expect a certain consistency between them.

This is far from always the case. Take Apple itself. For the last year or two is has been the world’s top, or near top, company by market capitalisation with a simply stunning profit record. No one in their right mind would argue that branding, through Steve Jobs’ long career, has not been a salient feature of the technology company’s success (even when some elements, such as profitability, were clearly lacking). Put the two together, and you would surely expect it to be near the top.

But that’s not so when we turn to BrandZ’s principal rival, the longer-established Interbrand Best Global Brands, owned by Omnicom. Curiously Apple comes in at a sickly 17, up from 20, in the Interbrand rankings for 2010, published last September – the latest available.

Apple may be the most conspicuous anomaly, but it’s certainly not the only one when we compare the two league tables. Why is Disney so highly regarded by Interbrand (it’s ninth), but relatively lowly by BrandZ (it’s 38th)? Why is Samsung only 67th in the BrandZ charts, while it is ranked 19th by Interbrand? Doubtless there are other glaring disparities, which the more eagle-eyed will spot.

Such mis-attention to detail, you say. It’s the differing methodologies isn’t it? A bit of capitalist differentiation in the brand valuation market. You pick the one you trust more and go with it.

Well, not exactly – despite the anomalies, there’s plenty of consensus too. Technology companies, however ordered, now overwhelmingly dominate the top ten (and in BrandZ’s case, the second ten as well); mostly the same names crop up as well. Louis Vuitton is clearly the top-ranking French brand: both tables have it in their top 30. Even some of the valuations are pretty similar. Coca-Cola’s brand-worth, for instance, is estimated at $74bn in BrandZ (just out); and $70bn in the Interbrand rankings. While BMW is valued at at just over $22bn by both.

Admittedly, Interbrand tends to be a little more economical with its overall valuations, in dollar terms. Then again, the real importance of these tables is not the absolute, but relative values conveyed: it resides in the dynamic interaction of the brands contained therein.

And yet it is precisely here that their biggest difficulty lies. Amusing though it may be to pick out the winners from the losers and also-rans, are we any the wiser once we have done so? True, such tables serve an important function as a marketing propaganda tool within the investment community – helping to prop up, or knock down, share prices. But many of the conclusions they reach seem blindingly obvious rationalisations after the fact.

So, in the case of BrandZ, Blackberry is down 20% and 11 places to number 22; while Nokia has tumbled 38 places to 79th and lost 28% of its value (now $11bn). Well strike me down with a feather. Nothing of course to do with the two brands well advertised failure to crack the current consumer smartphone market I suppose?

Mind you, at least the BrandZ analysis is consistent, attributing due weight to the two phone brands’ nemeses, Apple and Google. Which is more than you can say for the Interbrand picture.

On the subject of which, expect a major brand revaluation this autumn. Here’s a fairly safe prediction. If not actually top, Apple will be one of Interbrand’s top-performing brands this year.

NOTE: BrandZ table here. And Interbrand table here.


Hans Riedel – the Porsche mastermind behind Jaguar’s bright Sparks ad plan

February 21, 2011

I cannot be alone in wondering what possessed Jaguar to pluck the majority (not all, note) of its $100m global advertising and marketing communications account out of Euro RSCG and place it in the hands of an untried joint-venture called Spark44, which will be head-quartered in Los Angeles.

If you don’t like the agency, fire it; don’t leave it clinging onto the business in nearly a third of your markets. If you do like the agency, but you’re unsure about the quality of its work, call a global review and take it from there. What’s happened here, by contrast, looks amateur and ill-judged: an accident waiting to happen at a time when Jaguar should be worrying about other things. Such as its dealers’ morale and the reliability of its new core product, the long-delayed XJ large saloon range.

Jaguar, which is part of Jaguar Land Rover and now owned by the family of Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, has been rather cryptic about the new marketing services JV – possibly because the news got out prematurely. So let’s try to fill in some of the gaps.

They say it’s not in-house but will be “100% dedicated to developing the Jaguar brand”. I take this to mean that 1) Jaguar is to be the majority shareholder in the enterprise and 2) that Spark44 will not be permitted to chase other clients.

In other words, the model is slightly different to Samsung’s relationship to Cheil (it can, but is so smothered it has never been able to diversify satisfactorily). And perish the thought we should so much as mention Kevin Morley Marketing – which for 3 unhappy years during the early nineties handled the £100m Rover brand. Even so, there are some unsettling parallels with KMM. As will be seen.

What little we definitely know about Spark44 comes from its website which, alas, has now been locked down with password protection (Nerves? Unreadiness? Both?). Before it disappeared from public view, a logo was to be discerned, in the form of a large spark-plug. The “44” part probably relates to the four partners ostensibly running the JV; and the fact that they will operate in Jaguar’s 4 main markets: the USA, Britain, Germany and China  – which, together, account for about 70% of the marque’s sales.

