Mark Wnek on Advertising

Sometimes the old, reliable ad agencies are the best
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The Independent Online

I admit it: I've always had a macho admiration for advertising behemoth McCann Erickson. News of its victory last week in the $300m Intel pitch against WPP and DDB Worldwide should send what I believe journalists call "shockwaves" around the ad industry for all kinds of reasons.

I admit it: I've always had a macho admiration for advertising behemoth McCann Erickson. News of its victory last week in the $300m Intel pitch against WPP and DDB Worldwide should send what I believe journalists call "shockwaves" around the ad industry for all kinds of reasons.

Needless to say, it's a great win of a wonderful brand. More particularly, not only is Intel a massive brand now, but, as the heartbeat of much of the world's computing, also one which promises to be increasingly dominant in years to come. McCann already has the Microsoft account and adding Intel says powerful things about the agency's current robustness and future health. This not long after the group was in all kinds of bother over such things as alleged accountancy irregularities, with unwelcome attention from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

There is no doubt that McCann Erickson's return to the top of the premier league is due mainly to the return to the helm of the worldwide group of the extraordinary John Dooner. While the gutsy 52-year-old New Yorker may not have enjoyed his spell as head of McCann holding company Interpublic (IPG), the Intel win solidifies Dooner's position as the pre-eminent ad agency group CEO.

Indeed, the McCann Worldgroup team of Dooner, creative director Jonathan Cranin - custodian of powerful worldwide campaigns such as "The best things in life are free, for everything else there's Mastercard" - and planning guru Eric Einhorn would probably be the last three people any group would like to face in a big pitch. Add to them McCann European chiefs Rupert Howell and Robbie Campbell, and, well, McCann's offer is actually quite scary.

Hardly surprising that holding company WPP felt it needed to combine several agencies to take on the McCann powerhouse, pitching with a combination of Y&R, Cameron Berlin Red Cell and a bit of JWT. But while WPP successfully pitched as a holding company on the HSBC worldwide pitch, rumours suggest that the various WPP companies found it harder to gel on the Intel project.

The latter seems an obvious drawback of the holding company approach to new business - goodness knows, there can be little enough co-operation and/or goodwill between an agency's various offices, never mind a holding company's various agencies. The main thing I find deeply problematic about the holding company pitch is the clear message to prospective clients that no agency within the holding company is good enough to handle the job alone. None of which will bother the resurgent Mr Dooner and co.

Last week I mentioned wooden acting; this week I was wowed by a bravura performance in AMV BBDO's Yell campaign starring James Nesbitt. Actors traditionally have had a love-hate relationship with advertising. The few who have fully embraced the work have given some of their most memorable performances: Maureen Lipman as Jewish housewife Beattie in BT's famous campaign comes to mind.

In the current Yell commercial Nesbitt, Gregor Trutter and William Ely star as three middle-aged blokes in a pub going on about the motorbike exploits of their youth. The little interchange between the three of them as they name the bikes they have so obviously never owned is so perfectly timed and observed it deserves some kind of special Bafta.

Could somebody explain to me why it is that big name actors have special clauses ensuring that the commercials they appear in should never appear outside a small village in Japan or something, while they're perfectly happy to be seen anywhere in bilge like Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason?

On the subject of the commercial nature of the Bridget Jones sequel, did you count the amount of times Coca-Cola got a showing? First of all, there were the messages to Bridget on Coke's site in Piccadilly; then there was the Coke dispensing machine in whatever office was being filmed. I called Working Title, producers of the movie, to try to find out whether all this Coca-Cola-packed airtime was accidental or on purpose - and if the latter, what were the terms - but nobody was available for comment. Note to self: could be a good subject for a proper journalist.

Ps. Not all has gone McCann's way this week; the London agency failed to make the Abbey National pitch shortlist (unlike fellow IPG agency Lowe, on fire under new CEO Gary Lace) after Rupert Howell and the Abbey clients at McCann's London HQ for a chemistry meeting, spent the first hallf hour stuck in the glass lift together in full view of a panic stricken agency.

Own goal for award junkies

Last week saw the annual British Television Advertising Awards (BTAA). More importantly, Chelsea gave Barcelona a tutorial on the difference between men and boys. My highlights of the BTAA evening were the Honda cartoon from Wieden & Kennedy; Fallon's Velvet toilet-paper factory spots; and Mother's alphabet ad for The Observer, all of which won gold awards.

Creatives from ad agencies take personal awards very seriously. Professional soccer players probably don't even notice when they win one: BBC1's Goal of the Season, for instance, would be nothing more than a bit of fun, if that. For soccer players, the only success that matters is long-term team success: the idea of somebody getting a pay rise for winning Goal of the Season would be absurd. Even the greatest goal of all time means nothing if the opposition scuffs two in off a knee and an arse.

Like Goal of the Season, winning an award for an ad is a bit of fun; not to be confused with the serious business of creating effective sales messages and multidimensional, value-adding properties for products and brands.

As both a student and employee of David Ogilvy early in my career, I was infected by the great man's passion for the enduring Big Idea as opposed to the one-off bit of solo artistry. But while the latter is endlessly celebrated at awards ceremonies, and rewarded with pay rises, promotions and column inches, the former - the true measure of premier-league class - isn't. All of which turns ad agencies into something that clients find less and less relevant to their business.

mark@adguru.co.uk

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