Agencies pick over Ewanick’s GM legacy

July 30, 2012

“He failed to meet the expectations that the company has for its employees,” said General Motors spokesman Greg Martin cryptically. That looks like being GM global marketing supremo Joel Ewanick’s epitaph. The marketing whirligig quit abruptly last weekend, after two years at the steering wheel of one of the world’s biggest car companies.

But just what did Martin mean by failed expectations? It appears that Ewanick fell down badly on the small print in the 5-year sponsorship deal he signed with Manchester United. Details remain sketchy, although they will undoubtedly emerge over time. Some financial liability is likely involved should GM fail to deliver on its side of the bargain; this seems to be what Ewanick ‘forgot’ to disclose to his superiors.

GM may be glad to see the back of him, but we hacks will miss Ewanick – with his uncanny ability to manufacture a headline. Here is the man who said ‘No’ to extortionate prime-time Super Bowl advertising; and put two-fingers up to Facebook – commercially speaking – just before it foundered in a very rocky public flotation. The Manchester United sponsorship was to be his masterly counter-coup: Ewanick bringing in the vibrant Old World (China and emerging markets included) to redress a marketing overspend in the tired old New.

Alas, attention to detail seems foreign to Ewanick’s nature. Now we shall never really know whether he was a marketing visionary with a bold grasp of the Big Picture, or simply a publicity-hungry megalomaniac revelling in world-renown.

What matters from here on in is the unpicking of Ewanick’s legacy. Hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue are at stake for the agencies that signed up to the Ewanick dream. Doubtless their lawyers are already assessing the strength of the contracts they co-signed with him. What now for Carat’s tenure of the $3bn global media account? And for Commonwealth, the complex advertising vehicle set up so that Goodby Silverstein and McCann Erickson could jointly service most of the global Chevy creative account? The holding companies of all three agencies – Aegis Group, Omnicom and Interpublic – have already made substantial investments in staffing up in and around Detroit to service the newly streamlined accounts.

Advertising relationships in the auto-industry have traditionally been very personality-driven. Despite a thick coating of metrics-speak in all their public utterances, this has been transcendentally true of Ewanick and his advertising coterie.

Goodby looks particularly vulnerable, given the close personal relationship between Ewanick and Goodby founder Jeff Goodby – who shared the stage at this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

All eyes will now be on Ewanick’s (at least temporary) successor, Alan Batey, head of US sales and service.

Little is known of him other than that he was once a car mechanic. But of one thing you can be certain. Agencies, on and off the GM roster, will be doing their damnedest to find out more. Just in case.

UPDATE 31/7/12: The problem with the Manchester United shirt sponsorship deal is that Ewanick paid too much, it has emerged. He committed to a 7-year deal at £25m ($39m) a year without disclosing how “full” the terms were to GM’s board. $300m represents a premium of 25% to what the current sponsor, AON, is paying – and is a lot more than Ewanick seems to have implied to his colleagues during negotiation.

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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.


EC chief will sanction eavesdropping online if admen agree to behave themselves

October 22, 2011

Ever heard of Robert Madelin? The chances are you have not. Don’t worry, it won’t hold you back in life. Unless you happen to be a major advertiser or senior advertising executive. In which case, you should be ashamed of your ignorance.

Forget the Bailey Report, forget erotically charged images on posters. The frontiers of commercial freedom have already moved to a more strategic battle-front. One where the weapons of choice are electronic spies and surveillance.

If advertisers win this battle, the prize is very great. Using what is termed “behavioural targeting” – (sometimes “behavioural analytics” or “online tracking”, but let’s call it BT for the sake of simplicity) – they will be able to plot the course of any internet journey an individual ever makes. True, they won’t be allowed to know that individual’s real name, date of birth or physical address. But they will, by inference, be able to draw over time an incredibly intimate portrait of his or her most heartfelt material desires.

BT is, or rather will be, infinitely more valuable to advertisers than their best current tool, contextual advertising – which relies upon careful targeting of web-page content rather than anything known about the disposition of its visitor. Andrew Walmsley, a noted industry expert on the subject, is in no doubt that BT will supplant demographics-based contextual advertising:

We’re still going to see demographics used online, but principally so it can be benchmarked against other media. But, just as we sometimes hear the Fahrenheit temperature given on the weather forecast, it’s really just for the old folks.

