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Brands put the “r” into bands

January 31, 2013

imagesLeonardo da Vinci was dependent on the Duke of Milan, Cesare Borgia and the King of France; Wolfgang Mozart, the Archbishop of Salzburg – while the aristocratic Esterhazys supported Joseph Haydn. Throughout the ages, artists have had a necessary, if problematic, relationship with patrons. Or, as they are now known, sponsors.

These days, the rich and the powerful bestowers of largesse are brands; one thing that hasn’t changed is the contentious issue of artistic integrity. How far should talent go in prostituting itself in order to earn a crust? Some would say the New Seekers, who re-recorded Coca-Cola’s immortal “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercial as a chart-busting single back in 1971, crossed the line in genuflecting to Mammon, however “altruistic” the message.

But whatever The New Seekers may, or may not, have done is a moon-cast shadow compared with today’s flexi-ethics. With record labels going down the tube, and online piracy rampant, how is the gig going to make money? The answer for many (should they be so lucky) is to insert an “r” into band. Brands have not been slow to exploit this opportunity. Nike, the arch ambush-brand, may not “own” the rapper Drake, but it certainly makes sure he’s well supplied with every imaginable item of swooshed kit. Likewise Martell has picked up on the “gnac” in hip-hop culture and uses music as a means of penetrating the African-American market, where (exceptionally) brandy is on an upward consumption curve.

My old chum Peter Krijgsman has, slightly cynically, gone one step further in “cutting out the middleman” and making an explicit appeal for product placement in his latest (and possibly only, he tells me) album, Digital Age Blues. Of particular interest is this little C&W number “Sponsor Me”, containing such catchy lyrics as:

“Don’t think of me as a humble song, but as an opportunitee, Yes sir. You’ll get a big bag of crochets for a very modest fee, you’ll grow like a pig from Idaho when you sponsor me.”

I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek this “offering” is from Peter, whom some may better remember as a comms director at BarCap and ING. But it can’t be denied it is slick.  The band is Krijgsman and Sid Stronach. Helen Knight and Claire Macauley are the backing singers. And here it is in full: Sponsor_Me.

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Lancing the boil of celebrity culture

October 18, 2012

For years he wove a cynical circle of deceit around the community, perpetrating the most heinous misdeeds while masquerading as a benefactor of mankind.

Of course, there were a few whispers. Doubters who thought the myth he had wrapped around himself was too good to be true. Alleged victims of his corruption who knew for certain he was a Wrong ‘Un (or so they claimed).

But who were these people? The spiteful and envious, endeavouring to poison the reputation of a noble celebrity with unfounded gossip. Or worse, Society’s sad losers maliciously fabricating tales of victimisation for their own financial gain. And why should we take any notice of them when their intended target was such a fine, upstanding, pillar of the community?

Jimmy Savile – for now, still a still a Knight of the Realm and Knight Commander of the Star, by order of the Holy See; Lance Armstrong – for now, still 7-times winner of the Tour de France: what’s the difference? They were gigantic frauds and they’ve had a good laugh at the expense of us all. But now it’s all over. Jimmy remains an untouchable – in a technical sense, at any rate, since he is beyond the grave. Lance is a little less fortunate. His life-expectancy, in view of the cancer challenge and toxic artificial stimulants religiously ingested over the years, must be severely foreshortened. Alas, not so foreshortened that he can escape the hand of Justice clamping his shoulder and calling him to account; or the incessant righteous ‘told-you-so’ opprobrium that will now rain down on his already mired reputation.

Because that’s the thing about reputations. Once trashed, there’s no rehabilitation, no going back. The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their  bones.

Who, a few months on, will want to remember that Savile, the child molester and serial pervert, was also a doer of good deeds whose work for charity raised an estimated £40m?

Who now will wish to recall that Armstrong’s reputation and sporting prowess, however achieved, was indispensable to the success of the Livestrong, the cancer charity he founded 15 years ago?

Last year $35.8 million went through the charity’s books, 82 per cent of which was passed on directly to research programmes.

Yes, they were both self-serving hypocrites, in the sense they pretended to a piety they richly did not deserve. But weren’t we all complicit in that hypocrisy as well? Not just institutions like the BBC, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, or sponsors such as Nike, Oakley and Anheuser-Busch – who clearly had a vested interest in nay-saying whenever allegations of inappropriate conduct surfaced; but the rest of us too, who were gullible enough to believe that our idols really don’t have feet of clay? After all, who’s looking at the feet when the object of veneration is walking on water?

So, if Armstrong’s sponsors are heading for the exit as fast as their own feet of clay will carry them, and Savile’s charity is now studiously engaged in an act of collective amnesia over its founder’s name, can we really blame them? They are just as obsessed with, and as gullible about, celebrity culture as the rest of us.


Nike neatly sidesteps Olympics brand sponsorship rules with Paula Radcliffe ad

August 1, 2012

Here’s Nike cocking another snook at those pesky International Olympics Committee and Locog rules on sponsorship:

Had Paula Radcliffe not been injured, Nike – unlike arch-rival Adidas not an official sponsor of the Games – would have been prohibited from running this ad, featuring one of Team GB’s athletes.

Nike hints there may be more ads featuring British athletes if the opportunity arises.

During the games, athletes can only promote official Olympic sponsors, meaning they are banned from endorsing even their own.

