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.


Print and posters more persuasive than film at Epica 2011 creative advertising awards

January 7, 2012

Creative advertising award schemes are, by their nature, an imperfect guide to reality. If your agency doesn’t enter, your work doesn’t get considered; on the other hand, those who do enter and win may be regarded as unrepresentative of general industry opinion.

Even so, hardy annual schemes provide a rough and ready guide to agencies and agency groups that are performing above standard.

Which is exactly what you find with the latest Epica international advertising awards. Set up in 1987, they are Euro-centric or rather EMEA in their scope and differ from most in the genre in being assessed by senior advertising trade-magazine journalists (usually editors) rather than the creative community. Creatives may dislike their work being prodded and probed by what they probably regard as a bunch of philistines, but they cannot deny that experienced journalists bring a degree of objectivity to the proceedings.

So what does Epica 2011 tells us? First that Germany, not France or Britain, is the advertising power-house of Europe. To be sure you would expect the biggest country – and the only one with a thriving economy right now – to be the most prolific entrant. But it also hauled the most winners: 15 golds, 45 silvers, 29 bronze – 89 awards in total. By way of perspective, France came second with 66 awards, of which 11 were golds; and Britain trailed Sweden in fourth place with 41 awards (Sweden: 58), of which 12 were gold (Sweden: 8). Germany had an “off-year” last time round, in 4th place. But pole position is no fluke: it has taken the palm 7 times in the last decade.

Next, the best performing networks. This was less clear-cut than last year, when WPP-owned Y&R attained an easy ascendancy with 8 category winners sourced by 4 different shops. It managed to cling on to top position this year but with a lesser margin – 5 winners from 2 shops – and also faces a serious challenge from Wieden & Kennedy, which shares the top honours. Next ranking were IPG-owned McCann Erickson (4 winners in 4 offices), Omnicom-owned BBDO (which is clearly slipping, 4 winners in 3 offices) and WPP-owned Ogilvy (the same). DDB (Omnicom) came sixth.

Individually, Serviceplan Gruppe Munich, Fred & Farid Paris and W&K Amsterdam took the most golds (4 apiece); and Forsmann & Bodenfors, Gothenburg the most awards (18).

So much for the statistics, but what of the overall quality of the work? A bit of a curate’s egg this year. Film, which is generally regarded as the most prestigious of the 4 leading Epica d’Or awards, finally went to W&K Amsterdam’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign for Heineken. In effect, W&K was in a duel with itself for the top honours, since the other serious contender was its last year Cannes winner – ‘Write the Future’ for Nike. Neither exactly resonates as an imaginative choice – although what they lack in originality they certainly compensate for in verve and exceptional production values. Of the two, Heineken has to have been the right choice: Nike was sooo dated and yesterday’s choice.

But if film failed to sparkle, there was ample refreshment elsewhere. Print, a category in decline if ever there was one, gratifyingly produced a triple surprise. The winner, Leo Burnett’s Swiss office Spillmann/Felser/Leo Burnett Zurich, provided some crackling word-play for, of all things, a financial services client, Swiss Life. “Life Turns in a Sentence” plays verbally on life’s vicissitudes with a series of statements that change their meaning 180 degrees in mid-sentence.

Similarly inspiring was Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s “Passport Stamps” work for Land Rover. It had a simple, appealing graphic quality which would have worked equally well in print although in fact it won the Outdoor Epica d’Or.

While we’re there, the fourth of the big prizes, for Interactive, was won by Jung von Matt Stockholm for its “MINI Getaway” campaign.

For more on the winners, click here.


Google plots m-commerce takeover of local sector

July 1, 2011

As a headline grabber, it isn’t quite up there with the search giant’s big news of the week – ‘Google and Heineken seal ad partnership landmark‘.

That deal, which involves a sizeable chunk of Heineken’s €2.1bn global advertising budget being poured directly into Google inventory such as YouTube is indeed a ground-breaker. And a deeply worrying one at that for ad agencies, who must now face up to the possibility of other major packaged goods companies “disintermediating” them with extreme prejudice from the digital deal.

No, this was a much smaller scale event, but in its way just as significant. It demonstrates the skill with which Google micromanages the digital ecosphere, as well as macromanages it.

I’m talking about the launch this week of Google Mobilize at the annual ThinkMobile jamboree (now soaring to 500 attendees).

What is this product? It’s a remarkably simple means of SMEs creating their own mobile sites free of charge (including analytics), thanks to an almost foolproof Google template.