These four partners are: Alastair Duncan; Steve Woolford; Bruce Dundore; and Werner Krainz. Who? Well, good question. First, all of them have big agency backgrounds (McCann and BBDO figuring particularly prominently in their CVs), and specific experience on car accounts. Krainz (German, as the name suggests) and Dundore are creatives. London-based Duncan was until 2009 chief executive of McCann WorldGroup digital arm MRM Worldwide, and earlier helped to set up digital agency Zentropy. Finally, and most important, there is LA-based Woolford. Woolford, after a spell running a barber shop or two in LA, has been a group account director at BBDO (Mitusbishi being one of his clients); and also has a connection with McCann and Duncan, having – surprise, surprise – occupied senior positions at Zentropy and MRM.

But the really interesting thing about Woolford is his client-side experience: earlier in his career he worked for both Porsche and BMW. And it is this pedigree which has given him an entrée to the senior German car executives and consultants who now – effectively – run Jaguar worldwide.

Yes, the Indian Tata business dynasty may own Tata Motors – which bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford for £1.15bn in 2008 – but it is the Germans who run it. Last year, Tata put the respected former head of General Motors Europe and ex-BMW executive Carl-Peter Forster in overall charge of its global motor operations. Separately, but about the same time, it picked former BMW executive Ralph Speth as CEO of the Jaguar Land Rover division. Speth reports to Forster but – importantly for the future perhaps – the Speth appointment was made not by Forster but by Ravi Kant, vice chairman of Tata Motors.

Speth quickly set about refashioning JLR’s senior management in his own image. One of his most significant hirings is former senior Saab and Porsche executive Adrian Hallmark to the new position of Jaguar global brand director. Indirectly, Hallmark is a replacement – with much-reduced powers – for managing director Mike O’Driscoll, who leaves this year. Over the past 3 years, O’Driscoll – in charge of product and sales, as well as marketing – has been the key transition figure in the handover of Jaguar from Ford to Tata. Among other things, he was pivotal in cementing Euro’s relationship (which began during the Ford era in 2005) with the brand’s new owner.

There are a lot of names in this thickening plot, but let’s start tying it together with the introduction of yet another one. Speth has been surrounding himself with expensive consultants: in fact, Jaguar has been spending more on consultancy recently than it has on agency fees, according to one well-placed source. If so, that must be a tidy sum, since the Euro RSCG fee is commonly thought to be $10m per annum.

Prime among these consultants is one Dr Hans Riedel, who first made his appearance last summer, prior to the Hallmark appointment. It is Riedel (left) who is effectively calling the shots in marketing. Now about 62, he has worked full-time for only 3 employers in his life: Young & Rubicam; BMW, which he joined in 1980; and Porsche, from which, after 12 years, he retired in 2006. At Porsche he was Mr Sales and Marketing – the man who helped launch the sports-car maker’s third-leg strategy, the Cayenne 4×4 off-roader; and who oversaw an explosion of Porsche sales, which soared from 18,000 in 1994 to over 90,000 by the time he left. At BMW, he acquired extensive knowledge of the North American market helping, among other things, to reorganise BMW’s motorcycle operation there.

The point is this. Riedel quickly made his presence felt at Jaguar by cancelling an imminent global all-model ad campaign – to dealers’ consternation – and bringing in the relatively unknown Woolford as his right-hand man. Next thing we know, Woolford and his chums have carved out for themselves the lion’s share of Jaguar’s marketing communications budget.

In whose best interest is this marketing services JC being set up: Jaguar’s or the people running it? But, equally important: will it actually work?

First, a bit of background. Euro’s advertising strategy performed an early and vital service for the Jaguar brand. The “Gorgeous” campaign definitively pushed Jaguar upmarket, by detaching it from the Ford name and repositioning it as a luxury item. Its task was assisted by the scrapping of Jaguar’s entry model, the unsuccessful X, and the revitalisation of the rest of its range, the XF, XS and the XJ. Whatever quibbles there may be over the XJ’s reliability, all three ranges have been well received critically; and the 2010 JD Power ratings – which measure customer satisfaction – prove the point by ranking Jaguar the highest-scoring luxury marque in the US auto industry.

The “luxury item” strategy is remarkably similar to that which has prevailed at Porsche over the years, at a noticeably lower cost in marketing services expenditure. Riedel  – who must be regarded as the eminence grise behind Spark44 – was not a believer in bloated advertising budgets then; and the evidence is, he is not one now (particularly when it comes to the flim-flam of digital and social media).

Maybe he’s right to be so conservative: his track record speaks for itself. But there are also reasons for suspecting that Spark44 will not succeed in the objectives it seems to have set itself. Will it save Jaguar money? Initially maybe. Its problem is the brand’s global reach. Although it has sought to circumvent the issue of network overheads by leaving all the messy bits to Euro, Spark44 is still lumbered with a fundamental problem. It is servicing only one brand, and that brand must therefore, single-handedly, subsidise the cost of regional presence. There is a complexity of engagement  – and therefore expense – in that presence which may, so far, have eluded the drawing-board agency strategists. The Kevin Morley (left) experiment failed not simply because of the posturing, pugnacious personality of Rover’s former managing director-turned-adman, but because it was and remained a one-trick pony. It could find no substantial partner to spread the costs of a European network. Nor, in the last analysis, could it give advice that was in any sense robustly objective, tied as it was to a single paymaster. Morley quit before his 5-year term was up and, shortly afterwards, the business was sold to Lintas, later a part of Lowe.

