P&G’s Gillette strategy? Blame the messenger with a $150m account review

September 18, 2012

It seems Gillette advertising is the best a man can get not after all. Not at least when that man is Procter & Gamble Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard. Pritchard has just put the North American shaving, deodorant and body wash business up for review, which at a spend of $150m last year (according to Kantar) makes it the kernel of the Gillette worldwide business.

That, by the way, will also be up for review quite soon, and must be worth upwards of $300m in total.

In the world of advertising, this is a seismic event. BBDO has handled the Gillette account for ever. Or, to be a little more precise about the matter, since 1966 in America, when it bought the Clyne Maxon agency, which first won the business in 1931. In 1989 BBDO devised one of the most famous advertising tag lines of all time: The Best A Man Can Get. And in 2005, it successfully hurdled perhaps the biggest agency relationship crisis it had ever faced when P&G acquired the formerly independent shaving products company for $63bn, yet decided to retain BBDO as its global agency – despite it never having appeared on a P&G roster previously.

So why a review now? Why at all in fact? After all, highly public account reviews of this kind  – it’s going to last up to 6 months according to P&G – are as rare as hens’ teeth on Planet Cincinnati.

Naturally enough, P&G is playing down the significance of the review. It’s only a chunk of BBDO’s advertising contract that is under threat, they say – not Braun, not the Venus ladies range, not the media account. As if Hamlet could somehow continue to play without the presence of an insignificant character like the Prince. And they are at pains to reassure us that BBDO advertising is still “good” (according to Patrice Louvet, president global grooming and shave care). But, and here is the kiss of death for the Omnicom-owned advertising network:  “We believe there’s an opportunity to be even better and, importantly, to better integrate the product proposition with the overall idea.”

Let’s unravel all the marketing-speak for a minute. BBDO and its sister below-the-line agency Proximity are going to repitch for the business: sure they are, but with what chance of success? The present advertising stinks, is P&G’s subtext.

P&G has been losing share in some very trying market conditions. There’s a recession on out there. People are thinking of value for money but what they’re seeing in its place is an overpriced top-of-the-range Fusion razor system and a fading mid-market legacy brand, Mach 3, that’s being out-priced and out-promoted by Schick. Gillette’s ace in the pack is innovation: it prides itself on being able to charge its customers more for (literally) cutting-edge razor technology. A replacement for Fusion is coming up – probably in 2014 – and Cincinnati has got the jitters. If Fusion Plus (0r whatever it’s going to be called) doesn’t come up with the premium-priced goods, then P&G shareholders are going to be really unhappy. So, it’s time to blame the messenger – or at any rate keep him mean and keen with an extravagant display of market disciplining.

Wieden & Kennedy – the agency that can do anything, including handling Tesco, these days – is the roster favourite to win the account. But don’t underestimate Andrew Robertson, President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, as he rises to the account challenge of his career.

New Nielsen ratings system knocks the spots off online ad targeting

August 8, 2011

So who said audience measurement had to be boring?

Nielsen, the world’s number one provider of the stuff, has just launched something called Online Campaign Ratings. Now I’d be the first to admit that doesn’t sound the most riveting event since Janet Jackson last maladjusted her wardrobe in public.

But stay with me. This is a well and truly iconoclastic product. No, really.

It knocks for six all those vapid, complacent notions we had about online display ads being somehow better targeted than the mass-market ones featured on television.

What NOCR, which launches to US media buyers on August 15, does is combine anonymously-sourced US Facebook data with traditional TV-style ratings reporting in a novel way.

The jaw-dropping conclusion to be drawn from the new metric, according to Nielsen president of media products and advertiser solutions Steve Hasker, is that just 30% of branded display advertising aimed at specific age- and gender-defined demographic targets is hitting its target. Compared with mass market campaigns that are 75% efficient.

Aside from bringing joy to the heart of Tess Alps and her friends at TV-advertising ginger group Thinkbox, the new metric also has implications for niche and specialist online publishers. Their ratecards will stiffen as the flim-flam stuff targeted at general audiences is exposed for what it is.

Early heads-up from media specialists, such as managing director EMEA at Essence Joseph Leon (quoted in New Media Age), is positive:

Facebook’s pervasive reach means that any campaign able to overlay Facebook profile data will benefit from a huge, natural sample group, overcoming two of the key issues with previous solutions: sample sizes and the potential bias of an incentive-based panel. I think it also highlights the inaccuracies and frankly debatable effectiveness of some of today’s campaign planning methodologies, which regularly depend on incentive-based panel solutions, to identify target audience media consumption.

