Stefano Hatfield on Advertising
I'll be raising a glass of vodka to those smart operators at Europa
Monday 14 August 2006
Weird, I never realised quite how much I disliked the Chelsea FC brand and all it stood for until Roman Abramovich's plaything lost its battle against a small British drinks firm, Europa Wines. It's not just that Europa is Leeds-based and I still resent Ron "Chopper" Harris for what he did to Eddie Gray a thousand cup finals ago. Nor is it that I now close my ears to my young daughters screeching "stick your blue flag up your a*$e" in the Hammersmith End at Craven Cottage. It's more that Europa is a four-person operation that nipped in to make a cheeky registration of the Chelski brand name when Abramovich first got his hands on the Premiership giant in 2003. The action against Europa was first brought by the Godlike Ken Bates when he was Chelsea chairman, before he saw the light and became the saviour of Elland Road. I should be tut-tutting really: Europa is planning to launch Chelski Blue, a blue-packaged vodka-based alcopop. But I can't do anything but smirk. Chelsea: no one likes them, and they don't care (wasn't that supposed to be the Millwall song?). But can they really build a global brand like Manchester United or Real Madrid with such an image?
RARELY CAN the transfer of a £37 million UK account from one agency to another have stimulated such an underwhelming response among peer groups and the media. When I tell you the account in question is Morrisons, the northern-based chain that was doing fine until it acquired southern England's Safeway chain in 2004, then you might begin to understand why. First, if Morrisons spends £37 million on advertising in a year then I will teach my daughters "Blue is the colour". Second, its advertising line from commercials featuring a Sean Bean voiceover is "more reasons to shop". It's scarcely up there with "every little helps" or "good food costs less at..." Nevertheless, the loss is a crippling blow to BDH\TBWA and a huge boon to the booming DLKW. The ultimate insult for BDH\TBWA is that its work will stun run at Christmas, because somehow four months isn't enough time to get a new campaign out in the Neanderthal world of UK advertising.
IF WE'RE honest, we are all fascinated by the phenomenon of failing upwards. In advertising, as in many other industries, there are individuals who appear to have done nothing but make an absolute balls-up of the job for which they have been paid an inordinately high salary, only to be fired and walk away with what to most people is a small fortune.
To many Charles Allen, the ITV chief executive who resigned last week, has become the new poster child for the golden handshake generation - not least because almost none of us chooses still to remember Sven Goran Eriksson. Walking away with £10 million or whatever else he gets at a time when audiences look to be slipping away inexorably does not look very clever on paper.
But make no mistake, whoever gets the job - be it Andy Duncan, Stephen Carter or David O'Leary - will have one of the biggest battles in British media ahead of them. For ITV is the ultimate symbol of the UK media industry pre-digital revolution, when monopolistic dinosaurs still ruled the airwaves.
Whether Friends Reunited is the answer to ITV's digital needs or not I am not sure at all. Certainly ITV2 and 3 and the other digital channels will continue to grow, but - obviously - there is a long way to go. I don't feel entirely qualified to comment on whether it's a good or bad idea to farm out all production - although I do know that it surely cannot risk another broadcaster outbidding it for Coronation Street or Emmerdale.
At root, though, ITV's problems seem far deeper than not keeping up with the digital world. It appears to have disconnected itself from the taste of the great British public. If I knew exactly what that taste was I would be a very rich man and not writing this column, but I think it is safe to say it is not Love Island featuring "celebrities" such as Gazza's stepdaughter.
Just as I argue consistently against the ever greater restrictions on advertising creativity in the UK that lead to ever more bland and therefore less impactive and engaging ads, this is a plea to ITV to rethink its programme strategy away from the safe, the lame, the intentionally lowest common denominator. It is a strategy it seems to believe is commercial, but is actually turning out to be the inverse.
It's a time for ITV to be brave, both on a macro and micro level; a time for it to challenge some of the perceived wisdoms about its brand. Top of that list is the notion that bland or crass programming equals mass ratings. How about some quality documentaries, some brave comedy? Why shouldn't the chattering classes watch its programming?
Channel 4 and to some degree Five have done a great job at expanding beyond their original niche positionings. The trouble with ITV's view of what constitutes mass-audience programming advertisers and viewers alike find attractive is that the taste of whoever is commissioning it is being found to be niche. That's not niche in a good way, that is to say attractive to a particular high-spending demographic, but niche in a bad way: unpopular with the desired audience. A revolution is needed.
REMEMBER AS long ago as last week when I wrote of marketers being far too quick to throw away the great slogans and characters that made their brands what they were in the first place? This week came the news that Big Bear, the management buy-in team that now owns Sugar Puffs, is to seek a new agency, but whichever agency it uses will bring back the iconic "Honey Monster". Soon afterwards, RHM appointed McCann Erickson to handle its household favourite Mr Kipling cakes brand. Whatever McCann does with the opportunity, there is one thing it absolutely should do - use the catchphrase that everyone in the UK has been able to recite since J Walter Thompson came up with it in the 1970s: "because Mr Kipling does make exceedingly good cakes". Like many of you, in an innocent pre-Entemann's era I used to be able to judge the claim. Then I discovered the Patisserie Valerie.
FOR THE record, I have long been a Madonna admirer, and the one time I saw her at Wembley Stadium (in her conical bra) was one my favourite gigs ever. However, her link-up with H&M is just horrible. Now I have actually heard the radio campaign it's even worse than the idea sounded in the first place. "What does H&M stand for?" asks the voiceover. "Her majesty" replies her Madgesty, before going on to implore us "let's get together" in a flat, monotone voice reminiscent of her performance in Swept Away. Lord knows what most teenage H&M shoppers will make of it. I think I already know what Lily Allen thinks. I am sure it's still a great gig though.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your favourite cake recipes.
HATFIELD'S BEST IN SHOW
Right now, it appears pretty much everything Kate Moss touches turns to gold. Although a Virgin Mobile commercial remains the only place in which I can recall hearing her speak, there are increasing signs that the Moss phenomenon stops for no one. Her new campaign for Calvin Klein jeans is a case in point. It is effortlessly cool. Naked from the waist up, she and the actor and rumoured boyfriend Jamie Dornan press into each other and generally look on the verge of mischief. For once no one will be wondering about how thin Moss is in her spray-on jeans. Instead, the focus will be on the ease with which Moss has dealt with a press focus that could have killed off many a lesser personality. Oh, and how hot she makes Calvin Klein jeans appear. The ever-so-simple art direction device of showing us the editor-like circling of the frame on the photographers film is not exactly a new idea, but it gives this shoot warmth and cool.... Or rather, even more cool.
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