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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?

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Record WPP financial results fuel confidence in sustainable recovery

March 1, 2012

Chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell was in feisty form as he reported the best set of financial performance figures in years at the world’s largest marketing services company by revenue.

The WPP growth engine is, apparently, firing on all six cylinders: billings, revenue, earnings per share, pre-tax profit, organic growth (or like-for-like as it is often known) and operating margins all showed evidence of substantial improvement. Perhaps the key highlights were pre-tax profit, up 19%, at over £1bn for the first time; and strong evidence of Quarter 4 growth, indicating the spurt is not some first-half fluke that will fade in the current year.

Doubtless WPP euphoria will subside once media focus moves on to the inevitable corollary of record financial performance – an equally record performance bonus handed to its chief executive. But, hey, that’s for then.

For now WPP’s results form a welcome bookend to a series of exceptionally good annual numbers from all the global marketing services giants – Interpublic’s particularly so – suggesting an ad recovery is on the way.

But is it sustainable? Sorrell  – revered as something of an economic sage these days – has indicated that WPP January figures are strong – even in the UK, on which he has been bearish for some time. And he has wheeled out his favourite prop on these occasions, the so-called Quadrennial Effect, to underline his contention that growth will be sustained throughout the year. Put into simple English, that means macro-events which occur every four years – such as the Olympics, the UEFA football championship and the US presidential elections – will stimulate global growth by at least 1%.

Nor was he pessimistic about what, to most of us, might seem a blot on the economic landscape. A number of the world’s biggest brand owners, among them Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have recently announced cuts to their workforce. Sorrell chooses to take comfort from the fact that all of these companies have guaranteed existing or even increased levels of marketing expenditure.

The Sage of Farm Street is less optimistic about 2013, though – foreseeing gridlock on Capitol Hill, with a re-elected Obama beleaguered by hostile Republicans in Congress. We’ll see.


Jamie Oliver – the ingredient brand that became the whole meal

July 14, 2011

So farewell, Sainsbury brand ambassador Jamie Oliver. You were the exception that proves the rule – the celebrity endorser untouched by scandal or degrading personal conduct. The ultimate ingredient brand that spiced up Sainsbury’s fare without overcooking it.

Oliver’s uncompromising stand on food and animal welfare gave Sainsbury’s brand an unimpeachable wholesomeness at a time when its reputation and performance were being winded in the solar plexus by Tesco and Asda. Like all such felicitious relationships, an element of luck was involved. Right at the beginning of his tenure in 2004, chief executive Justin King was advised to drop Oliver from the advertising (agency, AMV BBDO), on the grounds that his reputation was overexposed and past its sell-by date. How wrong that judgement was, and how wise King to ignore it. One year later, Oliver was leading the charge as the great white knight of children’s healthy nutrition in the School Dinners TV series.

There was, of course, rather more to the success of the 11-year marriage than Jamie’s teflon-coated moral demeanour. In truth Oliver’s crusading fervour could be very trying; several times, he seems to have entirely forgotten who was paying £1m a year into his bank account for services rendered.

Five years ago, King must have been sorely tempted to fire Oliver when he condemned parents for putting junk food (for which read typical Sainsbury products) into children’s lunchboxes. Two years later, Oliver drew even closer to the line when he very publicly condemned Sainsbury’s refusal to take part in a television debate on battery-farmed chickens during his programme Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.

To the credit of both parties they twice pulled back from the brink, rightly judging the overall benefits of the relationship to be more important than the occasional tiff.

However wayward Oliver can be, it’s worth reflecting for a minute on what he is not: Marco Pierre White. MPW epitomises the once great chef whose celebrity has fallen on hard times. Seemingly, no brand endorsement is anathema –  Knorr and Bernard Matthews spring to mind – so long as it fends off the next alimony demand.

With Oliver, the problem is the polar opposite. His brand value has waxed to the extent that it now threatens to eclipse that of the product he is endorsing. Analysts were quick to point out that Oliver’s latest book – 30 Minute Meals, the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time – played a major role in boosting Sainsbury sales by over 10% last Christmas. No doubt, but the ingredient has now become the meal and it’s time to move on – for both parties.

None of this detracts from the Oliver/Sainsbury partnership being one of the most successful endorsement relationships of all time. As a brand ambassador only Gary Lineker – who began fronting Walkers ads in 1995 and continues to do so to this day – bears comparison.


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.


Omnicom closes $100m Communispace deal

January 25, 2011

Silence reigns at Omnicom Towers on its mooted $100m deal with eCRM and insight company Communispace. Which is odd, for two reasons. First, it is the biggest deal engineered by the marketing services juggernaut since its ill-fated acquisitions of Agency.com and the somewhat more successful Organic in 2003. Second, and rather crucially – I hear the deal has gone through.

At all events, Communispace founder, president, chief executive and 10% shareholder Diane Hessan is packing her bags (now presumably heavy with loot).

The question is, what happens now? In an earlier post, I pointed out that $100m is a very steep price – yet, curiously, it does not seem to have been a stumbling block for that wily operator John Wren, Omnicom president and chief executive officer.

At the time I concentrated on the financials, and speculated that there must be something very special about this deal for Omnicom to hazard such an over-priced acquisition. That logic can be applied with equal relevance to Communispace’s clients. True, there are many the two parties have in common, plus a few that Omnicom would like to lay hands on. Yet it’s hard to ignore the conspicuous conflicts. Not just on the brand side, either. A slug of Communispace’s business flows from Omnicom’s rival agencies. Here’s an excerpt from AdAge that neatly summarises the conflict dilemma:

One reason why an Omnicom deal would make sense? Communispace lists as its clients several marketers that work with agencies under the holding company’s banner, including HP, PepsiCo, FedEx, Kraft and Campbell. But the Communispace client list also includes agencies at rival holding companies, like Havas’ EuroRSCG, Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Martin Agency. Were an Omnicom deal to happen, such alliances would likely have to dissolve, as would accounts with clients like Verizon, a major competitor to a big Omnicom client, AT&T.

I’d add WPP’s Ogilvy to the list of competitors as well (check out Jim Edwards at BNET on this one).

How does Wren plan to steer himself around that one? His last experience with a major acquisition, controversially managed through off-balance-sheet vehicle Seneca Investments, was not a happy one. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself.


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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