His article is, by the way, a useful reminder that not all BT is the same: there are at least six varieties, of varying potency.

So, win-win: bring it on. Except, of course, that BT is deeply invasive of individual privacy. Technically, it relies upon access to an electronic spy – a special kind of cookie – planted in the heart of every individual’s hard-disk drive. Without consent, its exploitation could be considered not only an infringement of the Data Protection Act, but the wider European Human Rights Act. Many civil rights advocates would go further and invoke the shade of George Orwell. Unregulated, information acquired through online tracking could pass into the hands of shady, unlicensed third-party operators – for example, totalitarian-minded apparatchiks or deeply unscrupulous businessmen – with who knows what consequences for our civil liberties.

I come back to Madelin. Who is he? None other than the director general of Information Society and Media, European Commission (EC/INFSO for short). In other words, the senior civil servant in charge of the Brussels bureau concerned, among other things, with reconciling the needs – commerce among them – of the information society and EU civil liberties.

One of Madelin’s unenviable tasks is to act as ringmaster in the interpretation of a new ePrivacy Directive, promulgated in May this year but only fully effective from next spring.

A key bone of contention between the two warring factions he must conciliate – let’s call them “industry” and “civil society”, because that’s what they call themselves – is whether the new legislation actually requires “prior informed consent” being given to any organisations wishing to place or access files stored on a personal computer. And if so, just what definition is placed on the term ‘file’.

An extreme interpretation of these new rules would mean unmitigated triumph for the privacy lobby. Every time a cookie (not all of which are concerned with online tracking, of course) came up, it would have to be accompanied by a pop-up demanding instant consent or denial. Tedious in the extreme for the online user, and disastrous for industry.

The more nuanced civil society position seems to be an “Opt In” choice for the individual user, backed by  statutory legislation, but applicable only to those cookies capable of commercial online tracking.

Not surprisingly industry, whose position has been articulated by the Internet Advertising Bureau and something called EASA (European Advertising Standards Alliance), is having none of this.

It believes the civil society stance is flawed and naive. Specifically, the privacy lobbyists fail to understand that the free advantages we enjoy on the internet these days  – such as email, news, social networking, maps, entertainment – have only come about because they have been subsidised by advertising revenue. In this sense, BT is merely “the next stage” in a process which has been going on for two decades.

Worse, what lurks behind the civil society position is not so much a concern for advancing individual privacy as a profoundly hostile attitude to commerce – which is regarded as sinister and manipulative.

Industry is not arguing there should be no restrictions on BT, merely that they should be – you guessed – minimal and self-regulated; in fact, drawn up on the British ‘voluntary’ model of advertising regulation. It disputes that the “informed consent” required by the new legislation need be “prior”. Hence its adoption of what we might call an “Opt Out” strategy.

Put simply, the industry proposal amounts to a website where consumers can block online tracking by going through a long list of advertisers (those at least signing up to the IAB initiative) and clicking on check boxes. This mechanism will be identified by an icon appearing on sites where commercial tracking technology (particularly third-party cookies) is being used. And promoted along the lines of ‘better technology leads to a better life; but you, the consumer, remain in control’.

There is some doubt – even within the industry camp – that the IAB-devised plan will be enough to turn the trick on its own. Nevertheless, industry is becoming increasingly confident that is has won the day, barring a few concessions.

This confidence was backlit a few months ago by some extraordinary shenanigans in Brussels, when one member of the civil society faction stomped out of a Madelin-chaired committee meeting and subsequently accused Madelin of being “captured by industry“.

What this seems to mean is that Madelin has indeed come down in favour of Opt Out. But there will be a price to pay. It will include an open, independent, audit to which advertisers will have to submit themselves; total transparency (whatever that means, exactly) in their dealings; and an effective consumer tribunal for handling any complaints.

