It’s reasonably well-known that WPP stands for Wire & Plastic Products, the wire basket manufacturer that Sir Martin Sorrell chose 30 years ago as a vehicle for his plan to build a global advertising and marketing business. Wire & Plastic Products, operating from an industrial estate in Hythe, Kent, is still part of the group.
Wire & Plastic Products’ pre-history is a little more obscure. In researching my recent FT Magazine profile of WPP’s chief executive, I dug out the FT advertisement for the flotation of the original company in April 1971. Read more
They tell you not to fix a meeting before 11am at the Lions advertising festival in Cannes because the guests will either have been up so late toasting their own creativity, or are so jet-lagged after flying in from Los Angeles, that they will not show up. I should have listened.
The collapse of the proposed Omnicom-Publicis merger, a bravado effort to override cultural differences, executive egos and national tax law, does not come as a surprise. The venture had been displaying signs of distress for some time, with both sides admitting to difficulties.
The challenge of getting various tax authorities to agree to a complex and artificial structure – a Franco-US company incorporated in the Netherlands but tax resident in the UK – was one barrier. John Wren, Omnicom’s chief executive, warned investors last month of delays due to tax issues. Read more
Graves at the Père-Lachaise-cemetery in Paris
I’ve been wondering about the most suitable place to commemorate the death of the Omnicom-Publicis deal. How about Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where Oscar Wilde and The Doors’ Jim Morrison are buried?
A photo of Maurice Lévy and John Wren, respectively the bosses of Publicis and Omnicom, thumbing their noses at each other against a backdrop of moss-covered tombs would be just as appropriate in its way as the infamous deal-announcement image of the two men toasting one another, with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. Read more
Straight-talking Karl-Thomas Neumann, chief executive of Opel, has given the world of reputation management a useful new metaphor for brand-blight: the “red elephant”.
At the Geneva motor show, he told the FT that the General Motors-owned German marque had suffered from a perception problem:
There was a red elephant standing beside the car that nobody talked about which says: ‘You can’t buy me because I’m an Opel’ … and we are addressing this now.
Not welcome in the showroom (image: Dreamstime)
Whether or not Mr Neumann has mixed up “elephants in the room” and “red flags”, I find the image compelling enough to be worth spreading.
Plenty of companies persist in assuming that a brand’s historic reputation will sustain it, without tackling the scarlet pachyderm that may be frightening off customers. Antidotes include: 1) making such a noise about the brand that it drowns out the trumpeting of the creature standing alongside; 2) improving the quality of the product so that it is no longer dwarfed by the public (mis)perception about it. Read more
EE is the descendant of one of the most ridiculous brands in corporate history – Everything Everywhere, which turned out to mean Nothing Anywhere – so I feared the worst when I saw the UK digital communications group had signed a partnership with what it inevitably calls the “iconic” Wembley Stadium. Football fans already chant about “going to Wemb-er-lee”, so the brand gurus could so easily have renamed the ground “WemblEE”.
Wembley Stadium, as it will be, sEEn from the air (source: EE)
Happily, common sense and history prevailed. Fans will have to survive a blizzard of EE branding, including the illumination of Wembley’s arch in EE blue, but the press statement is clear that “the world-renowned name of the stadium will remain”. It usually does. When new names are applied to old stadiums, often either the name doesn’t stick – or the company doesn’t. Read more
Million-dollar endorsement: Honus Wagner teaches lessons to modern celebrities (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art via Bloomberg)
In the strange world of celebrity endorsements, it is usually the brand that dumps the celebrity – as happened, say, when Nike dropped cycling cheat Lance Armstrong in 2012 – rather than vice versa. So it stood out last week when Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan revealed he stopped endorsing Pepsi some years ago, after a young girl asked him why he was advertising a drink her teacher said was “poisonous”.
“The Big B’s” declaration, during a talk with Indian business school students, coincided with a controversy that took the more predictable route. Actress Scarlett Johansson maintained her endorsement of SodaStream, the Israeli fizzy drinks company, and severed ties with Oxfam, the charity for which she had been a long-standing (and, people in the NGO world tell me, interested and involved) goodwill ambassador.
But his wider comments shed light on the other side of such endorsements and how celebrities can limit the risk of cross-contamination. Read more
Remember the scene in Pretty Woman when snooty assistants in a designer clothes shop refuse to serve Julia Roberts because of her – ahem – unorthodox attire, thereby depriving themselves of an enormous commission, funded by Richard Gere’s credit card? New academic research suggests that the luxury goods industry has learnt its lesson. Read more
Hassan Rouhani, Iran's chief marketing officer
Iran’s snappy tagline “Death to America” is so 1980s. It is long overdue a facelift, which is why the country’s new president appears to be pushing for a brand refresh.
The current line’s longevity is no surprise. It meets most of Inc’s “five tips for writing an effective slogan“.
Admittedly, it doesn’t rhyme (but who has ever written a successful rhyming couplet that ends “America”?) and while it definitely underscores the country’s “general mission”, it doesn’t really differentiate the product from, say, al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Read more
If ousted Danske Bank chief executive Eivind Kolding’s controversial advertising campaign persuaded any customers to take their accounts elsewhere, that is some achievement. Bank customers are reluctant to change banks regardless of what the advertising says.
