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Epica Awards give boost to France – and WPP

November 29, 2010

This year’s Epica creative advertising awards – the 24th in the series – sprang some interesting surprises. France was the lead country – both in the number of winners and total awards – for the first time since 2004. WPP’s Y&R was deemed the most creative agency group – far outdistancing the usual competition from the Omnicom Group. And one of the top winners was an iPhone app.

As one of the 26 trade journal editors drawn from across Europe to judge these awards (exceptionally, the winners are not decided by a jury of creatives) I can testify that recovery is definitely on its way – entries were up 10% this year to over 3,000. But it’s a patchy recovery. The year that has seen France emerge from a creative wilderness is also the year in which one of its two principal advertising trade magazines, CB News – founded by the legendary Christian Blachas, has gone into administration. Elsewhere, the quality of print work (at least, in my opinion) has improved after a long decline; by contrast this was not a vintage year for the television and cinema commercial.

A sign of the times was the ‘Streetmuseum’ iPhone’s app – devised by Brothers & Sisters for the Museum of London– bagging one of the competition’s top four prizes, the Epica d’Or for interactivity. With a museum as client, it was always likely to be a low-budget affair, but what good use it made of that budget. The app artfully exploits sized-to-fit historic photographs as overlays on present-day Google street-map technology to give a vivid impression of London’s past whenever a visitor looked up a landmark on his iPhone. The app shot up to 19th most popular free download and, so the museum reckons, has trebled the number of its visitors.

In the hotly contested film section (TV and cinema commercials) the winner was the somewhat controversial ‘Dot’ created by Wieden & Kennedy London and Aardman Animations for Nokia N8, a smartphone. As a piece of low-budget film-making it’s masterly and involving. On brief too: Nokia has fallen behind in our perception of a desirable smartphone brand and this film, which uses CellScope technology on a bog-standard phone to achieve a remarkable piece of micro-animation, helps to redress the balance. It is one of a series that highlights Nokia’s technical competence in the smartphone arena. The (admittedly non-creative) question mark is: how much of a media budget was spent on disseminating the message? In other words, how many people have seen it?

Stacked up against ‘Dot’ in the final heat was Fred & Farid’s bizarrely amusing ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ TV and cinema ad for Orangina. A series of animals (from giraffes to bears and gay cougars – my own favourite is the iguana sketch) impersonate the actors in a range of cliched television ads, from floor-cleaner to car polish, breakfast cereal to energy drink and zit-buster. The common factor being Orangina starring as the product in every ad. Cut to bloke watching the ads on television, nuzzling up to a sheep (presumably his wife) on the sofa. Animated hommage to Disney, satire of the advertising industry? Who knows? It could only be French. Try it and see:

In the circumstances, there were other commercials that should have made it to the final cut. For example, Ogilvy’s Dove Manthem (you know the one: sing along to William Tell), which was the winner in the toiletries and healthcare category.

Just as odd was the exclusion of Adam & Eve’s ‘Always a Woman’ ad for John Lewis. It lost out at the category stage to Sapient Nitro’s ‘Sneaker Mastermind’ work for Footlocker. Not itself a great ad, but one not dogged by a plagiarism controversy.

Fred & Farid may have been pipped at the post by ‘Dot’ but they triumphed in the outdoor category with an Epica d’Or for their Wrangler Red work. The ‘animal’ theme (lots of that this year) is not new, but the photographic execution was considered outstanding.

More interesting was the final major category, the print Epica d’Or, where M&C Saatchi’s ‘The Last Place You Want to Go’ ad for Dixons narrowly beat BETC Euro RSCG’s Evian ‘Baby Inside’ work.  Evian has made the baby theme something of a trademark these past ten years, each year developing it in a new and interesting direction. This year the image was of adults with the bodies of babies superimposed on their white t-shirts: simple and effective.

But not as startlingly unusual as the Dixons ads, which appealed to the head as much as the heart. It’s good to see outstanding retail print work, full stop; but even better when it employs witty, old-fashioned long-copy which makes elegant fun of the retailer’s rivals. In the eternal struggle for mastery between copy and image, copy definitely won out this year.

So much for the work, but what of the winning countries and agencies? It was noticeable that while France was easily ahead in all winning categories – winners, silver, bronze and total awards – Britain managed to nail three of the four Epica d’Ors (film, interactive and print). It came third overall, but behind France (a long way behind) in the categories winners’ league. Sweden was number two overall, with Germany in fourth place. Far down the league table was the usually feistier Spain.

