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Sodastream ad controversy bubbles on

December 5, 2012

Sodastream adWhatever are the people at Sodastream complaining about? Having their ad pulled from television by the donkeys at Clearcast, the TV advertising vetting service, is a gift. It’s the sort of thing Rupert Howell and his team at HHCL used to have wet dreams about – the possibility of the regulator stepping in and banning their latest offering for Tango. Think of the attendant publicity, a priceless multiple of the original advertising budget.

And all the more so in Sodastream’s case. Back then, in the Tango era, YouTube and the viral were waiting to be discovered. What’s more Sodastream seems to have a case based upon rectitude rather than meretricious provocation. Any reasonable man on the Clapham omnibus would have difficulty in understanding the legitimacy of Clearcast’s complaint. Judge for yourselves:

What I see in this ad is each squirt of Sodastream saving you (and the environment) the cost of thousands of eco-unfriendly glass bottles a year. The claim is a trifle exaggerated perhaps, unless that squirt is a metaphorical one signifying a year’s usage of the soda-water maker, but its basis is surely unexceptionable. To any, that is, but those sitting in judgement at Clearcast, which represents the 5 major UK commercial TV companies.

And which bit of the governing Code of Advertising Practice (CAP), do the regulators believe Sodastream has transgressed? Well not, interestingly, 3.12   “Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service.” No, they’ve gone for:  3.42  “Advertisements must not discredit or denigrate another product, advertiser or advertisement or a trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark.”

Come again? Let’s look at that ad, in slow motion. Where’s the “product, advertiser or advertisement or a trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark”  – unless that last be a glass bottle? I’m one with Fiona Hope – the former Coke executive ultimately in charge of Sodastream’s UK advertising – here: it’s very hard to see how Clearcast, and subsequently its appeal committee, a) arrived at the notion that the ad “denigrates” the bottled drinks industry; and b) in what way article 3.42 of CAP is relevant justification for that view. Oddest of all is the fact that nowhere else in the world has the Sodastream campaign, devised by Alex Bogusky’s new advertising vehicle Common, fallen foul of the regulatory authorities.

One possible explanation for Clearcast’s bizarre behaviour is that the advisory committee suspected Bogusky of mounting a veiled assault on Coca-Cola – no small TV advertiser. As is well known, Bogusky – the former “B” in CP+B – was once creative servitor of the Coke Zero account. Now the breakaway wunderkind – and healthy-living freak – seems intent on war to the knife against his former paymaster. Note, for instance, this recent video for the Center for Science in the Public Interest that pillories Coke in all but name.

Clearcast, as a matter of tactics, would surely have been better advised to let the Sodastream ad air and allow the “bottled drinks industry” (whatever that may be) to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority – the proper forum for this kind of debate. Instead, the stubborn intransigence of its appeals committee has left Clearcast staked out in an indefensible Alamo.

Roll on Hope’s legal challenge to Clearcast’s judgement. Whichever way it goes, Sodastream can be confident of acres of free publicity – which should help UK sales no end.

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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.


Marketing ITV – it’s all about content, stupid!

July 15, 2010

Does marketing really belong in the commercial department? Not according to ITV’s new bosses, who have just made it a subset of content creation.

How serious they are about the proposition is, of course, a matter of debate. At one level – the level of employment lawyers – what’s going on looks suspiciously like constructive dismissal. Change the senior reporting structure in a company and you potentially diminish the authority and budgetary power of those who are “reorganised”.

That’s certainly one interpretation of the imminent departure of group marketing director David Pemsel and head of research Chad Wollen, announced yesterday afternoon. Only a week ago, it emerged that marketing and research, hitherto separate and under the control of the commercial department, were to be integrated and rerouted to content czar Peter Fincham (aka director of television, the chief commissioning role).

