Mark Wnek on Advertising

Sainsbury's may be tempted to stray, but should stay at home
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The Independent Online

Britain's most prestigious advertising pitch of the year so far, Sainsbury's, has come down to two agencies: AMV BBDO (the incumbent) and Bell's JWT. (Grinding behemoth JWT is so much better since the arrival of creative chief Nick Bell that it will henceforth be known in this column as Bell's JWT. And sometimes just Bell's.)

Britain's most prestigious advertising pitch of the year so far, Sainsbury's, has come down to two agencies: AMV BBDO (the incumbent) and Bell's JWT. (Grinding behemoth JWT is so much better since the arrival of creative chief Nick Bell that it will henceforth be known in this column as Bell's JWT. And sometimes just Bell's.)

I don't believe that AMV has done anything "wrong" on this complex account. Its Jamie Oliver campaign at least holds its own against any other supermarket advertising - and that was before Oliver's remarkable recent renaissance as defender of our schoolchildren's nutrition. The word is that both agencies have now entered a "research shoot-out", giving the casting vote over where the business ends up to consumers in focus groups. This is common practice, particularly with large publicly quoted companies whose shareholders always want to see the numbers behind any decision.

What is far from common is that, apparently, both agencies have put forward advertising campaigns involving Oliver. My first thought is that this stinks: Jamie Oliver is AMV's creative property. Then again, outsiders can never truly know the precise nature of a client-agency relationship, and pitches only ever occur when things are less than happy. Any client who says different is a liar.

As in any relationship, once the eye begins to rove, no one knows what sexpot it may alight upon. While AMV has an unimpeachable creative pedigree and strong creative principles, I can imagine that this could begin to seem a bit stodgy to clients increasingly enamoured with strategy over execution and unwilling to tarry at the whim of heavyweight traditional creatives - something that AMV has perhaps more than its fair share of. This is particularly relevant with Bell's JWT - the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed suitor - appearing so different, so proactive, so not AMV.

Add to this the gargantuan presence of Bell's proprietor, Sir Martin Sorrel - no holding-company chief in history has so utterly involved himself in his agency's pitching - and things start to look a bit iffy for AMV. And yet, I've just got a weird feeling in my water that they'll hang on to it.

I was at Stamford Bridge last week for more blue heaven and have already booked my hotel in Istanbul for the final of the Champions League, where we will beat AC Milan 3-1.

While there, I bumped into a fellow Chelsea fanatic called Simon Clift, who is a mega-cheese at Unilever. Not that you'd have known it: he's a very nice, unaffected person with a staggering knowledge of Brazilian football. Simon is more creative than your average fmcg client (fast moving consumer goods - keep up), and is responsible for work like the excellent Lynx stuff. He is also in danger of a cardiac arrest if he's doesn't take it a bit easier when the Chels score.

The very best advertising creates, at the moment of sale, what writers call "suspension of disbelief". The tiniest flaw in delivery or front and people will disbelieve. So what the bloody hell is it with all this small print? Not a single TV commercial at the moment seems to be free of illegible crap at the bottom of the screen that serves no discernible purpose other than to prick the viewer's brain into action, remind them that this is in fact a business transaction and disengage the emotions that the advertiser has just shelled out millions to engage. I am genuinely amazed that advertisers put up with it because it renders every commercial it appears in a total waste of money.

New media agency Nucleus has alerted me to a nasty practice on the internet called "brand-name interception". This is how it works. Say my company is called Wnek Holidays. When people type the word "Wnek" into a search engine, Wnek Holidays comes up; but in the right-hand corner a whole bunch of other companies with headlines like "8% off Wnek Holidays" appear, entirely unauthorised by me, having paid the search engine to have my brand-name in their blurb. When people go to those sites, they, of course, direct you toward their own wares, with perhaps a link to Wnek Holidays buried at the bottom of the page. There is currently nothing a brand can do to stop this practice.

According to Nucleus, some 54 per cent of travel companies suffer "brand-name interception", often from direct competitors, and major names at that. It seems that trademark and copyright infringement on the internet is something that needs urgent attention.

Where bad news comes with a smile

Agency search consultants are who marketers go to when they're after a suitable ad agency; in the same way that individuals go to a dating agency. Once they've taken the client's brief, search consultants will apply their expertise to providing a list of candidates fitting that brief. All of this will end in a pitch. The pitch is the most adrenalin-charged of ad agency activities. Losing agencies, their minds unbalanced by an overdose of sour grapes, invariably blame the search consultants for their failure.

Which is why I was surprised to overhear a conversation recently between a major ad agency chief and others, in which the chief in question, though unsuccessful in the recent huge Abbey pitch, was full of praise for the search consultant who had managed the process, namely the Advertising Agency Register (AAR). This should make the AAR very proud.

This year sees the AAR's 30th anniversary, making it the undisputed daddy in the field. Its proprietor is former adman Martin Jones, a dry, perceptive man and the most amusing lunch company in Adland. When I rang the AAR, I got Martin's MD, Kerry Glazer. After 15 minutes with this sun-lamp of a lady I could see where the aforementioned agency chief was coming from. The depth of Glazer's knowledge of the minutiae of the ad business is extraordinary (her evident love for it even more so), but her personality is infectiously upbeat: even the worst news must sound quite jolly coming from her. A ray of sunshine in a murky business.

WNEK'S BEST IN SHOW: BBC

In this commercial a bloke is surprised in bed by his girlfriend's father. He leaps out of bed, out of the window and is chased by the father and a pack of dogs, and almost run over. Another car comes speeding toward him but it pulls up with the bloke's girlfriend behind the wheel and they escape. All of this breathtaking action is played out with nothing on the screen but a man's face in extreme close-up and changes in background and foreground lighting. As the commercial ends we pull back to see that the man is a blind man sat in front of his TV set. The commercial is for BBC TV audio, and a complete and utter delight.

mark@adguru.co.uk

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