Unimpressed so far? Well let’s look at some of the thinking behind this low-key launch. As you will know, mobile traffic is soaring. Here are some key statistics, which I quote courtesy of Ian Carrington, Google’s UK mobile advertising sales director (so bang up to date, really). Last year, mobile traffic quadrupled. The number of handsets in circulation doubled from 500m to 1bn. In Q4 last year, smartphone sales surpassed sales of PCs for the first time – 2 years ahead of the forecast by the world’s most respected expert on the subject, Mary Meeker. Last year, 36% of the UK mobile-owning population (pretty much everyone) had a smartphone, up from 24% the year before; this year penetration is expected to hit 50%.

You get the picture. Sales of smartphones, especially Android-powered ones, are going gangbusters. And, not surprisingly, people are increasingly using these objects of desire to make purchases on the hoof: 28% who own a phone have done, or have tried to do so, I am told. Ebay has risen to this challenge magnificently. Last year it did over $2bn of e-commerce via smartphones. It even manages to sell 4 Ferraris a month over via m-commerce.

Alas, most retailers can’t keep up with this heady pace. The number of mobile-enabled websites is, I’m told, criminally small. Google claims only 17% of its top advertisers have “mobile-optimised landing pages”. Most retailers still rely on a boiled-down version of their PC website, which is not very user-friendly of them. So Google is helping them out, with a loss-leader. However, the “free” part of the deal applies only to SMEs (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker). Bigger companies will have to to dig into their own pockets. By swamping the local market with free and easy-to-use product, Google hopes to pre-empt any third-party competition and “own” the SME m-commerce sector.

Awesome, as they say over at Mountain View – and just another example of the search giant’s crafty attention to detail.


Phil Rumbol lays his reputation for creativity on the line

September 8, 2010

For months it has been an open secret that Phil Rumbol, former Cadbury marketing director, was plotting to set up an advertising agency. The trouble was, most of us were on the wrong scent; the idea being he was going to head the London arm of Omnicom’s creative boutique, Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

At the same time, there were ominous rumblings of discontent at Fallon, the creative outpost of SSF, which also runs Saatchi & Saatchi London. Fallon – once highly praised for its Sony Bravia and Cadbury work – has latterly been dubbed “Fallen” by industry wags who, no doubt, have in mind the successive loss of the £70m Asda account, Sony, and the transfer of the £100m Cadbury account to Saatchi after some controversial Flake work went awry. The talk was of a possible management buyout. In the event, it is chairman Laurence Green and creative director Richard Flintham, rather than the agency, who have walked.

What we had failed to do was mix these two things together and make an explosive compound. All the more so since the story – broken by my colleague Sonoo Singh, editor of Pitch – has self-detonated in the very week that Saatchi & Saatchi celebrates 40 years of success in its party of the decade.

Details remain sketchy. We don’t, for example, know what the breakaway agency is to be called, nor whether it has any business. Kerry Foods has popped into the frame, specifically the Wall’s sausage brand. If so, it must be a gift from Saatchi.

Whether that’s the case or not, what’s really interesting about this start-up is the key role being played by a former client. Rumbol, so far as I can make out, has never worked in an agency himself, but he has had a distinguished career as a client, which has resulted in some memorable advertising. Boddington’s Cream of Manchester campaign was one of his early achievements, he was the Stella client (need I say more), and the commissioning force behind Cadbury’s Gorilla and Eyebrows campaign, not to mention the more controversial launch campaign for Trident chewing gum.

Rare is the client with such a creative pedigree. Possible examples: David Patton, patron of the Sony Bravia “Colour like no other” campaign; Simon Thompson, long-time sponsor of Honda ads such as ‘”Cog” and “Grr” ; and – long ago – Tony Simonds-Gooding, who tore up some unsupportive research and gave Lowe Howard-Spink the go-ahead with ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach’. Rarer still is the client who is physically involved in a start-up and prepared to put his reputation, and possibly career, on the line; as rare in fact as hens’ teeth. It’s said that Rumbol earlier got close to signing a deal with Goodby, but that the stumbling block was the creative process, which would be shipped out to HQ in San Francisco. I can well believe it. Here’s someone who clearly has the courage of his convictions.

POSTSCRIPT: Spookily, Fallon has just conjured a new chief executive out of the hat, after a 6-month search. She is Gail Gallie, who was responsible for the BBC becoming Fallon’s first client in 1998.

PPS. It has been pointed out to me that the nearest precedent to Rumbol is the revered John Bartle. Oddly enough, Bartle himself was a Cadbury client. He worked at the confectionery and food company for eight years and, among other things, fostered Boase Massimi Pollitt’s celebrated Smash campaign. The significant difference with Rumbol is that Bartle then spent nine years in an advertising agency, TBWA, before forming the breakaway group that set up Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1982.

UPDATE 24/12/10: The new agency is to be called 101 (not, thankfully, Room 101). The name has nothing to do with the agency’s official opening day, 10/1/11 – I’m told by a reliable source. We have yet to learn whether it has landed a big fish.


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