Dominic Finney, co-founder of digital benchmark specialist FaR Partners, is also upbeat but a tad more cautious in his outlook:

The challenge would appear to be partnering with just Facebook, which potentially could limit Nielsen’s OCR’s findings as it will only have Facebook as a third party provider and Facebook currently only reaches around half of US users online.

Only a half of all US users online, eh Dominic? Not a bad start though, since Comscore, Kantar and the rest of the gang are going to have to play rapid catch-up. And, given that Nielsen has signed an exclusive deal with Facebook and has promised other third-party metric providers are on the way, that sounds to me like a clear market advantage.

Synovate ponders controversial $1.5m Sudan deal

July 2, 2011

Synovate, the research arm of Aegis Group now being exclusively courted by Ipsos, should be careful who it does business with. Particularly at a time like this.

Word reaches me that it has recently been pitching for a lucrative $1.5m slice of pie in Northern Sudan. The client in question is DAL Group, a Khartoum North-based conglomerate which handles such august brands as Caterpillar, Mitsubishi Motors, KIA Motors, Mercedes-Benz, JVC, Glaxo, Unilever and, most interesting of all (see below), Coca-Cola (since 2002 DAL has been sole Sudanese bottler and distributor of the company’s brands).

DAL Group makes claim to “strong, clear business principles and ethical values”, and I have no reason to doubt it. The problem lies elsewhere. Since 1997, the US has placed a stringent trade embargo on Sudan, with penalties for infringement ranging up to $1m and 20 years imprisonment.

From what I understand, these sanctions can be circumvented by routing the business through the EU (where they are not in force). But leading the business from the US, which seems to be what is required here, would be tricky. The idea has certainly been enough to put the wind up WPP’s Kantar – believed to be the only other research company on the short-list – which withdrew from the pitch after it failed the corporate ethics test.

My advice to Synovate? It’s not worth it.

Mind you, when it comes to ethics, Synovate’s suitor Ipsos isn’t exactly above reproach itself. It recently came to my attention that the global research company is being investigated by the Brazilian authorities over suspected infringements of employment law and, in effect, tax evasion. Ipsos is quietly trying to settle some 82 claims against it, after the Labour Prosecutor Office began an investigation into the treatment of many local employees as long-term freelances, a by-product of which is the avoidance of taxes and social benefits attached to full-time status. There’s more on this here, for anyone whose Portuguese is up to speed.

How game-changing is PepsiCo’s media alliance with InBev?

April 7, 2010

Cynics see in Anheuser-Busch Inbev’s decision to pool its US media buying resources with those of PepsiCo two wounded warriors propping each other up for support. Firepower is not the issue here; between them they spent $1.15bn on measured media (Kantar) last year.  It is their fighting efficiency which has been under par.

In other words, both parties to the deal feel they are paying the main media far too much and by doubling their negotiating clout they will extract a big dividend.

They may well be right. Media owners, from NBC to Viacom, certainly have reason to be apprehensive. Heretofore, A-B’s media buying performance – which is the responsibility of an inhouse team, Busch Media Group – can best be described as sleepy and would certainly benefit from an infusion of new energy, even if that does come from OMD – which has done an adequate, although hardly effervescent, job for PepsiCo.

The bigger question is where such co-operation might eventually lead. And it’s one for agencies, rather than media owners.

The current PepsiCo/InBev pact began only three months ago as what appeared to be a classic procurement ploy. Indeed, at the time, a PepsiCo spokesman was quoted as saying that “the consortium is not related to media costs or marketing”. Instead it would concern itself with “backroom issues” such as travel, office supplies and computers. As we can now see, the PepsiCo spokesman was not entirely candid, except in one respect. The follow-up media procurement exercise is not targeted at cutting costs so much as spending existing budgets more wisely – on such key events as the annual Super Bowl.

Assuming success in this latest initiative, what efficiencies will the consortium target next? Both companies have been at pains to exclude the possibility of advertising production or agency fees coming into its remit. But as the short history of this joint-venture already demonstrates, client assurances may not stack up to much.

Just as concerning for agencies, this trend might catch on elsewhere. Whatever next in the consolidation game? Coca-Cola and Diageo? General Motors and McDonald’s? Microsoft and Motorola?

Mind you, it’s just as possible that this new-fangled media collaboration will tumble at the first hurdle if, as may happen, Pepsi and InBev end up squabbling over prime-time precedence during the Super Bowl.

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