Chris Wood helps to launch top-end male fashion brand Dom Reilly

March 28, 2013

Dom ReillyFor years, you’ve run your own brand consultancy. After successfully selling it, you step into the limelight as chairman of the Central Office of Information, only to find that mad axeman and part-time cabinet minister Francis Maude is cutting off at the knees the very organisation you’ve just been invited to head. What next?

I caught up with Chris Wood recently and found out. It transpires he is helping to give lift-off to a new top-end fashion brand called Dom Reilly. Never heard of it? Well, unlike Chris Wood, you’ve probably had nothing to do with Formula One. Wood, in his spare time, is an unreconstructed petrol head; and Dominic Reilly (pictured) – the eponymous brand name –  is the former head of marketing at Williams F1 Team.

Reilly’s company, where Wood is a non-executive director and adviser, is ambitiously pitching itself at the very top of a very discriminating market – with a price-tag to match. The initial range, admittedly exquisitely hand-crafted, starts at £95 for a tooled leather phone case and escalates to an eye-watering £1,400 for a weekender bag (roughly the price of a Manolo Blahnik handbag or a Jimmy Choo tote).  This new brand has no intention of being a Mulberrry also-ran, no siree.

So why is Reilly so confident about his ambitious positioning? The answer lies not so much in the quality of the goods – that’s a given when competing with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and Alfred Dunhill – but in a judicious soupçon of Formula One. A soupçon, because too much of it will asphyxiate the brand with the rank odour of “petrol-head” and “anorak” – in short, death by downmarket male. While there’s no escaping Dom Reilly’s essentially masculine appeal, the idea is to imbue the brand with FI’s sophisticated reputation for engineering excellence and technological innovation. One of the accessories, for instance, is a beautifully finished crash helmet case; and some of the collection features a special high-density foam used in F1 cockpits that absorbs almost all shock on impact.

Reilly, given his 6 years as head of marketing at Williams, has second-to-none access to one of the world’s most sophisticated R&D departments. But he has to be careful how he plays the Williams card. Few team brands, with the exception of Ferrari, have much charisma off-track. And in any case, Williams has not performed well of late (one, but only one, good reason, why the Williams name is not directly associated with the brand). Instead, an aura of cutting-edge R&D is being subtly diffused through the person of Patrick Head, co-founder of Williams F1 and its fabled chief of design – who just happens to be a founder shareholder in Dom Reilly.

Dom Reilly EnglandIn truth, the attractions of launching an haute gamme fashion brand are there for all to see: salivating margins and high resilience to recession. Equally, so is the demerit: everyone’s at it. The sector has become crowded with participants touting increasingly obscure and recondite “provenance”: the 17th century Huguenot diaspora, the Empress Josephine’s personal dressmaker etc (I made those up, but you know what I mean). So attaching your brand to future-directed technology with wide aspirational appeal is certainly a point of difference.

But that’s not to say fashion and high-octane auto culture are natural bedfellows, as the history of the Ferrari brand all too clearly illustrates. “It’s interesting,” says Wood, “That in the last Top Gear programme I watched, they were extolling the virtues (and innocence) of Pagani (750bhp hypercars, costing three times as much as a Lamborghini and correspondingly rare), while referring to the Maranello mob (i.e. Ferrari) as ‘purveyors of key rings and baseball caps’. And about Lamborghini as a contrivance of Audi. Out of the mouths of children, and even Clarkson, can come a certain wisdom.”

Indeed.

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Ford shows it doesn’t care a Figo for Indian political and cultural sensitivities

March 25, 2013

Ford Figo/HiltonGood advertising is, like good comedy, about timing. About sniffing out the zeitgeist and then putting an inimitable twist upon it.

Judged by such criteria, Ford’s latest “offering”, in India, for its Figo model ranks very high.

What could be more timely than demonstrating the little car’s exceptional cargo-carrying capacity than three nubile women, one scantily clad, all three bound and gagged, occupying the boot space?

