Stefano Hatfield On Advertising

The peachy chief executive's job that no one wants to take a bite of

ome visit us and "make yourself at home", says the Habitat strapline - it's on bus ads all over London. So, coming back from the US, and needing some new furniture, we did. So far, so normal.

But there's a bizarre trend I've noticed since returning to the UK, which rather shattered the apparent normality of my response to the ad: some British marketers are spending a fortune advertising products that either you can't buy or, if by some miracle you can buy them, you don't physically get them.

The latest example is Vodafone/Nokia, who have spent heavily in the national press this past two weeks advertising a new smart-phone range including the new E61, a non-Blackberry Blackberry. It looked good in the picture, still better on the website (another direct response), and it's Vodafone, so corporately compatible in my place of work. Simple, right? Wrong. Vodafone don't actually have any yet. Huh?

More bewildering still is the story below involving Shabbitat. In truth, the ad aside, we only went there in the first place because we couldn't buy any of the furniture we wanted at Peter Jones/John Lewis. We liked some of the furniture in store, but they didn't have any in stock. Nor televisions. Don't get me started on school clothes.

Anyway, this was November last year. We liked what we saw in Habitat, too, but it was also "out of stock", so we went all over London - shopping in other stores which carry no stock, presumably for fear of armed robberies or fire insurance?

By January we were back, trying to make ourselves at home as instructed, having decided we liked the Habicrap stuff the best. On 12 January we placed an order in the Tottenham Court Road flagship store, paying a grand total of £998 for a Hana Tallboy and a Hana low chest of drawers. We wanted the matching set. They were, of course, out of stock: "a few weeks" we're told, but we got in line.

The weeks passed. Nothing. Out of the blue on 22 March, the low chest arrives. No tallboy though; it's still "out of stock". We enquire when we might get it. We are passed from Tottenham Court Road to customer service and head office and back again. Everyone sounds pleasant enough, especially Stacy St-John Moss, branch manager, but no one has a clue. "Likely to be delivered in May."

May comes and goes, and phone calls fly between us and a variety of Crappitat apologists. Then, almost out of the blue, come a flurry of calls about our availability for home delivery "tomorrow". In the last few minutes of the end of the day's delivery window (we have waited hours), the movers show up, but with, they inform us, only four out of five flatpacks. They look at us, we look at them. Maybe Wembley Stadium is being built this way. We refuse to let any of it off the lorry.

Cue another round of arguing with the Stepford Customer Service reps as to the nature and whereabouts of the furniture. When they can't even tell us if they have our goods in stock or not, we nearly lose it. They help push us over the edge with an, "Oh yeah, three items have come to us - but we shipped them to someone else."

As I write, the latest is that customer services could not even tell us if they were in stock or not. How can a retailer take our cash in January and still not deliver the goods in July? Perhaps they hope we will go away and forget about it? It's a great way to increase Habitat's margins. But how does it stack up with the "make yourself at home" from Habitat's own ad campaign by RPM3? The chance would be a fine thing. So, the Shabitat rant will become a weekly staple of this column. Feel free to send in your own disaster stories involving responding to their ads, and we shall wait and see what happens. That's the trouble with advertising. It works.

OH DEAR! The fearsome Nigel Bogle, leader of that house of joyless excellence Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is fond of saying in his customarily cheery way that all agencies are just three phone calls away from disaster. (What he would say if he were not running the best agency in the world is anyone's guess.) This past week, JWT came pretty close to that kind of scenario. First, Johnson & Johnson acquires the JWT client Pfizer for some $16.6bn, in so doing threatening the agency's grip on its £5m UK business (Listerine, Sudafed); second, Kellogg UK takes its £4m Rice Krispies account out of the agency and awards it to rival Leo Burnett without a pitch, a real snub; third, Euro RSCG wins the giant global Reckitt Benckiser account after a winner-takes-all pitch against JWT. Reckitt's brands include Cillit Bang, Dettol, Finish, Vanish, Harpic and many more. They are the bread-and-butter brands for large FMCG agencies like Euro and JWT. Handling Reckitt business in some 30-plus countries globally, this will have been a real shock to the agency, which will not have expected to lose everything. Events like this just go to show how vital it is for multinational agencies to be continually winning local business.

A WEEK late, I know, but this is so good: please excuse me for one last "Only in Cannes" story. Allen Rosenshine, the architect of the big bang that created Omnicom and long-term global CEO of BBDO, held a book launch at the Martinez Hotel. Even by Cannes standards, the moment they brought out the synchronised swimmers and cranked up the music was startling. The hotel's guests rushed to their windows to check out the cacophony. As we all looked up to watch them watching us, we spied the unmistakable figure of a bemused Woody Allen peering from his suite. Normally a corner suite with sea view at the Martinez would be eminently desirable, but not during Cannes week, when the view at dawn is not a gorgeous sunrise over the Med, but the sorry entrails of the Gutter Bar's previous night's debauchery.

ONE OF the topics in the Gutter Bar was quite why it was so difficult for DDB to fill the London chief executive role that would once have been regarded as a peach. The previous incumbent, Paul Hammersley, curtailed his brief reign at the helm to follow the Red Brick Road at the end of last year. Talented as he is, Hammersley is surely not irreplaceable, so what gives? It is yet another sign (see the JWT above) of the relative powerlessness of country managers to control their own P & L in the face of unforeseen client consolidations. The real power at DDB these days resides in the global account directorship of its Anheuser-Busch or Volkswagen clients, not running a relatively small London office. It wasn't so long ago that DDB was BMP, one of the finest agencies in the world; the agency of Webster, Boase, Powell and so many more. It still does great work on Volkswagen, Marmite and more. Surely there is someone in London up for the challenge?


This week I actually took note of a poster. It's been a while. But this gem from M & C Saatchi not only restores your faith a little in London advertising's art direction, but makes you stop and give pause. It is a reminder of the formidable talents of Tiger Savage, the mischievous creative behind the ad. Truth be told though, I can't really see Tiger cycling around town...or anywhere else. If only some of the buildings really did look like everyday objects like the Venice Beach binoculars building in which Chiat\Day used to be housed. Arresting and stand-out, with an instant message - just like a poster should be.

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