Jaguar  might have been better advised to approach Havas with the idea of a 50/50 joint venture run out of Euro. After all, the infrastructure is halfway there already. Jaguar is handled by a specialist agency with a dedicated strategy unit, operating out of its two chief markets London and New York (not always in that order), in order to avoid account conflict with Peugeot. That way the Jaguar JC could have spread the risk while asserting greater control over marketing communications and the associated costs. What’s more, as a global strategy it would have been a good deal more coherent.

For all that, let’s not prejudge Spark44’s chances of success. We’ll know it’s working when, in about a year’s time, Speth turns his attention to Y&R’s global contract with the more successful Land Rover brand, and attempts to replicate the Spark44 model. Either that, or he may find himself without a job.


ING Renault F1 Team gets last-minute reprieve, but is it too late?

September 21, 2009

ING RenaultThere was an air of hushed expectation at Place de la Concorde in central Paris yesterday. The first public execution for 200 years – since the time of the French Revolution – was about to take place. Formula One was bringing back the time-honoured custom for one day only. F1’s presiding body, the FIA (based in Place de la Concorde), was to be judge and jury and Renault F1 Team the victim.  At least, that was the widespread expectation. As it happened, Renault got a last-minute reprieve. The guillotine has been left on standby for two years.

Renault, it will be recalled, is at the centre of probably the worst example of sports chicanery ever exposed – which is saying quite something where Formula One and its track-record of multiple scandals is concerned. Briefly, Renault has admitted it manipulated the outcome of a Grand Prix race by causing one of its drivers, Nelson Piquet Jnr, to crash his vehicle in order that team mate Fernando Alonso might win the race. Renault F1 Team supremo Flavio Briatore, the principal conspirator, has already got the chop, as has his number two, Pat Symonds, director of engineering.

Some might argue that the FIA penalty was not enough; it could never be enough. After all Briatore & Co were knowingly risking the lives not only of their own driver but those of others on the track. Shouldn’t criminal charges also be in the offing?

Whichever way you look at it, Crashgate could not have come at a worse time. The horrendously expensive sport is strapped for cash as never before. It is struggling to fill the grid now that the likes of BMW have withdrawn. With Renault’s F1 reputation so badly damaged, who else is going to bother pouring billions of dollars into this discredited sport?

Come to think of it, current sponsors must be feeling pretty sick, and none more so than ING, the financial services conglomerate whose moniker presently prefixes “Renault F1 Team”  in all the headlines.

Now what was the logic of ING’s unconscionably large financial involvement again? Ah yes, I have ING’s then ceo, Michel Tilmant, on the record on June 27, 2007 – just after he first signed his company up. Here are some extracts:

“We believe our brand recognition does not quite match the scope and size of our business…We believe Formula One can help raise ING’s brand awareness, and ensure that we are known as one of the leading global financial institutions. …We see our F1 sponsorship as complementary to our other sponsorship, but very much in the lead to position our business globally.”

Apparently, Tilmant and his top team “conducted extensive research” into which sports would best offer ING a global audience, including “football, the Olympics and tennis amongst others” but “F1 was the best choice. It offered an unrivalled blend of a large global audience, with a profile that closely matched the needs of our business.”

Sounds as if you made the wrong call, mate. You should have stuck to boring old tennis or the Olympics. At least they are fairly clean.

As it happens, we can see an unflattering similarity between high-rolling finance and F1 all too clearly – but not in the way Tilmant will have intended when he signed away all those shareholder dividends on the deal. Let’s have a look at that parallel a little more closely. Both communities, banking and top motor racing, suffer from a surfeit of testosterone and are suicidally competitive – which makes them “reckless” with the rules when they think they can get away with it. Both are ludicrously overpaid for what they do – in the highest echelons that is – and are adept at finding new ways of enriching themselves whatever the collateral cost. Both are bloated  and have a dubious ‘social utility’ (to use FSA chief Lord Turner’s phrase). And both have shown only the most superficial contrition when faced with their misdeeds. A perfect fit, in short.

Any other parallels I may have forgotten? Probably.


Why did BMW really pull out of F1?

July 29, 2009
images-1

BMW: Odd timing

A wry thought crossed my mind after I heard that BMW was going to pull out of Formula One. Yes, all right, they’re bad losers. They’ve frittered squillions of pounds a year on a sport that has brought them no glory. Their shareholders are upset, their workforce is incandescent – especially those now facing redundancy as a result of the worldwide squeeze on the car industry. Toyota and Renault will surely follow suit, etc…

But the timing of the announcement seems a little odd. After all, wasn’t BMW one of the leading lights in the prospective Fota championship breakaway? And wasn’t that, ironically, all about stymying FIA president Max Mosley’s plan to impose sensible, manageable budgets on the racing teams?

Now for the thought. Perhaps the increasingly “inappropriate” behaviour of F1 ringmasters Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone played a role, ever so small, in the framing of BMW’s decision?


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