Closer inspection of the ad reveals that the caricatures are supposed to represent actual celebrities. In the front seat is Paris Hilton, looking over her shoulder and winking at us. The gagged lovelies are Kim Kardashian and her two sisters. It’s all good clean fun, in the best possible taste. And part of a wider humorous narrative in which well-known personalities get their revenge on rivals by confining them to the back end of the surprisingly capacious Figo. We can tell this from another execution in the campaign, which shows ex-Formula One ace Michael Schumacher dealing with his rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, in the same summary manner. Oh, and get this. There’s a third ad with Silvio Berlusconi in the driving seat… need I go on?

Naturally, we’re never going to get so far as savouring the full complexity of the Team WPP (for it is they) humorous palate; not once our attention has been arrested by the sight of a restrained, near-naked Kardashian – and the tumultuous outcry which has accompanied it within right-thinking circles across the Indian sub-continent.

Ford, of course, is mortified. Though whether by the political and cultural insensitivity of the ad, or the chorus of execration that has greeted its appearance, is not altogether apparent. No doubt Team WPP will also be walking about with its tail between its legs for some time to come.

The official explanation is that the ads were created merely for “in-house” use (whatever that might mean) and that they somehow got posted on the internet.

Isn’t it a bit early for April 1st?

Or do creative teams really live in such a cultural bubble that they are wholly insulated from events in the wider world ?

Come to think of it, what were their bosses doing while all this harmless in-house glee was going on?

UPDATE 27/3/13: Now we know the answer to that last question. The bosses were implicated up to their gills. And have paid the price in full with forced resignations. Bobby Pawar, JWT India’s chief creative officer & managing partner, as well as Vijay SimhaVellanki, creative director at Blue Hive, a WPP unit dedicated to managing the Ford business, are no longer on Team Ford – or for that matter, employees of WPP. More on this at MAA.


Premier League scores spectacular own goal with new Barclays sponsorship deal

July 3, 2012

The Premier League just doesn’t get it, does it? The world is crashing around Barclays ears: its chief executive Bob Diamond has just been forced to step down by the Governor of the Bank of England; its chief operating officer Jerry del Missier has quit; its chairman Marcus Agius will be exiting in the coming months; and Bob’s top team of investment bankers face a mass clear-out (if, that is, they had anything to do with BarCap between 2005 and 2008, which is highly likely).

And what does the Premier League do? It inks another sponsorship deal with Barclays Bank, this time for a whopping £35m a year over 3 years (or so Brand Republic tells us).

Granted, when scandal strikes, the boot is usually on the other foot: it’s the sponsor that  assesses the collateral brand damage and, if necessary, does the firing. For instance: Coca-Cola repudiating its association with Wayne Rooney, after the latter consorted with a prostitute while his wife was pregnant; everyone junking Tiger Woods once his elaborate sexual gymnastics came to light; Vodafone shaking a big stick at McLaren Mercedes (but not much else) over cheating on the F1 track; and Emirates Airline threatening to drop its World Cup sponsorship because of FIFA chief Sepp Blatter’s limp-wristed approach to racism on the pitch.

But the scandal now engulfing Barclays is of such epic proportions that even the Premier League – not normally known for its ethical sensitivity – should carefully consider whether it is prudent to continue its association with such a blighted brand. Let’s face it, it doesn’t look too clever, does it? ‘We’re a wholesome family sport, happy to take money from anyone – cheats and spivs especially welcome’.

Of course, the Premier League commercial negotiators have been unlucky in their timing. Little were they to know that, as protracted negotiations were nearing their conclusion, international financial regulators would hit Barclays with a £290m fine for manipulating the interbank lending rate. Even so, a suspension in the negotiations would now be the intelligent way forward – while the Premier League looks for an alternative commercial partner; and Barclays does the decent thing by withdrawing its offer. Tip for Premier League negotiators: try sectors other than financial services. It will save pain later.


