It’s the Age of Google and Sorrell has no time – or money – for Twitter

April 29, 2013

Martin SorrellThe most interesting thing about WPP Group’s first quarter financial results were not the numbers, but its chief executive’s obiter dicta.

The numbers themselves were a curate’s egg. They beat the revenue forecast, bizarrely enough they delighted in Britain, but they disappointed in the United States. Which is just about the only part of the world economy currently showing signs of dynamism.

The obiter dicta, on the other hand, were curiously memorable. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell used the occasion (well, near enough: he was actually speaking at the FT Digital Media Conference the previous day) to highlight a singular phenomenon. So far as his company is concerned (and it  is, after all, the number one spender of advertising money in the world), Google will soon become a bigger destination for his clients’ money than the biggest traditional media owner in his stable, News Corporation. Google is currently in receipt of $2bn of WPP’s quarterly spend; while NewsCorp gets about $2.5bn. But, given the Google figure represents a 25% increase year on year, it can only be a short time – Sorrell assures us – before the search giant moves into pole position.

I say “search giant”, but that of course is history. Sorrell’s underlying point is that Google – after some initial fumbling – has made the transition from a techie company, peopled by nerds, into a multi-media corporation with global reach. He calls it  “a five-legged stool”: there’s search (of course); display advertising; social media (google+); mobile (via Android and AdMob); and video through YouTube.

Note well where Sorrell places his chips, however. From an advertising point of view, the Age of Google (as he calls it) is primarily defined by video. YouTube has made big inroads into what traditionally would have been television viewing. He’s bullish about mobile, too: Android is now the most popular smartphone platform and in some developing markets, like China, it accounts for two-thirds of all mobile sales.

But social media: Oh dear, what an advertiser’s no-no! Yahoo, though generally lacklustre these days, garners about $400m of WPP spend. Facebook, infinitely more successful with its audience figures, receives only $270m. And Twitter a lot, lot less. What’s the logic? Well, Yahoo “gets” the commercial need for a five-legged strategy (indeed, TechCrunch speculates it is about to buy Dailymotion, a smaller competitor to YouTube). Whereas Facebook and Twitter do not. Facebook, Sorrell reckons, is important for brands – but in a negative sense – absence of criticism, which has little to do with any advertising content. Twitter, on the other hand, is simply a PR medium with almost no value to advertisers.

“It’s very effective word of mouth,” Sorrell told Harvard Business Review last month. “We did analyses of the Twitter feeds every day, and it’s very, very potent…I think because it’s limited in terms of number of characters, it reduces communication to superficialities and lacks depth.”

Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis, speaks during the Reuters Global Media Summit in ParisThat last may sound a little harsh. And is certainly not a universally accepted view among admen. Significantly, it is not shared by Sorrell’s deadliest rival, Maurice Lévy – chief executive of Publicis Groupe. Lévy has just announced a four-year pact with Twitter which will involve PG’s media planning and buying arm Starcom MediaVest Group committing up to $600m of client money to monetizing Twitter’s audience. Details, at this point, are sketchy.  It is clear, however, we are not just talking “pop-ups” here. Lévy makes specific reference to video links and “new formats” yet to be developed. He admits to there being “some risk” involved in the project, though whether this relates to his own reputation, clients’ money or both is not apparent.

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Ryanair’s two-fingered salute to social media

February 2, 2013

Michael O'LearyI was amused to read that the incoming head of comms at Ryanair (forgive the oxymoron) has “deliberately” ruled out a social media strategy.

New boy Robin Kiely tells us – apparently without irony –  that such an initiative “would not be helpful” to Ryanair as “we would have so many people looking for a response.” A dedicated Facebook account, for instance, would probably mean “hiring two more people to sit on Facebook all day.”

Just two, Robin? Surely a legion would not be enough to handle the sycophantic email that would inundate your site.

As an after-thought, Kiely mentions that customers of Ryanair are, in any case, handsomely provided for by the budget airline’s “customer care line”. Has anyone ever managed to find a living being on the other end of this, without being connected to the ether for half an hour beforehand? Just checking.

Social media is, as you can imagine, heavily populated with accounts trading on the Ryanair brand, few of them complimentary. A quick trawl revealed an official PR Twitter account which has been dormant since August. By contrast, one altogether busier account, on Facebook, is that of the RyanairPilotGroup. It’s replete with commentary on Ryanair’s alleged infractions of European working regulations; tax evasion; and imminent strike action.

A bit worrying really, if these people really are Ryanair pilots…

You know what they say, Robin: journalists, like Nature, abhor a vacuum. If you’re not there, you’re not a player.