A key voice in all of this will be that of Chris Graham, the UK Information Commissioner and – as former chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority – something of an expert on how the self-regulatory system works. (Purely coincidentally, the ASA is likely to be the UK  regulator if Opt Out prevails.)

Graham has yet to pronounce ex cathedra on the subject. But the broadly benign texture of his views can be gauged by a visit to the ICO website, where the talk is of the industry facing up to ‘transparency’ and ‘independent audits’.

My understanding is that the advertising industry is being given a few more months’ grace to define its regulatory position satisfactorily. Failing which, Madelin will move down the path to statutory legislation. As can be imagined, every sinew will be stretched to ensure he does not feel the need to do so.

Before leaving this convoluted subject, it might be of passing interest to hear what the punter, rather than self-appointed experts speaking on his behalf, thinks about BT.

Handily, McCann Erickson has just published a relevant piece of research under the McCann Truth Central banner. The study, which quizzed 6,500 people in the US, UK, Hong Kong, Japan, India and Chile, shows that people are indeed concerned about attacks on their personal privacy. But targeted marketing is way down the list of threats, the two principal issues being the security of financial data and the security of personal reputation.

McCann WorldGroup global IQ director Laura Simpson notes that:

65% of people around the world are aware of Web tracking and 44% are aware that marketers use it to determine the interests of consumers. “Many welcome it,” she adds, because they believe there is a fair exchange, including access to promotions and discounts and ads directed at them that are more relevant to their needs.

Then again, as one industry commentator on the article points out, that enthusiasm may be conditioned by poor understanding of how sophisticated BT actually is.


Is the Neural Network the answer to McCann’s prayers?

March 22, 2011

You may not think there is much of a connection between a new car launch and what young McCann Erickson advertising executives get up to in a night-club.

But to Lee Daley, McCann Worldwide’s global chief strategy officer, making connections like that is fundamental to a new way of unlocking his agency’s intellectual assets, providing effective consumer insights at a fraction of their normal cost and repositioning the McCann name at the same time.

McCann has always been awarded penalty points in the agency world because of its sheer size. Its machine-like reputation probably dates back to a period of acquisition megalomania in the early sixties, when the agency was under the stewardship of Marion Harper. Result: it is valued for the sophistication of its global services and its account management skills, but rarely for its creative thinking.

In fact, this reputation is somewhat misleading. In the fifties, McCann was highly regarded for the quality of its consumer insights. Through Herta Herzog, director of creative research, it became high-priest to the mysteries of motivational psychology, the then voguish domain of Dr Ernest Dichter and the School of Motivational Research. It powerfully influenced the thinking of one Vance Packard, author of the Hidden Persuaders (1957).

In a sense, Daley is tapping into that “smarts” tradition. But his focus is on unlocking the hidden talents of McCann’s staff and thereby turning a perceived disadvantage, McCann’s cumbersome size, into an asset. “In a way, it’s simply a numbers game,” he tells me. “McCann has 22,000 employees worldwide. That’s a massive talent pool, but it’s fair to say we haven’t always exploited that creatively, partly because of our brand image. Compare that with so-called creative agencies, Wieden & Kennedy, Mother or whatever. Full of talent, no doubt, but a fraction of our pool.”

Ah yes, but how exactly does he intend to release that pent-up intellectual capital, and to what end, exactly? The answer is something called the Neural Network, a project Daly has been working on for about 5 years – and which now involves some 8,000 of McCann’s employees.

Expressed simply, NN is a kind of internalised social media platform (although Daly recoils in horror from the suggestion that it is Facebook for McCann). It builds up a profile which matches every employee’s formal status in the organisation with their private interests and areas of specialism outside their current expertise. It encourages the setting-up of special interest communities and dialogue between their members.

The advantages are clear. It’s a levelling tool in an hierarchical organisation, which can be used by management as a kind of crowd-sourcing resource or virtual pitch team. Also reasonable to assume, judging from the number of people who have volunteered to join the database: it’s quite motivating for staff – for whom it may open up new career opportunities.

