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£1.7bn global ad review is creative solution to Johnson & Johnson’s money problem

July 25, 2012

It would be nice to think that Johnson & Johnson’s newly announced review of its £1.7bn annual advertising spend was driven by a need for greater creative consistency. But it isn’t.

Money’s the thing – saving it that is. J&J may be one of the world’s biggest brands, but it’s also a company in trouble. Since 2009 J&J has suffered numerous recalls in the US, mainly of its over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and Benadryl; but the prescription and medical devices businesses have also been hard hit. All in all, it’s said to have lost $1bn in sales, partly through bad luck and mostly through sheer incompetence.

At first it was the staff – including the marketing department – who paid, by being made surplus to requirements. Now it is the spend that’s being trimmed. Judge for yourself from the officialspeak: “Johnson & Johnson is conducting a global agency review and consolidation to build greater value and deliver innovative and fully integrated solutions for our consumer brands.” Well, they wouldn’t want less innovative solutions would they? And they could hardly be less fully integrated than they are at the moment.

In truth, there’s an easy win here for the new kid on the block, Michael Sneed – who became J&J’s top marketing (and PR) officer at the beginning of this year. There could hardly be a less efficient way of running your global marketing services than the one that exists at the moment. Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and All are at the advertising trough. It would be simpler to name a global marcoms group that isn’t on the roster.

WPP has business through JWT and AKQA; Publicis Groupe through Razorfish; Interpublic through Deutsch, Lowe, The Martin Agency and R/GA; Omnicom through DDB and BBDO; and Havas through Euro RSCG. That leaves, er, Dentsu and MDC off the list.

Sneed is a company lifer who, at various stages of his J&J career, has shown considerable sensitivity towards advertising creativity. It will be interesting to see whether this natural instinct gets overridden by the all-powerful imperative of saving the company money. Don’t expect a self-aggrandising Ewanick moment – Sneed seems too modest for that. Do expect a financial deal, of the “Team WPP” or more likely “Commonwealth” variety, that dresses up financial expediency as a coherent creative solution.

The most interesting thing about this review may be the losers. If Interpublic is among them, perhaps group CEO Michael Roth will at last seek to do a deal with Publicis Groupe. The air is certainly thick with rumours to that effect at the moment.

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McDonald’s – the brand the world loves to hate

January 9, 2012

Just lovin’ it? You may be, but you can bet they aren’t. No matter how hard it tries, the world’s biggest restaurant chain by revenue simply can’t strike the appropriate note in its advertising campaigns. In place of plaudits, it invariably earns brickbats.

Now why is that I wonder? Well it’s not the calibre of its marketing people that is the problem. Compared with most global corporations, and certainly most international retailers, McDonald’s puts great store by talent. It attracts people like Jill McDonald, UK CEO and a shoo-in Marketer of the Year in most annual polls. Again against the grain, McDonald’s believes in advertising creativity. Can you remember who does Wal-Mart’s advertising? Neither can I. But I do recall that McDonald’s has retained, in turn, Leo Burnett and DDB.

Here’s DDB’s latest US offering. It’s an apparently inoffensive slice of life campaign, featuring farmers who supply McDonald’s with their beef, potatoes and lettuces. It won’t win any creative prizes, but it’s professionally produced and does a job in stressing an increasingly important element in consumer decision-making: the integrity of provenance.

Pulse and respiration still normal? I’m surprised. Because these ads have created near apoplexy in the USA. Apparently, it’s not what they say (which appears to be accurate enough) but what they leave out that should shock us to the marrow. By means of soft, bucolic imagery, McDonald’s has fooled us into believing it is part of a “farm to fork” movement transporting wholesome vegetables and prime beef cuts directly to our local fast-food outlet. Whilst – wouldn’t you just know it – skilfully omitting all mention of the wicked middle-man who, by perverted alchemy, buys up all this wholesome produce and slices and dices it into the fatty fries and bloating burgers that we more naturally associate with McDonald’s. A case not so much of Golden Arches as Arch Hypocrite.

Far be it from me to defend the fast-food industry, but isn’t this criticism a little harsh? Not, it seems, when the ad campaign emanates from The Great Satan – seducer of little children, agent of obesity and chief representative of all that is most reprehensible about international capitalism.

Given such an unsavoury reputation, you might think McDonald’s on safer ground with this lightly amusing piece of comparative advertising, which pokes fun at its rival Burger King. Small boy in a playground despairs of ever tasting his beloved McD Fries because they always end up being filched by his bigger brethren. Then he hits upon a novel and successful stratagem: hide them behind a BK bag, and nobody will ever want to eat them –

The ad – not unreasonably – won a bronze in the recent Epica Awards. But maybe because it was produced in Germany, it also created a major sense of humour loss, which resulted in humiliating retraction:

“McDonald’s has broken the rules of comparative advertising by degrading the Burger King brand in the TV commercial ‘Packaging.’ McDonald’s and Burger King have agreed that [the spot’s] distribution and broadcast … will be stopped,” said a statement from Burger King.

Apparently, the agencies responsible for the ad, Tribal DDB and Heye & Partners, had put it out on the web without seeking permission from their client. It has since attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers on YouTube.

At least McDonald’s is popular with someone.


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