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?



Social media explained – with the help of some dubious statistical illustrations

May 28, 2012

If only the maximum character count were 200, 90 million Germans could finish a sentence on Twitter… Already, 150 children have been given a first name starting with @…. 27% of Facebook server capacity is taken up storing “LOL”… The second biggest lie after ‘I love you, too’ is: ‘You have been successfully unsubscribed from our database’.

These and numerous other imperishable social media factoids are to be found on a video made for satire site The Poke. It purports to be a parody of a promotional video for Erik Qualman’s book, Socialnomics, though the parallel is light and the irony heavy:

My thanks to George Parker, at Adscam, for that. And here’s the video Technology Will Kill, for Qualman’s latest:

What will The Poke do with this I wonder?


Adam & Eve sets its seal on creative style with Google+ work

April 5, 2012

All advertising is, in a certain sense, the cultivation of cliché. Agencies first determine – with whatever artifice their planning departments can provide – suitable socio-economic stereotypes which their creative departments then bombard relentlessly with the most seductive messages they can contrive.

Success and consistency in this trade leads to agency work acquiring a highly recognisable hallmark. “Branding”, if you like; “generic cliché” if you don’t. For example, Boase Massimi Pollitt became widely known for its attachment to furry animals, Allen Brady & Marsh for its mastery of the jingle-ad and Bartle Bogle Hegarty for its creative reinvention of pop culture.

I was reminded of this insight when reviewing Adam & Eve’s first work for Google+, the search giant’s overarching response to Facebook and Twitter. Here it is:

Notice anything about it? Yes, it is another fine piece of work from a hot-shop coming of age. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has missed out the Seventh Age of Man in “All the World’s a Stage”. But since it’s all about Second Childhood, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, and this is a piece of consumer advertising, the agency can be forgiven for the omission. Something else?

Yes. The “Journey Through Life” theme, which A+E (not to be accidentally confused with A&E) has made its own. Particularly in a suburban, middle-class context. Here, just to remind you is some John Lewis advertising by the same agency:

It’s a theme that the James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest team seem to have imported from Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R – from which they spectacularly broke away in 2007. Judging, at least, by this early Lloyds Bank commercial from the self-same:

I have my own modest contribution to the “Life’s journey” genre. It’s taken from John Dryden:

Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; the world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.

No takers in advertising, I suspect. But it was the inspiration of a famous play.


Just Lovin’ It (Not) – Part 2. McDonald’s chokes on its social media initiative

January 26, 2012

When will brands with a corporate reputation problem finally realise that social media – whatever its siren attractions – is not for them?

Not yet, as evidenced by the so-called “McFail” initiative. Last week, McDonald’s (yes, the Brand the World Loves to Hate, see my earlier post), bought two “promoted tweets” – Twitter’s answer to generating advertising revenue. The aim, apparently, was to persuade McDonald’s customers – those presumably with an excess of serotonin in the bloodstream – to share their happy-clappy experiences with the world.

Surprise, surprise, the clickable Twitter “hashtag” McDStories was (all too easily) purloined by mischievous malcontents. Very soon, instead of reading about McNuggets like Grandma used to make them (not), we were subjected to tsunami-force tirades on alleged animal-welfare abuse, wage slavery, food poisoning induced by McD fare and graphic descriptions of the bodily symptoms that accompany it.

By about 1400 hours Eastern Seaboard Time, D-Day, Operation McDStories had been ignominiously aborted. “Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned,” explained a baffled Rick Wion, McDonald’s US social media director. “It was negative enough that we set about a change of course.”

Too right, Rick: a 180 degree one, to avoid losing your job.

Before you ask what planet Rick and his McD chums live on, let me explain: it’s the same one inhabited by the folk at Dr Pepper (owner, Coca-Cola), Nestlé, Wendy’s and Qantas. All of these brands have, at various times, lived under the narcotic delusion that social media is a marcoms nirvana utterly divorced from the everyday travails of brand management – and experienced brutal cold-turkey on discovering it is not.

When they go well, social media campaigns are a dream: they inexpensively capture the zeitgeist. But the gains are purely tactical, while the reverses, however infrequent, tend to have asymmetrical, strategic consequences. Why? Because negative high-profile media coverage brings the feckless actions of Rick and people like him to the immediate attention of their CEOs, for all the wrong reasons. If McDonald’s chief Jim Skinner was previously unaware of Wion’s existence, he is no longer. #McDStories has, with one fell blow, managed to poleaxe Jim’s precious Good News story: burgeoning corporate growth in Q4. Not great for Rick’s career advancement, I suspect.


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