The top agency was Sweden’s Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, with 15 awards in total, four of them category winners. Serviceplan Gruppe, Munich & Hamburg – a previous winner – came second. The more important insight to emerge, however, was Y&R’s easy dominance as top network. It had 8 winners across four offices, compared with next-placed DDB’s 4 winners across the same number. Ogilvy came third with four across three. BBDO (like DDB, owned by Omnicom), often an overall winner, has drifted well down the table  (3 over 2).

Taken at face value, that’s something of a pat on the back for WPP creative supremo John O’Keeffe, whose avowed aim is to displace Omnicom as creative top dog. O’Keeffe has his eye on the Cannes Awards, but Epica winners have often proved a useful harbinger.


I’m dreaming of a John Lewis Christmas

November 14, 2010

Christmas is terribly important. And I am not talking about the Season of Cheer and Goodwill to All Men. Oh no, this is something much more fundamental: the rush to get punters into the shops with their wallets open for a last hurrah spending fest.

Up to 25% of UK retailers’ annual business is generated in the narrow period from the Christmas run-up to the end of January. And this year could well be a bonanza. Retail expert Verdict reckons it’s going to be the best time to pluck the goose since 2007, if only because a massive hike in VAT will make all of us feel much poorer by the end of January. Verdict is not alone in this opinion.

So, why do retailers saturate television air-time with so much boring, formulaic, rent-a-celeb advertising that largely fails in its primary objective of distinguishing one brand from another? With so much at stake, you’d think they’d try a little harder than throw lots of money at a small idea with big production values.

Tesco received a lot of stick for its feeble Amanda Holden vehicle. Admittedly the Belcher/Belle Chère gag isn’t that funny, but it’s a smidgin more memorable than Peter and Danii not putting a foot wrong over at M&S; Hester and Delia mouthing off at Waitrose; or the lovely Coleen prancing about like a demented fairy in the Littlewoods Christmas mansion. If you’re looking for meaningful, branded, celebrity, there’s still nothing to beat Jamie at Sainsbury’s. But that’s not saying much these days. Who wants to watch him doling out another stuffed turkey – even if it is in Halton Gill, Yorkshire’s prettiest hamlet?

One or two retailers have taken the hint and steered away from celeb culture. Asda has focused on its suppliers with a well-shot cameo of Young Farmer and Farmer of the Year Adrian Ivory and his beautiful Asda-bound Charolais. Pity he’s so wooden speaking to camera. Morrisons has been trying to teach kids the nutritional value of brussels sprouts; meagre fare – good luck to them with that one. Boots has injected a little more personality into its long-serving ‘Here Come the Girls’ theme with some slice of life stuff from five comediennes. And there’s the twinkle of an idea in Argos’s ‘Crooner’ – extinguished the moment Bing picks up the microphone and attempts to ‘update’ a White Christmas. Dream on. No amount of “Argosing” can improve on a classic; and any way, Volkswagen did it so much better with Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain.

The big present at the bottom of the tree must surely go to John Lewis’ Crimble effort, which just manages to veer clear of the saccharine, while reminding its audience – now here’s a lovely touch – that Christmas is as much about giving as taking. There’s even an oh-so-tasteful nod to celeb culture in there: Critics Choice 2010 BRITT Award winner Ellie Goulding backs the ad with a singalong rendition of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’.

Shame on the rest of the field for allowing that johnny-come-lately to TV advertising, John Lewis, to upstage them.


Interpublic’s solution to Lowe London? A Wall of money

April 19, 2010

Who will put Lowe London out of its misery? The loss of its principal accounts seems an everlasting litany. To Stella Artois, John Lewis and Nokia N-Series should also be added the Beck’s account. All that’s propping Lowe London up is international business from Unilever (barring Peperami, which went last year) and Johnson & Johnson. According to Nielsen, 2009’s already depleted billings of £91m shrank to a minuscule £53m.

How to attract top talent in such circumstances – the talent that will draw in vital new business? It’s a vicious circle, from which there are only two ways for a once famous agency to extract itself. Call it a day, as Lowe alma mater CDP did long after it should have. Or buy something that will enthuse new talent and new enthusiasm.

