Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

The Honda journey that has opened up a new world of opportunities
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The Independent Online

How many times over the past couple of years has a client called on Wieden & Kennedy, I wonder, and asked "can I have a Honda please?" In this regard advertising's not that different from Hollywood where imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's a great problem to have. Everyone loves the agency's work on Honda - from "cog" to "grr", "choir" to "impossible dream". It's only natural that other clients would want a little piece of the agency behind the biggest brand transformation of recent years.

In this respect Honda is to Wieden & Kennedy what in the past Levi's has been to BBH, British Airways was to the Saatchi brothers, and Tango was - perhaps most obviously of all - to HHCL. Today, perhaps clients across Soho are knocking on Fallon's door and asking for a Sony "balls". Of course the last thing an agency ever wants to do is repeat its greatest success. Always wanting to move on is in the DNA of the best agencies - or at least it should be. But, in the manner of the audience at the Madonna show wanting old favourites "Papa Don't Preach" or "Vogue", the fans want more of the thing that made a splash in the first place.

Whatever their motivation, it is then no surprise that in the past week both Lurpak and The Guardian have appointed the agency to their lucrative accounts - in both cases after highly competitive pitches. In the case of Lurpak, the incumbent re-pitched, in the other, The Guardian, it declined to. In both scenarios the end result was Wieden & Kennedy picking up accounts that had previously belonged to DDB London. This is yet more worrying news for DDB, still to recover from the departure of chief executive Paul Hammersley to the Red Brick Road last year.

It's a sign of the growing mountain that new boss Stephen Woodford must climb. It looks increasingly likely that an good old-fashioned agency acquisition may have to be on the cards to effect a turnaround. While the whole situation's a major worry for DDB, then the failure of the Red Brick Road to win The Guardian will be a comparative minor irritant for the agency; if slightly more than that to Hammersley himself.

Winning The Guardian would have helped to take the focus off Sir Frank Lowe's contacts in the agency's hierarchy. Lowe can be viewed as the ultimate keeper of the relationships by which the Tesco and Heineken accounts were won. As I have argued consistently in this space, I see no problem with that. Would you choose to work with people you don't know when you can work with talent you can trust?

Wieden itself was slow to catch fire in the UK marketplace after launching in 1999. It only really got going when Amy Lawson (Smith) became managing director and when Tony Davidson found his stride as creative director. Now, Lurpak and The Guardian join such clients as Nike, Pizza Hut and Yakult in addition to Honda. Its work is rarely less than interesting.

Currently its "run London" campaign for Nike, pitting North v South in London, is a fascinating example of work that transcends traditional media. Both new clients appear to be pregnant with creative potential, although I still miss Douglas, the animated trumpeter, who was the star of Lurpak ads for two decades. Redefining a butter brand like Lurpak in a health-conscious age will be fascinating.

The Guardian is a slightly different case - although it too needs redefining in the internet age, as do most newspapers. The brand has long been associated with top-class creative work, it also has a marketing director in Marc Sands who is keen on making a name for himself personally - which is either a blessing or a curse. I just hope Sands remembers, like his colleague at Lurpak's parent Arla, that even Honda hasn't done another Honda. The trick to W & K's campaign is that it is constantly re-invented. And that's a really hard thing to do in advertising. You wouldn't bet against W & K achieving it though. The agency really is on a roll.

* HOW REASSURING it is to see Richard Hytner promoted to deputy chairman worldwide for Saatchi & Saatchi. It's proof that nice guys still can make it to the top in global advertising. I've known Hytner for ever and a day, way beyond his Publicis days back to Still Price Court Twivy d'Souza (you see, younger readers, agency names have always been daft). He is notable both for his calm intelligence and a transparent humanity. He left the agency world once to go and run the Henley Centre for Sir Martin Sorrell, but - like his contemporary, BBDO's William Eccleshare, who decamped to McKinsey - he missed advertising too much. Hytner also does a great line in self-deprecating humour, which will be refreshing in an agency run by Kevin Roberts and Lee Daley.

* PROOF THAT WCRS goes sailing serenely on post-Stephen Woodford. Again, it pulls a big account win out the bag just when it needed it. In this case it was the Littlewoods catalogue business after a review instigated when Littlewoods decided to pull out of the high street - which is why you see all those former stores being turned into Primarks. I can see this client and agency working well together but it will be a hell of a challenge for WCRS to take the brand upmarket. Selling off the retail chain to Primark will have helped, but the Littlewoods campaign has to be truly larger than life.

* IT GIVES me no great pleasure to be proved right when an agency loses an account. However, the news that the InBev brewer was to seek fresh ideas on its Becks brand is unsurprising. Its latest campaign of animated figures dancing to life was described by me at the time as one of the clearest examples in recent times of an ad where the strategic planning that lay behind the commercial was clunkily evident on our television screens. It was never going to be the solution to Becks' image issues. And so it has proved. Inevitable then that the client has switched its account out of Leo Burnett.

* INTERESTING TO see that the new Tesco/Red Brick Road relationship has continued exactly where the old Lowe partnership ended: with a celebrity-laden commercial. The new campaign behind Tesco's attempts to persuade us to use fewer of its plastic bags contains a familiar bunch of celebs: Alan Whicker, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett, Frankie Dettori and more. I don't know about the behind-the-scenes activity, but in the public eye, the transfer of the account is more seamless than - say - British Airways has proved to be thus far. Are we to detect the familiar hand of Alan Cluer, celebrity Mr Fixit extraordinaire at work here?

* GREAT NEWS for Hoff fans. The former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff's agent has been regaling all and sundry this past week with the suggestion that he fixed a top-dollar deal with internet service provider Pipex to have big Dave front its new ad campaign, only to find that the script contained a reference to "the Hoff", not the more prosaic Hasselhoff. This of course acknowledged the hairy genius's new-found cult status and apocryphal reputation as the most talked about old-timer online. Apparently the agent re-negotiated the deal upwards as a result. I want that agent - the next Alan Cluer?

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I know that this is not exactly a new campaign - actually it's off-air, by definition. But the Army's campaign, featuring its soldiers' real-time attempt to climb Mount Everest and its other advertising, has been credited by the Army itself as one of the reasons that it is actually ahead of its recruitment targets for the year for the first time in ages - 10 per cent up on last year! This, at a time of a war that doesn't have mass popular support, when British soldiers are being killed regularly in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Publicis, the agency behind the campaign, deserves credit. So does the Army's marketing team. It has consistently signed off on some of the most arresting and engaging advertising in the UK.