The challenges are equally clear: it’s a levelling tool in an hierarchical organisation, about which senior management must initially have had considerable misgivings. Without suitable controls, it could indeed become a kind of office Facebook. And even when exploited professionally, anarchy might ensue if senior managers were allowed carte blanche in appropriating extra resources via the Neural Network.

For this reason, all requests are carefully monitored by a group of senior executives called “Neural Network Gods”. In London, the key executive is group chief Chris Macdonald. Others include Daly himself and McCann Worldgroup CEO Nick Brien. The process of control is still being mapped out as the Neural Network is gradually extended to the other 14,000 Worldwide employees.

Equally important, from Daly’s point of view, is the challenge of monetising ideas thrown up by the Neural Network as McCann’s intellectual property. As is well known in agency circles, ideas are what you give away in a pitch: it’s very difficult to patent them. Clients might well welcome the idea of a me-too Neural Network, persuade McCann to set it up, and then run off with it.

Daly has partly answered this problem by setting up a 3-year rolling contract with Santa Barbara-based IntroNetworks – the company that devised the software – which gives McCann exclusive licensing rights.

If other agencies want to jump on the NN bandwagon, they may of course do so. But they will have to build their own software, and that takes time. And time is what Daly hopes will give McCann its leading advantage.


McCann’s Chris Macdonald dons a sharper suit

February 2, 2011

It’s up, up and away for London’s supreme account man, Chris Macdonald, but not quite to the top of the greasy pole as I claimed earlier. The youthful chief executive of McCann’s London advertising agency has certainly enlarged his power base, but by discipline rather than geographical territory.

Macdonald  has been appointed to the new role of chairman of the London-based McCann Worldgroup, where he will have responsibility not only for McCann itself but the digital media unit MRM, experiential unit Momentum and McCann Healthcare as well.

Macdonald has got where he is largely on the  strength of his own merits. But, as ever in the politics of advertising, the wheel of fortune has played its role too. His precocious promotion is also the by-product of a power struggle between McCann group supremo Nick Brien and European chief executive and president Brett Gosper, where Gosper has successively been forced to yield ground.

It may not have escaped notice that McCann – normally the motor of Interpublic growth – has had problems in the engine room, thanks in large part to the lacklustre captaincy of John Dooner. When Dooner (not before time) took his loot and retired, Gosper went for the top job, but was beaten to the draw by former media man Brien.

Brien may not be gifted with tact or creativity, but he’s right on top of one of the basic principles of leadership – stick to what you are good at (in his case, ruthless decision-making and a gift for tumbling numbers) and appoint people who supply your talent deficit. Brien picked Mother’s Swedish creative prodigy Linus Karlsson to lead the McCann creative renaissance. (How many times have we heard that one, readers? But maybe someone, sometime  will succeed in replicating the McCann London glory days of the late Seventies.) As an earnest of Brien’s intention he also made Karlsson chairman of London – a position hitherto part of Gosper’s titles portfolio.

Now the other shoe has dropped. Gosper is out in the cold. Macdonald is wearing an even sharper suit (David Jones watch out) and Brien has sensibly handed the more presidential aspects of Gosper’s role to Gustavo Martinez, formerly director of global brand management and global new business director at Ogilvy & Mather. Importantly, it appears Macdonald reports directly to Brien, rather than via Martinez.


Buckle your safety belts: GM has put Joel Ewanick in the global driving seat

December 21, 2010

You’ll have to forgive me. Unlike former Porsche marketer Joel Ewanick, I don’t live in the fast-lane – meaning, I’ve just caught up with the news that he has been appointed to the new position of global chief marketing officer, General Motors.

Even by his standards, that was quick work. He only joined the organisation eight months ago as US vice president marketing, after a brief and apparently stormy sojourn at Nissan. But what an eight months that’s been. The relentless cutting-edge of the whirling dervish has left no department intact, no slogan unchallenged, no strategy unexamined, no agency relationship unmarked. Most notoriously, it will be recalled, he summarily despatched Publicis Worldwide only weeks after it had won the $700m Chevrolet account, and replaced it with (off-roster but on-message, so far as Ewanick is concerned) Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Then, judging perhaps that he had gratuitously made an enemy of one of the most powerful admen in the world, he placated Maurice Lévy by firing BBH from $270m Cadillac and giving the business to Fallon instead. I’m sure there were other reasons for this move: but it cannot be entirely coincidental that Fallon is wholly owned by Publicis Groupe, of which Lévy is the ceo, whereas BBH is only 49% owned by the same company. More money, then, into the main exchequer.