I may be an extreme case – I have been with the same bank for 35 years – but international studies suggest I am not unusual. A worldwide survey last year by EY, the professional services firm, found that just a third of customers had ever changed their main bank.
Of course, Mr Kolding’s aim was to persuade customers to put their money in his bank rather than to take it out. The problem was that the Danske Bank ad (“A new normal demands news standards”), which featured, among other things, street rioters, Occupy campaigners and crumbling icebergs, was a category error. Read more
Google's Android KitKat sculpture – hard to stomach?
Something has gone slightly mad with brand management if we barely shrug at the news that Google’s next release of its Android mobile operating system will be named after a chocolate bar.
Android Key Lime Pie was the original name – continuing a trend of labelling Android versions after sweet treats. The Android KitKat idea was kept under wraps until this week, but it is now out there, complete with an Android KitKat sculpture at Google HQ in California. Read more
As Felix Baumgartner struggled to correct his spin at the start of his 128,100 ft descent to earth on Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking of the consequences of failure for Red Bull, his sponsor.
Mr Baumgartner’s feat was obviously extraordinary and compelling. It was a new frontier for him, and for YouTube (where 8m people watched the dive live), but despite strenuous efforts to identify some great scientific benefit of the stunt, it is a far greater leap for brand-marketers – and I worry where they will go next.
The Austrian’s sponsor is an introverted company with an extrovert energy drink brand and it has blasted out a niche in extreme sports, from Formula One to air races. Plenty of people pointed out on Twitter on Sunday that if Mr Baumgartner died, so would Red Bull’s slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”. Read more
Halfway through my evening at Wembley Stadium on Sunday I realised why watching Olympic football – or any Olympic sport for that matter – feels strange: it’s the absence of advertising. A stadium normally decked in every type of corporate branding was dominated instead just by the Olympic rings, the participants’ flags, and the purple hues of London 2012. Read more
Once upon a time, companies simply made new products and sold them. In due course, they made them, advertised them to buyers and then sold them. Now, publicity frequently comes before the sale, the production and sometimes even the design of the item, with what modern marketers like to call a “pre-announcement”.
As head of the world’s largest advertising group by revenues, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell is used to talking about image. His own, which he assiduously promotes through the media, is about to take a battering.
Sorrell – "totally aligned"
ISS, the shareholder advisory firm, has recommended investors at its June 13 annual meeting should vote against WPP’s pay policies, according to which the chief executive will receive total pay and bonuses of £6.8m, up 60 per cent on the previous year.
Nothing new here, you might think. Investors holding more than a third of the stock voted against the remuneration report last year. Sir Martin, one of the longest-serving chief executives of a FTSE 100 company, shrugged that off and probably will again this time. Speaking before the ISS recommendation, he told the UK’s Sunday Times that his interests were “totally aligned with shareholders’. I am a big shareholder – 85 per cent of the package is performance related”. While his base salary had increased from £1m to £1.3m, he pointed out he had had “only one increase in 10 years”. Read more
The return of the “soap opera” with a digital twist – thanks to multi-million pound deals struck by Unilever with Viacom and News Corp – is a further indication that there really is nothing new in marketing.
As I wrote recently, in relation to the spat between BrewDog, a Scottish independent brewer, and the beverage giant Diageo, the tools of communication and promotion may change, but the underlying challenges and responses are the same as they ever were. Read more
The travails of old media businesses are well-known but I’m starting to feel sympathy for advertisers and media buyers.
That sentiment was brought on by looking (in old media fashion) at the front of the print section of the New York Times today. The lead article is about Madison Avenue’s scepticism on whether Facebook is a good advertising medium and underneath that is a piece on Dish Network’s new ad-skipping digital video recorder.
Facebook’s advertisers have been struggling with whether display ads on the social network will produce results, with General Motors pulling its $10m Facebook ad budget ahead of the intial public offering.
Meanwhile, Dish has upset US television networks in the “upfront” season where they show off their next season wares to advertisers but producing a box that automatically skips all the commercials between network shows. Read more
Last Thursday I was, briefly, head of communications for a large Canadian widget maker, coping with a wave of Twitter-borne rumours about the arrest of its chief executive.
“Secretive hedge fund manager” is one of those adjectival pairings to rank with “flamboyant impresario” and “introverted computer programmer” as a journalistic cliché. So when I read the headline “Hedge funds lobby SEC over secrecy rule” in Monday’s FT, I naturally assumed the hedgies wanted the US regulator to erect even higher walls around them. Not so.
Colleague Sam Jones points out that at least part of the myth of secretive hedge funds is constructed on the regulatory legacy of rule 502(c) of Regulation D. This “arcane piece of Depression-era legislation… defines how the modern hedge fund industry operates”, outlawing general advertising and solicitation by funds but also making them paranoid about talking to any “unqualified outsiders”. The Managed Funds Association, the funds’ US lobby group, has written to the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking its elimination. Read more
When advertisers put pressure on news organisations, it’s often a sign press freedom is threatened. From South Africa to Hong Kong, public opinion puts companies or governments that use their commercial clout to protest against editorial policy on the side of the bad guys.
It’s symptomatic of the sorry state of UK news media that in the widening scandal over phone-hacking, the reverse is true. Read more