The conspiracy theory gains traction when we consider what else has been happening at ITV recently: chiefly the sacking of most of the old guard. After commercial director Rupert Howell fell on his sword and was replaced by Fru Hazlitt, we have had a very crowded departure lounge. Studio bosses Lee Bartlett and Remy Blumenfield are queueing at the exit, as is online director Ben McOwen Wilson.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Underneath, a full-scale cleansing of the Augean Stables is underway, as chairman Archie Norman and chief executive Adam Crozier take a pitchfork to the “shambles” (their word) of the Michael Grade regime. Humiliating psychometric tests applied to the 120 senior managers who remain add a defining touch to this melancholy picture. (I bet Crozier wishes he could have applied those self-same tests to the board of the Football Association during his tenure as chief executive – now there’s an organisation that really isn’t fit for purpose.)

Yet none of the above is inconsistent with implementing a strong, alternative, strategic vision; some of it already apparent in the quality of new senior hirings. Hazlitt is widely viewed as an inspired choice to succeed Howell. Her natural enthusiasm and client-servicing skills should help to repair damaged relationships with media agencies. She also “gets” digital (just as well really). Mind you, how she will co-exist with Gary Digby, master of the dark art of  TV trading, is a moot point.

Moreover, vesting more power with strong programme-led talents such as Fincham and Kevin Lygo – poached from C4 and now head of production (or ITVS, as it is called) – surely makes a lot of sense. The Grade regime talked a good game about improving the quality of content, but in reality it was fixated on refurbishing a brand built around yesterday’s trading system.

Witness the amount of corporate energy spent in repealing (fairly unsuccessfully, as it turned out) the Contract Rights Renewal (CRR) regulatory straitjacket encasing its main, analogue, channel – ITV1. Just to put things in perspective, here are a few statistics. When in 2003 Carlton and Granada merged to form ITV, the flagship channel’s share of the commercial television audience was 43%. By the end of 2008, it was 28.5%. Add in ITV’s (relatively neglected) digital channels and the figure rises to over 40% again. And yet, ITV has singularly failed to monetise that digital presence. Last year, online revenues were only £35m, up from £23m in 2006.

I’m not necessarily saying the Crozier/Norman 5-year plan will work– maybe nothing can at this late stage. But at least it represents a reality check firmly breaking with the nostalgia of the past. Superior programmes, especially hit shows that travel effortlessly across the multimedia and geographical landscape, are the only way ahead. In that sense, putting marketing at the service of the creative department is a no-brainer.


Rupert Howell calls it a day at ITV

May 27, 2010

The departure of Rupert Howell, managing director brand and commercial ITV, cannot have surprised anyone. He was simply too close to the tainted heritage of Michael Grade, formerly ITV executive chairman, to survive.

The chemistry of the new regime won’t have helped either: too many alpha males scrabbling for power in the boardroom. In that sort of environment, Howell definitely looked the weaker species. In Archie Norman he had to contend with a more commercially astute and interventionist chairman than his predecessor, and in Adam Crozier, a chief executive who had himself been a media man and advertising executive (with no doubt firmly entrenched views on how the business of TV sales should be conducted).

Moreover, Howell’s three year career at ITV has been chequered. He can hardly be blamed for presiding over ITV’s worst-ever sales slump, but he can be held to account for his poor relationship with media agencies. Howell, in a way, showed his age (about 53) in his refusal to deal with anyone but the top man. You can’t act that way with 27-year old media buyers these days – especially if you represent the diminished ITV brand.

So, high-handed and to a certain extent out of touch with the times. But Howell is nothing if not the Marmite media personality. Against his faults must be balanced great politicial skills. And there are many who admire him for his entrepreneurial drive, in the past. One of the most successful new business directors ever, he went on to found one of the most renowned advertising agencies, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury – which, in the early nineties, really was cutting-edge.

I doubt that he will (even if he wants it) land another big job in media. There are plenty out there who understand the landscape better, but are having a hard time of it. Malcolm Wall, for instance. A move back to the world of agency networks (he was once regional director of McCann Erickson Europe) seems more likely and has more mileage in it. Literally. All that hopping in and out of aeroplanes must be murder. But the pay is good, and Howell would excel at the politics. He’s not afraid of a hard day’s work, either. Good luck to him.


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