FIFA sponsors are the only ones who can splatter Blatter

November 20, 2011

Well, what a week of wasted moral outrage that was, even if it did produce one of The Sun’s finest headlines for a very long time.

Make no mistake. “Splatter Blatter” may have sold extra copies of the red-top, but will do nothing to remove the Teflon Man, whose life’s achievement has been to carve himself an impregnable position as world football’s supremo.

In a way, you’ve got to admire him. Like Bernie Ecclestone, whom he resembles in a variety of ways, Blatter is a master tactician at the top of his own, very particular, game: not the administration of Formula One or FIFA, but the administration of power.

The secret of their supremacy is the same. It lies not (or very little) in formal status, but in a second-to-none understanding of how to manipulate an opaque global system that has no loyalty beyond its self-perpetuation.

To be sure, FIFA and F1 are, or have, venerable governing bodies guided by what appear to be democratically elected representatives acting in accordance with a constitution. In reality, the election of these officials is manipulated to suit insiders; and the workings of the institutions they represent are so complex and well-defended that they defy almost any outside attempt to hold them to account.

If there is any parallel to representative government, it is the quaint Rotten Borough system that existed in Britain before 1832. Boiled down to essentials, it involved the King and his chosen First Minister fixing a parliamentary majority by procuring the election of their chosen placemen in all the seats that actually mattered. For placemen read “men in blazers”, and you get the picture.

Corruption was the indispensable lubricant of this system. It involved greasing people’s palms, and not just at election time. The disbursement and retraction of patronage – primarily offices of state awarded on the basis of interest rather than merit – was key to successful management.

Recognise the parallel? Allegations of corruption have plagued Blatter’s 4 consecutive terms of office, culminating in the 2018 World Cup scandal that broke earlier this year. As for F1 scandals, need I enumerate them?

But what do Blatter or Ecclestone care about that? The same opacity which protects these organisations from outside investigation also insulates their ringmasters from public criticism – and any punitive measure that might result from it. Hence the stream of crass remarks that regularly issues from their mouths. For Bernie, Hitler was an OK bloke who built excellent roads even if he did later succumb to a power complex. For Blatter, racism on the pitch is a non-issue which can be settled with a handshake at the end of the match. Out of touch, clearly. But then, so what? They’re also out of reach, and they know it.

Blatter has deftly deflected calls for his departure from the likes of David Cameron, David Beckham and The Sun by portraying the outcry as a case of sour grapes. Only Britain has worked itself up into a national lather over racism on the pitch. Why? Because England lost out in the contest to become 2018 World Cup host, and is now conducting a vendetta against the man perceived to be its nemesis.

So, can he now blow the final whistle and move on? Not quite. If there’s one chink in Blatter’s armour, it’s money – or rather its threatened withdrawal. What if the sponsors – household brand names, with household reputations to maintain – deem he has gone too far and pull the plug on the hundreds of millions of pounds a year that FIFA depends upon for its survival?

Ordinarily, that simply wouldn’t happen. However much they may privately tut-tut about Bernie’s ex-wife spending £12m on their daughter’s nuptials, Max Mosley’s grubby sexual antics or Blatter’s moral insensitivity, the last thing they are going to do is scupper a strategic investment with a noble gesture. Their investment is, after all, in the global game, not the administating organisation and the people who lead it. And their justification for inaction the not unreasonable conjecture that most football and motor-racing aficionados have little knowledge and less interest in the shenanigans of sports administrators.

One sponsor’s uncharacteristic response to Blatter’s racism episode is what, in fact, makes this furore so interesting. True, most of FIFA’s six official partners have played entirely true to form. Coca-Cola has categorically rejected a review of its sponsorship; while Visa, Hyundai/Kia, Sony and Adidas have contented themselves with more or less bland statements condemning racism in sport. But Emirates has broken ranks by taking the almost unprecedented step of reviewing its sponsorship.