Not surprisingly, it is the latter course that Lowe Worldwide chief Michael Wall has embarked upon. Evidence of his enthusiasm and determination may be deduced from approaches to Creston plc (owner of Delaney Lund Knox Warren); Rapier; and Dye Holloway Murray. So far, it would seem, the overtures have been unrequited. But we should not underestimate the charm of a man with an open cheque book in these straitened times; nor the forcefulness of someone who has managed to persuade cash-strapped Interpublic to cough up.


Is Asda right for Mark Price?

April 14, 2010

The two names most frequently mentioned as successors to Andy Bond – outgoing chief executive of Asda – are Asda trading director Darren Blackhurst and Waitrose managing director Mark Price.

Price would be an inspired and City-pleasing choice, given his performance at Waitrose, but I wonder whether such speculation is wide of the mark (so to speak). Let’s leave aside the fact that the ceo shortlist is very much biased towards insiders (for instance chief operating officer Andy Clarke and Wal-Mart’s David Cheesewright have also appeared on it) – and that an internal candidate would be in the Asda tradition. What would Price have to gain from such a move? Well, all right – recognition, a broader challenge and, of course, a bigger pay packet. But he could gain that anyway, if he hangs on a little longer at Waitrose. The key thing he lacks at John Lewis, and what he would also lack as a Wal-Mart employee were he to be offered the Asda job, is plc experience.

The plc issue seems to have been a catalyst in Bond’s own ‘surprise’ decision to stand down as Asda ceo after five very successful years at the helm. To be sure, relatively poor trading by Britain’s second-largest grocer during the Christmas period may have caused a bit of friction with Wal-Mart top brass as well. But if anyone thinks that was the real reason for Bond’s decision – after a preceding 15 consecutive quarters of unblemished growth – I cannot do better than quote Planet Retail analyst Bryan Roberts back at them: if Bond is leaving as a result of Asda’s recent trading “then Tesco boss Terry Leahy should be scared.”

Signs of frustration with Wal-Mart have long been apparent, for those who cared to read them. Like former Asda star Justin King – now heading Sainsbury’s – Bond was linked with the role of chief executive at Marks & Spencer; unlike King, Bond took his time in denying any interest. There has also been a suggestion that Bond resented Wal-Mart’s bone-headedness in refusing to provide the financial firepower that would have enabled Asda to better compete with Tesco through an acquisitions programme (embracing, for example, Matalan or Homebase).

As it is, Bond seems to have nicely parlayed himself into a three-day-a-week job as chairman of the Asda executive committee, from which he can consider at leisure his options in the wider business world. These include the Archie Norman/Allan Leighton portfolio route; or the more direct plc path favoured by the likes of King at Sainsbury’s and Richard Baker at Boots. One things is for certain: Bond won’t be short of offers.

Which brings me back to Price and plcs. Price, like Bond, has spent much of his career working his way up one organisation; even longer, in fact, than Bond’s 16 years at Asda. As much as anyone can be – as its first marketing director, now its managing director – the self-styled Chubby Grocer is Mr Waitrose. If he’s going to jump ship from John Lewis after all this time, he should set his sights higher than Asda.


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.


A tale of two retailers

May 8, 2009

 

A Dickens of a dilemma

A Dickens of a dilemma

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.

“The old adage is: make your move in a downturn and profit in an upturn,” says Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. Street and his boss Charlie Mayfield are putting their money where his mouth is by launching up to 50 “pocket” stores in the midst of the recession. We don’t know what they’ll be called yet, but we do know that they will contain electrical goods, furniture and kitchenware, aimed at taking share from the likes of Ikea, DFS and Currys.

Now compare and contrast Best Buy, the giant US electrical retailer that owns half of Charles Dunstone’s Carphone’s retail outfit. Best Buy’s aggressive European expansion strategy seems to be shrivelling before very eyes. The plan was, you’ll recall, to open 100 mega consumer stores in the UK by 2013, starting this year. First we’ve had the plan postponed to next spring, now we’re told it is to be scaled back to 80 stores. Robert Willett, chief executive of Best Buy International, is still talking the talk, but this looks like a serious tactical withdrawal to me.

Either Willett is right to be cautious, or Street is right to be bold. OK, they appeal to slightly different markets, but there is overlap. One of them must be wrong, but which?


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