Any way, back to Ewanick. There are at least two, not entirely contradictory, ways of looking at his brand of marketing management; the success of his current appointment will depend on which is uppermost.

The first we have already seen: the change agent on steroids who will stop at nothing to become the world’s most famous car-marketer, in a vainglorious attempt to salvage the apparently unsalvageable: GM’s reputation.

The second is a man with an indisputable reputation for turning around troubled car marques. He did it at Porsche Cars North America during the nineties (no fly-by-nighter there – he stayed nearly nine years as general manager marketing); and he did it again during his 3-year stint as head of marketing at Hyundai North America. Hyundai is now – arguably – America’s most successful car brand.

In this new role we’re going to discover whether success has gone to Ewanick’s head or not. According to the man who appointed him, GM CEO Dan Akerson (himself a new kid on the managerial block), he “will ensure consistent global messaging fro all brands including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, Opel and Vauxhall. Ewanick will provide oversight for global brand enhancements in the markets in which they are sold and work in association with the regional presidents in countries where GM has partnerships and joint ventures.”

The key regional bosses we are talking about here are the ones with dominion in Britain (Vauxhall), Australia (Holden) and Germany (Opel) – Ewanick already controls the rest. And the key issue is how much these brands desire, or even require, “consistent global messaging” – still less an American-centric version of it. Let’s not forget that these were the successful bits, devolved from GM’s incompetent Detroit management – the bits that didn’t have to go into Chapter 11 a while back. I wonder whether Ewanick has the forbearance to acknowledge that. Somehow, I can’t imagine tact is his number one quality.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride for GM’s European roster agencies. DLKW Lowe, McCann Erickson, Scholz & Friends and Amsterdam Worldwide, fasten your seat belts.


Ogilvy wins $300m global Coke Zero account…

December 15, 2010

…Something that has come as a bit of a shock to VCCP, which handles the £35m business in Europe, McCann Erickson – responsible for South-Asia, and Crispin Porter + Bogusky – the same, in the USA – who didn’t even know they were in a competition.

Why has Coca-Cola been so reluctant to disclose the fact that there has been a pitch at all, let alone that Ogilvy & Mather has won it? It’s a mystery. Although on the existing roster, Ogilvy has thus far been in charge of Latin America only. It’s not the most promising piece of Zero terrain (Latin Americans’ aversion to the ‘toxic’ aspartame infusing the brew is well known). Then again, maybe Ogilvy just had to fight that much harder to come up with a winning idea.

Two years ago, Coke instituted, at considerable expense, a European review which ended with VCCP triumphing over Wieden & Kennedy and Argentinian agency Santo. It was part of a global consolidation of agencies aimed at delivering stringent “marketing efficiencies”. At the time, coke CEO Muhtar Kent noted: “Agency numbers have gone down by more than half, and I think we have driven a lot of efficiencies in our market research costs, in our marketing over the past 12 months.”

Evidently not quite enough of them, judging from Coke’s recent conduct. The current “secret” review appears to be aimed at developing a single, global, advertising concept. I have not idea at this stage what that might be. Apply to Ogilvy Paris, which will be handling the global campaign.

Huge thought the win is, Ogilvy should remember that today’s favourite may be tomorrow’s casualty. In its agency relationships, Coke is beginning to resemble a gangster playing Russian roulette. Who will be the last agency standing?

There’s more on the nature of the win, and the turbid roster politics of Coke Zero, in an article by Joe Fernandez on Pitch.

UPDATE 16/12/10: Coke, under pressure, is now claiming “This [the Ogilvy] appointment does not affect local market agency relationships on Coke Zero.” Not much it doesn’t. Most of the money will now be flowing to Ogilvy. Still, you’ve got to keep the rest of the troops happy.


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