Whatever next? Not Blatter’s resignation, for sure. But perhaps the beginning of the end of his reign.


FIFA’s Sepp Blatter and Max Mosley are two of a kind

June 1, 2011

Will the sky fall in on Sepp Blatter, much reviled president of FIFA, just because Coca-Cola and Adidas, Visa and Emirates Airline – 4 of football’s 6 biggest sponsors – have fired a shot across his bows?

Will the English and Scottish football associations’ vociferous appeals for a postponement to FIFA’s presidential election – which currently leaves Blatter dribbling up to an open goal – make an iota of difference?

No and no. The contest between FIFA and its critics is asymmetrical precisely because, unlike Coca-Cola and its fellow sponsors, FIFA is not a brand. It is not vulnerable, in the first degree, to public criticism – however merited or angry that criticism may be.

Indeed, as Matthew Patten recently pointed out, FIFA resembles nothing so much as a medieval guild. It owes allegiance to no one other than the 208 merchant adventurers who make up its membership. Nothing, culturally speaking, could be more removed from the modern corporation. There is no transparency in its business dealings, because the daylight of accountability is not an element in its constitution. The anonymous men in blazers ply their trade in a way that is endemic to all closed mercantile organisations: through mutual back-slapping, nepotism and, let’s face it, financially lubricated manila envelopes – if they think can get away with it. And lording it over them are the merchant prince oligarchs: men (they are always men) like Sepp Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hamman.

FIFA is part of a pattern which, if not peculiar to the administration of world sport, is certainly highly characteristic of it. Remember the cleansing of the Augean Stables at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after the corruption scandal that was the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bid came to light in 1998? That was a relatively benign outcome. Less satisfactory have been the consequences of the more recent shenanigans at Formula One. Despite the engulfing stench of scandal, and the twittering of vocal criticism, its twin ringmasters Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone managed to protect the integrity of their power base. Admittedly Mosley eventually went, but it was at a time of his own choosing and on his own terms. Ecclestone, meanwhile, continues to crack the whip without let or hindrance. He is currently said to be negotiating an exit deal with Rupert Murdoch.

Blatter, a man who once fronted an organisation dedicated to stopping women exchanging their suspender belts for pantyhoses, is more likely to draw his inspiration from Mosley than the aftermath of the Salt Lake City scandal. He will brazen the “crisis” out.

And there is little, in the last analysis, the sponsors can or will do about it. On the surface, that might seem a strange thing to say. After all, they are bankers to the organisation and provide its marketing pot. Each contributes between £100m and £300m to a FIFA revenue estimated at £2.4bn in the 4 years up to and including World Cup 2010. Surely that gives them more clout than most stakeholders in the struggle to wring reform from the World Cup organiser? Only up to a point. Let’s not forget that FIFA is less dependent upon sponsors these days to the extent that it can dip into billions of dollars worth of syndicated worldwide TV rights. Moreover, rather than presenting themselves as a united front, the sponsors perceive themselves as embattled and vulnerable competitors (rather like the constructors in the F1 equation). Blatter, like Ecclestone, is a supreme tactician in exploiting such weaknesses. There’s always someone else, he will say, to take their place if they don’t want to play ball. A Pepsi for a Coke, a Nike for an Adidas, a Delta for an Emirates, a Mastercard for a Visa.

And do you know what? He’s right. The only chance the sponsors have of effecting change is if they stand united. My suggestion is not that they threaten to defect, merely that they withhold some of their funding until tangible reforms, prime among them greater transparency and accountability, are in place.


Far from heavenly, the F1 marketing role sounds like the brief from hell

September 7, 2010

I was intrigued to hear that the search is on for a Formula One marketing director. Given F1’s global reach, and the colossal sums of money from sponsorship, TV rights and attendance fees supporting the brand, it sounds the CMO job from heaven. Why ever had no one thought of creating it before? For very good reason, as it happens.