Still more surreptitiously, Dr Dre – the rapper and music entrepreneur – has succeeded in skirting the rules with an ambush marketing campaign that persuaded British athlete Laura Robson to endorse his Beats headphones range.

Dr Dre sent Team GB members special versions of the Beats range branded with union flag colours.

Tennis player Laura Robson tweeted about receiving her headphones, although the post was subsequently removed from her Twitter account. Goalkeeper Jack Butland also responded to the gift, tweeting: “Love my GB Beats by Dre.”

For those not in the know, Beats headphones are near universally available at the Aquatics Centre. Swimmers including Michael Phelps use them to block out background noise before races.

IOC guidance published before the Olympics states that athletes are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any website. This particular stunt is a smack in the eye for Panasonic, which is an official sponsor.

Nike’s and Dr Dre’s ambush marketing comes shortly after US athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, roundly condemned Rule 40 of the IOC code of conduct, which forbids athletes from mentioning their personal sponsors on social media during the games.

Last Friday, legal advisers to Locog decided not to take action against a global ad campaign by Nike that featured everyday athletes competing in places around the world named London.

Lastly, ambush marketing, how not to do it. An object lesson from PepsiCo. This in-game ad for Mountain Dew Energy drink seen on various gaming-apps, a video sharing and a social media website, features what appears to be a teenager on a snowboard doing unrecommended things on the Underground. Catchline: “Don’t Dew this at home.” Not entirely surprisingly, the ad – devised by Impact BBDO – has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, on the grounds that it is completely irresponsible. Just getting into the Olympic spirit, eh, Pepsi?


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.


The real winner at Cannes? John O’Keeffe, WPP’s worldwide creative director

June 27, 2011

When you can’t come up with a great idea, do the next best thing – plump for an all-star cast and baroque production values. If the ad is slick enough, maybe no one will notice the difference.

Except we do. And we have, at the Cannes Creative International Advertising Festival. The winner, the crème de la crème, this year’s Film Grand Prix, simply wasn’t up to snuff. Nike’s Write the Future is a tired old trope, made worse by poor judgement in fielding Wayne Rooney. Mind you, it wasn’t as if there was much competition. I liked BBDO Argentina’s Braids and it was gratifying to see Deutsch’s Force (aka Little Darth) also pick up a gold. But they weren’t exactly compelling alternatives to Wieden & Kennnedy Amsterdam’s World Cup hymn. As my chum Stephen Foster drily points out, 2011 was not a vintage year for adland’s finest creative minds.

So who was the real winner this year? W&K? Droga5 (3 grand prix, 2 more than good old GB, which had to make do with AMV BBDO/PepsiCo garnering the new effectiveness award)?

Neither of these. I can exclusively reveal it was WPP’s worldwide creative director John O’Keeffe. He has managed to bag more prizes than anyone else. Not personally, you’ll understand, but on behalf of WPP – whose ecstatic CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, was able to waltz off with the first-ever Holding Company of the Year award.

Readers of this blog will recall the acrimonious battle between WPP and Publicis Groupe 2 years ago over who had come second at Cannes. Last year, WPP nearly caught up with Omnicom, which regards being top dog as practically a birthright. And this year, O’Keeffe has finally kicked Omnicom’s supremacy into touch. The points-count, for those interested in “statue statistics”, was: WPP 1,219; Omnicom 1,152; Publicis 744.

Must be worth a few bob come bonus time, John.



Watch out sponsors, more sleaze is about to hit the fan

September 15, 2010

I do hope “Roo” has no more skeletons in his closet – or rather tarts in the boudoir. Because something really terrible has happened. No, not Mrs Rooney filing for divorce, though that would be terrible enough for Wayne’s remaining sponsorship deals with EA and Nike.

This is much worse, and has implications not just for adulterous Premier League footballers seeking to protect their sponsorship deals, but celebrities everywhere with peccadilloes to hide from the roving eye of the tabloid press.

And it is? Mr Justice Eady, the high court judge who has done such sterling work in shaping our libel and privacy laws these past few years, is relinquishing responsibility for defamation and privacy from next month. Oh come on, of course you’ve heard of him! The man whose judgements have put such asinine resonance into the phrase the Law is an Ass? Who makes Paul Dacre’s criticisms of him as “arrogant and amoral” seem wise and judicious? Who thought F1’s Max Moseley was perfectly entitled to carry out Kampf-themed flagellation in the privacy of his own sex parlour? Come on, where have you been? It’s all chronicled here, in an earlier post.

The point is this. Eady, whose political views evidently veer just to the left of Judge Jeffreys’, has been the celebrity’s constant friend, interceding with a sympathetic gagging order or superinjunction (can’t say a thing, anywhere, about anything) whenever their, er, vital commercial interests are threatened by the frivolous exposure of some “momentary” lapse of personal judgement.

Eady’s successor, Mr Justice Tugendhat, promises to be much less of a pushover in his interpretation of the Human Rights Act. Tugendhat it was who lifted the superinjunction brought by then Chelsea captain John Terry to muzzle media speculation about an affair with his former team mate’s ex-partner (for God’s sake). Tugendhat has raised the bar much higher for plaintiffs by insisting they prove that media coverage has affected them “substantially” before they can proceed. Watch out sponsors, lots more sleaze may be about to hit the fan.


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