Stefano Hatfield on Advertising
French Connection was the brand we all talked about. But no longer
Monday 10 July 2006
Like other journalists, I admit I got a bit caught up in the hype about the latest French Connection ad campaign featuring two babes cat-fighting viciously.
Despite its obvious greater appeal to the wrong sex, I let it go because a) I am of that sex, and b) it had stand-out. Maybe I gave its creator Trevor Beattie, of whom I am generally a fan, too much credit. Yep, OK, all men are suckers for attractive women cat-fighting in wet T-shirts.
Well, the campaign hasn't done the business: like-for-like sales are down through the period in which the campaign ran. French Connection's marketing director Matthew Griffiths has now left the fashion brand, reportedly without a job to go to. What's more, Beattie's fledgling BMB agency was put on notice of a creative review, and decided to resign the account - one of the first it won after his exit from TBWA.
So ends one of the more notorious, not to say successful, client-agency relationships of the past decade. Beattie's work transformed the fortunes of Stephen Marks' ailing French Connection brand through his simple and small, but hugely adaptable, play on our most common swear word. Miraculously, it appeared that none of our advertising standards bodies could see it that way.
That's how "fcuk me", "too busy to fcuk" and the rest became part of the fashion lexicon, and "FCUK" was firmly embedded in our culture - for better or worse. There were many who did believe it was for worse, but still more who were either untroubled, even tickled, by the silly little play on English's most overused expletive.
FCUK became much bigger than advertising; the whole chain and its brand were reoriented behind the four-letter combination. It was difficult to argue with the transformation, and many people who had never set foot in a French Connection store previously came to own a slogan T-shirt. I preferred "chicken jalfrezi" myself.
It was doomed not to last, of course; not just because the idea soon became tired, but because FCUK is a high-street fashion chain, and it cannot - by definition - remain so entirely in fashion for ever. It had to go out of fashion, and no amount of wrestling wet T-shirts could halt the cycle.
Just like M&S with its recent RKCR/Y&R campaign starring Twiggy et al, French Connection may come back in vogue. FCUK cannot have its moment just now, because it has just had its moment.
Good luck to the agency that lands the account. I suspect that BMB got out at just the right time. It wouldn't surprise me to see the agency land another fashion brand by Christmas.
* I STILL MISS the days when "Lucozade helped you through the ups and downs of the day", but that's because I am an old fart - old enough at least to recall the brand being sold as a remedial pick-me-up. Then came Daley Thompson, and a new category was born. However, Lucozade Energy appears to have come to a standstill. So it was no real surprise last week when GlaxoSmithKline handed the UK creative account to M & C Saatchi. Except, that is, in terms of the loss to Ogilvy.
Lucozade has long been one of the bedrock local brands of the London agency. Local offices of international networks like Ogilvy must retain such accounts to prosper on any meaningful level; not least in attracting top local talent. Ogilvy's ultimate boss, Sir Martin Sorrell, will not be best pleased.
* SORRELL WILL already be fuming over the performance of his JWT London office. Leaving aside the threat to its global Pfizer account if Johnson & Johnson buys that company, having lost Rice Krispies in London to Leo Burnett, this week it lost the WeightWatchers account.
JWT only won it last year, and lost it without actually having managed to create a single ad in response to a brief to get people to join their local WeightWatchers club. You'd have thought that wasn't the toughest in British advertising.
Now, add into this mix the realisation of the full cost of losing Reckitt Benckiser to Euro RSCG last week. Cillit Bang, Dettol, Harpic, Lemsip, Mr Sheen, Veet, Gaviscon, Bonjela and others total some£28m lost billings in London, and £11m more at Cheetham Bell JWT. That has to be over £3m in lost income unless the business was being run at unacceptably low margins.
Clearly, new boss Alison Burns has an even tougher job on her hands than she may have first realised on the plane back from her New York career.
I LOVE THIS idea, and can't wait to see it introduced in the UK. Apparently, Brit creative Paul Shearer of Nitro has been appearing on Italian TV introducing his creative ideas for Coke's new Aquarius drink brand in a competition against Saatchi & Saatchi Milan. Coke is asking the general public to choose which of the two agencies' ads should be chosen to promote the brand in Italy. The ads will run back-to-back for two months and the public will be asked to visit a website and vote for the winning spot.
Imagine how much money Coke could have saved over the past decade here if they had only adopted the same idea sooner. This really should have agencies quaking. Imagine the hair and make-up expenses for their creative directors on-camera. Which advertiser will be brave enough to go first? WeightWatchers?
THE JOY OF the ad industry is that just when all seems entirely lost at a troubled agency, a sudden decent win can kick-start a revival in fortunes. If, as it appears, John Lewis really is to appoint Lowe London to its £11m account, then it is a quite remarkable achievement for this punch-drunk, chief executive-less agency.
Let's hope that the win really is down to Ed Morris putting his talent where his huge salary is, and the tenacious charm of Judy Mitchem, and not because the agency knowingly undersold itself. The value to internal morale, not to mention the agency's bottom line, if the story really is true would be invaluable.
* I KNOW THERE will be many regular readers (hello Ma!) desperate to know the latest in my struggle to persuade Habitat (ad slogan "Make yourself at home") to kindly deliver the furniture I paid for six months ago to its rightful place in my living room.
Well, the very nice people from the Habitat press office have been all over me like a rash this week, so let's see if they can not only keep their promise to deliver my goods at the anointed time, but if all of it actually arrives intact, in the same van.
Weirdly, they keep asking me what my agenda is - as if not having the £500 worth of furniture that I paid for six months ago actually delivered is not a valid enough agenda. A full update next week. I know you can't wait.
E-mail email@example.com with the names of advertising people who should be made to appear on TV taking responsibility for their ads
Hatfield's Worst In Show: Samsung
If I could, I would happily nominate those god-awful Budweiser ITV World Cup sponsorship credits for a second time. They showed all the creative flair of Sven's midfield during this tournament, and I'd wager will prove to be no more effective. Instead, we can kiss the World Cup goodbye by highlighting another advertising monstrosity; a Samsung ad that encapsulates all that's wrong with cross-border television ad campaigns. This just happens to be selling TVs too, with the inane hypothesis that some yucky Euro-yuppie types would sacrifice their World Cup finals tickets (probably given to them corporately) to stay at home in the kind of office that only ad agencies can envisage, and choose to watch it on their new Samsung flat-screen instead. Rarely have I wanted to smack the smug actors in an ad more. The voiceover makes you want to scream. Whatever happened to the brief movement towards a little honesty in advertising set-ups? In short: pants.
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