Claire Beale on Advertising

Jamie Oliver's fowl outburst has left Sainsbury's smoothing feathers
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The Independent Online

Chickens. Probably not a word you have much relish for after last week's media extravaganza on the fowls. Still, the chicken issue raised an interesting advertising question: was Jamie Oliver wise to bite the commercial hand that feeds him nigh on £1m a year?

The celeb chef laid into his advertising paymaster Sainsbury's last week for refusing to take part in a TV debate about the rearing of chickens: "It's shocking the people I work for didn't turn up on the day," he lambasted.

As adland drew a sharp intake of breath, cue another debate about the wisdom of celebrity endorsement. What happens when your icon tarnishes the image they're paid handsomely to endorse? Remember when comedian Paul Kaye ridiculed himself for starring in the Woolworths ads, or when Pepsi ad star Britney Spears was papped glugging Coke?

There's no question you take a risk when you sign up a big-name star for your campaign. But in Oliver's case, I reckon last week's "embarrassment" worked out well for all concerned.

By the end of the week, Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King had come out in support of Oliver and his campaign for better chicken-rearing practices. And the whole affair gave King a fantastic platform (the Today programme) on which to talk about just how proud Sainsbury's is of its own policies on chickens.

In fact, if this had been conceived as a cunning PR strategy to raise the profile of Sainsbury's and underline its responsible approach to chicken rearing, things couldn't have gone better.

We all know now that Sainsbury's focus on quality extends to its policy on chickens. And Oliver comes out of it enshrined as an independently minded brand spokesman with a passion for food quality, all of which makes him much more valuable as a brand icon. Clever.

I'm not sure if Stephen Carter would still, at core, consider himself an adman. But there's no doubt that advertising is part of the Carter DNA. He spent 13 years at JWT, where he rose to the post of chief executive at the age of 33. When he joined NTL as chief operating officer, the commercial imperative of his role was still key. Then, as chief of Ofcom, he steered the media regulator through its launch and established its credentials as a responsible and respected industry watchdog.

The leap last week to Gordon Brown's right hand may seem an odd one, particularly since Carter has never flourished his political convictions. But his years as one of the ad industry's most considered thinkers, honing strategies, planning campaigns, unearthing consumer insights and understanding what makes people tick are bedrock to his usefulness at No 10. Heck, even the language of politics and advertising is the same.

Dig around a little and you'll find plenty of adlanders with political connections. Over at Grey London, the deputy chairman Nicola Mendelsohn is married to Labour fundraiser Jon Mendelsohn and is a mate of the Browns.

Clemmow Hornby Inge's Johnny Hornby holidays with Peter Mandelson; Trevor Beattie at Beattie McGuinness Bungay has worked on Labour's advertising on and off for years. The M&C Saatchi crew have been mates with the Tories for decades (Maurice used to be party co-chairman, remember). There are plenty more.

Cynics will see the politics/ advertising intimacy as evidence that politics continues to descend towards superficial soundbites, instantly appealing imagery and pandering policies.

But as Carter would no doubt counter, the disciplines of advertising are all robust skills necessary to unlock insights and appeal. And even though it's many years since Carter called himself an adman, his move into the political sphere is important for the industry he has left behind. Adland is on a mission to persuade the country (professionally and domestically) of its value; having one of its former statesmen in Downing Street can do no harm at all.

On the subject of underlining advertising's value, the ad agency body the IPA unveiled its Little Book of Growth last week.

Yes, yes, the converted were a captive audience, but the book deserves to have wider exposure. For a start, it opens with the line: "It has been calculated that advertising adds £160bn to the UK economy every year." Hopefully all my readers are now sitting up and taking note. That's a lot of money. Particularly as we wobble on the precipice of recession.

It goes on to précis some of the ad industry's best case studies. Take "The Actimel Challenge". The objective for the brand was to become the number one challenger in the health market. The insight from the agency (Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R) was that bacteria can be good for you. The ad, you'll be familiar with. The result: incremental sales rose by £90.8m, profits were up by £36.3m.

Or what about the 30-year campaign to establish the VW Golf as an enduring and financially valuable brand? Over three decades of advertising through DDB, every £1 spent on communications has generated £2.50 in incremental profit.

Convinced yet? How about BA? The airline's work with M&C Saatchi set out to combat the threat from no frills, low-cost rivals, which had seen BA booted out of the FTSE 100. The agency's insight was "act budget, but deliver the essentials" and the campaign idea was "have you seen how small our prices are?" Before the campaign, BA was valued at £1.07bn; afterwards, it was valued at £3.11bn.

Remember "Whassup", beloved of school kids everywhere, despite the fact that they couldn't legally buy the Budweiser brand it advertised? The objective behind the campaign was to reverse a declining market share. Between 1999 and 2001 Budweiser spent £25m on advertising, sales increased by the equivalent of 67 million bottles and value increased by £80m.

There are many, many more examples of the value added by advertising in the Little Book of Growth. And adland needs to shout loud about them all. With talk of a credit squeeze, marketers are naturally nervy. All the evidence is that spending through a downturn is an investment that pays dividends, but it's a message that deserves constant repetition.

When it comes to pulling off the sneaky-smart advertising deals, WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell generally takes no prisoners. Last year, one of his media agencies, Mediaedge:cia, played a blinder with BT's account. BT used to do all its clever media thinking in-house, but Mediaedge snaffled the media planning business last summer from right under the nose of BT's existing media partners, Publicis Groupe's Starcom and Zed Media.

Starcom and Zed, which handled BT's media buying, were left looking on slack-jawed, with a growing sense of unease at the prospect that Mediaedge would now come after the rest of the BT media account.

It did. By the autumn a winner-takes-all media pitch was in play, with Sorrell and Maurice Levy (the Publicis Groupe chief) squaring up over one of the country's juiciest media accounts.

Just before Christmas it was reported that WPP was about to land the business, and the coup that began with the media planning looked set for satisfactory completion. Until last week. At the twelfth hour Publicis Groupe came back with a new (cheaper, presumably) offer and was handed the entire media account.

Although the saga provided much sport for media industry observers, it seems likely that BT is the only real winner: no doubt its media costs will be that bit smaller from now on.

Beale's best in show: edf energy (euro rscg)

If you thought last year was the year of Green, you ain't seen nothing yet. This is one issue that's going to build and build, and ad agencies are gnawing away at it on several fronts.

Of course, there's a potential new business bonanza from the raft of "green" ads that marketers are keen to make. But agencies are also struggling to get their own green houses in order.

The new EDF Energy ad from Euro RSCG hits several targets. It's a visually engaging, impactful way of associating the energy provider with environmental issues, and it uses recycled film clips (Thunderbirds, The Wombles, old ads, stray bits of film from the library) to save the environment from the impact of making an expensive new ad (no flights to South Africa to shoot this commercial).

I wonder if the idea will catch on. There's certainly enough rubbish in the advertising archives to be recycled into years of new campaigns.



Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

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