First things first, however. The proposal has come out of the inaugural meeting of something called the F100 alliance, which is a new organisation designed to represent the commercial sponsors of the sport. F1 is composed of so many self-interested “guilds” that it’s a surprise the sponsors haven’t cottoned on to this idea earlier. There is, for example, one for determining the governing rules (FIA); another for the Grand Prix manufacturers; yet another for the drivers; one for the mechanics; and even one called the Overtaking Working Group. By contrast, the 175 sponsors who contributed £458m in 2010 (according to industry monitor Formula Money) – more than the £352m provided by the team owners and the £156m by the car manufacturers – have until now been unprovided for.

The immediate back-drop to the creation of the F100 alliance is the recession, and a change in the relative importance of the contributing revenue streams – which has sharpened the sponsors’ appetite for power. The idea, not unreasonably, is to make their money work harder for them by creating a ginger group. The kind of thing which they might wish to influence would be the timing of grand prix, their geographical location and the multiplication of opportunities to entertain – all of course in the cause of maximising sponsorship return. Finding a marketing director to front and shape their interests, where commonality can be found, is a natural extension of this platform.

But who would be the ideal candidate, and how much power would he or she actually have? Although discussions – about the brief, let alone the candidate – are at any early stage, the name of David Wheldon has already emerged from the pack. I have no idea whether Wheldon really is interested, but he certainly has persuasive credentials as the former global brand chief of a major F1 sponsor, Vodafone. And there’s something else he has that any F1 marketing director will need by the bucket load: emollient charm and a considerable reserve of patience.

F100 and its marketing director will be able to beg, but they won’t be able to bully. The Mediaeval jumble of competing guilds that makes up F1 disguises an important reality about its underlying constitution. It is an autocracy where only one man’s opinion – certainly on the matter of grand prix venues – actually counts. That of ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone has very graciously condescended to read the minutes of F100’s inaugural meeting, rather in the way that a monarch might glance at his subjects’ charters. He is committed to doing precisely nothing. Indeed, not very privately, he has described the whole idea of F100 as “silly.”


Guess who’s not coming to dinner, Bernie

September 29, 2009
'Minor player'

'Minor player'

Was Formula One always this exciting off-track? Just as you thought it couldn’t get any more engrossing, along comes teflon-coated commercial F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone with another clanger that defies all expectations.

This time, the diminutive hair-extended one has picked on a victim his own size, with unpredictable results for the future. The target being none other than Sir Martin Sorrell, head of the world’s largest marketing services group, who happens in his spare time to act as a director of CVC, the F1 operating company ‘run’ by Bernie.

Sorrell, a prominent Jewish businessman, has been watching with increasing dismay Bernie’s antics, which rival in amusement those of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad, you may recall, reckons the Holocaust never happened, so it’s OK to nuke Israel. Bernie reckons Hitler is misunderstood. After all, he had a way of “getting things done” (we’re not entirely sure whether this revisionist theory applies to the Final Solution).

Matters reached boiling point when Bernie opined that his disgraced poker-playing chum, Flavio Briatore, had been excessively punished for staging a little car-crash in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. “Out of touch with reality” was Sorrell’s exasperated rebuke.

Bernie then gave Sorrell a comprehensive public character reference, the gist of which was that he was a minor player in F1, didn’t really know what he was talking about, and was not very bright anyway. Oh, and because he’s a Jew, he could never forgive Ecclestone for his unconventional views on Hitler.

The corker is that this diatribe was unleashed just days before Sorrell, according to Bernie, had invited him round to dinner to sort things out.

Except that he hadn’t. Apparently, it was Bernie who took the initiative a few weeks back, when he phoned up Sorrell to “bury the hatchet” and suggested dinner. More revisionist history on Bernie’s part, it seems. And certainly a funny way to bury the hatchet.

How much more of this can CVC’s real boss, Don Mackenzie, take?


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