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Big is beastly, especially if we’re talking big banks like Barclays

August 28, 2012

Which brands make us most angry? Yes, you guessed correctly. The big ones that rip us off, starve us of mortgage funds, pilfer our savings and behave with amoral disregard for everyone’s interest but their own. Anything, in short, that ends with the word “Bank”.

But come, let’s be a bit more specific. How about some brand differentiation – which is the worst, and which the runner-up? Well, coming in at number 2 – just behind the winning “All banks” category – is Barclays. And next, in 7th position, is Royal Bank of Scotland.

I know all of this thanks to some research, just out, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by creative agency Johnny Fearless (of which more below).

Why don’t Lloyds, Santander and HSBC make it into the top 10? Surely not on account of the odour of sanctity. We can only speculate, but could it be that Barclays and RBS have the two biggest Swinging Dicks attached to their brand heritage, namely Bob Diamond and Fred the Shred? I doubt that most people know who Antonio Horta-Osario is, and would struggle to recall his name in sufficient detail if they did. Which is probably just as well for Horta-Osario and Lloyds Bank.

More interesting, if perplexing in some ways, is the identity of the other 7 members of this exclusive Top 10 club. Tenth equal with Coca-Cola is Nestlé – still regarded as a corporate pariah on account of its anti-social baby-milk marketing practices in developing countries. I’m sure that doesn’t depress sales of Kit-Kats and Yorkie bars one bit, though.

And what’s Coke doing in there? Sorry boys and girls, for all your tender investment in clean athleticism, those grubby practices in Third World countries have not gone unnoticed.

Next up, “All utilities companies” at number 8, on account of their high prices and perceived profiteering. But two deserving special mentions here are British Gas – with its conspicuously bad customer service; and BT – with its ineffectual overseas call centres.

Virgin Media is in there at number 8 as well, although I have yet to discover whether this is because we’re all being beastly to Beardie or on account of some graver underlying cause – such as woefully inadequate service.

That leaves us with McDonald’s at number 4 – poor quality food and an inappropriate Olympics sponsorship, apparently.

…And, weighing in at number 3, the nation’s unfavourite retailer – Tesco. Memo to Tesco CEO Phil Clarke: it’s because you’re too big for your boots, despoil our high streets and blackmail your suppliers. No other retailer can do this so successfully, it seems.

  1. Which companies or brands make you feel angry? 
  2. What is it they do to make you feel angry?
Rank Company or brand
1 All banks’, ‘Banks’
2 Barclays
3 Tesco
4 McDonald’s
5 BT
6 British Gas
7 Royal Bank of Scotland’, ‘RBS’
8= Virgin Media
8= Utilities’, ‘Energy companies’
10= Nestlé
10= Coca-Cola

The research was commissioned by Johnny Fearless and carried out by YouGov. Total sample size was 2077 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between August 3-6th 2012. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Johnny Fearless is a Soho start-up agency founded by Paul Domenet and Neil Hughston, whose stock in trade is creating “social crackle” around brand messages. Or so it says in their publicity blurb.

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Ask not what I can do for my company, ask what my company can do for me

May 13, 2010

Let’s face it, no one ever went into advertising to remain poor: the extravagant severance payments awarded to top executives by compliant remuneration committees in London, Paris and New York are the stuff of legend. But, as RBS’ Fred the Shred discovered, being filthy rich isn’t much fun if you end up a pariah. The context of gain matters.

John Dooner, latterly chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, recently retired from Interpublic Group with a pension of $37.7m. This extraordinarily generous provision was bolstered by payments made during his years as IPG group ceo – a position from which he stepped down in 2003. Had he actually done a good job in either of these roles, no one would have batted an eyelid. As it is, the IPG years were mired in scandal and the normally reliable McCann has been haemorrhaging major accounts. By any standards,  $37.7bn is a handsome reward for failure.

Unlike Dooner, Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Lévy deserves well of his company. He has made it a global force to be reckoned with, while Dooner has presided over decline. And he will duly be compensated  – with a financial package worth, perhaps, £30m when he retires. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the calculation of this generous severance payment involves factoring in, at the full measure, a phantom bonus payment he never awarded himself last year; in the midst of recession, he had made great play of sacrificing this self-same bonus as a token of socialist “solidarity” with the many staff whom he had had to make redundant or, at least, whose salaries he had slashed.

However, that is no more than a faux pas compared with the predicament John Wren, group ceo of Omnicom, is in. Wren stands accused of profiteering from cheap stock options while, all around him, his agencies withered on the vine and staff were put out on the street to help make corporate ends meet. The accusation comes from a maddened activist shareholder – investment manager David Poppe, of Ruane Cunniff & Goldfarb’s Sequoia Fund, a 1% owner of Omnicom stock. Poppe has sent a circular to other shareholders which alleges that a massive grant of 22 million stock options on March 31 2009, plus another 3.5 million awarded on the last day of 2008, enabled Wren and his senior management team to acquire 8% of the company at bargain basement prices. And there’s more. Poppe reckons it’s part of a pattern of behaviour stretching back a decade. He just stops short of accusing Wren of backdating these options, in order to achieve a favourably low exercise price; which is actually illegal.

The thing about options, of course, is that they are a gamble which can end up being worthless. But Wren, a former accountant, is a wily operator. With the stock market rallying, what was virtually valueless in 2008 has turned into pure gold. The result being that his 2009 annual “compensation”  shot up to $7.9m – compared with $2.9m the year before – according to SEC filings.

Wren should watch out. Fund manager activists have had surprising success in toppling the mighty. Remember David Herro, who was responsible for the nemesis of the Saatchi brothers back in the nineties?


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