Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wal-Scam

Seconds out, round two. The whole $580m (£295m) Wal-Mart review has made fascinating reading and they're off again.

We haven't been following the Wal-Mart story on this side of the Atlantic with anything like as much detail, but because the retail giant kicks off its second review of its $580m advertising account it’s probably worth recapping.

In late October, Wal-Mart appointed Interpublic Group's DraftFCB and Aegis Group's Carat USA to handle its $580m advertising and media account accounts respectively.

That appointment was a major blow to long-time incumbent Omnicom Group agency GSD&M, not to mention the other shops involved in the pitch such as WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi.

Wal-Mart had already eliminated a further five agencies, including another incumbent, Bernstein-Rein, which is based in Kansas City and had worked for the retailer for 32 years.

Early on in the review, Julie Roehm, vice-president of marketing communications at Wal-Mart Stores, indicated there would be a change in direction for Wal-Mart and a move upmarket.

None of it was sounding very Wal-Mart like. Not surprising really, Roehm had joined from DaimlerChrysler where among other things she had been responsible for the 'Lingerie Bowl'.

Do you remember that sexist twaddle where models in underwear played American football. It stunk up the place and sponsor Dodge pulled out of the event.

Roehm just wasn't Wal-Mart. Anyway, she went ahead and appointed Draft FC, which should have been the end of it except she got fired, the agency sacked and the review started over.

Not only did it start over, but with the same search agency running the show - Select Resources International.

Roehm has been described elsewhere as being about fast cars, sex and rock and roll to, which just doesn't stack up to the Wal-Mart family values and station wagon way of life.

Now she has gone there are allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a junior colleague and funny goings on with DraftFCB, which was fired before it even began work.

There was talk of a famous lunch at Nobu with DraftFCB, which reads like a celebratory dinner -- except it was a month before the agency was officially awarded the account. The dinner is said to have ended with Roehm sitting on someone's lap, but I'm sure that kind of thing always happens at Nobu. Then there's reports of Julie riding in DraftFCB founder Howard Draft's Aston Martin, which I'm sure is very nice and only shows what a generous chap Mr Draft is.

There's much more to read on this on various US blogs and George Parker over at AdScam has done more than most. He's going to be blogging on Brand Republic in the New Year so get a taste now.

"The deja vue, Wal-Scam agency revue to take place in January, will be run by the same consultancy, Select Resources International, as last time, who will invite the same agency's (Minus Howard's mob, of course) to repitch... To which I have ask... Why... Why... Why? As I have said in previous posts, just pick whoever came in second last time, or leave it with Bernstein-Rein and GSD&M, the incumbents. What is the point of going through that shit again? If I was O&M, or the Martin Agency, or GSD&M, I would just say, you've seen what we considered to be the best we could do for you, so just make up your mind. Yeah, fucking right! Do you think for one minute that is going to happen? Whoever is working on the pitch at those three shops, and because of its size, that will be hundreds, can kiss Christmas and New Year goodbye..."

George also has a book out called MadScam and it seems only fair to plug it. Someone has done a very favourable review of it on Youtube, so take alook.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

La La la Al-Jazeera

It's all Israel's fault. Yes all of it, says Al-Jazeera's editor-in-chief.

Here is an interview by Pierre Heumann of the Swiss newspaper Die Weltwoche with Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief, Ahmed Sheikh, in which he explains the root cause of the Middle East's problems:

How do you see the future of this region in which news of wars, dictators and poverty predominates?

The future here looks very bleak.

Can you explain what you mean by that?

By bleak I mean something like "dark." I've advised my thirty year old son, who lives in Jordan, that he should leave the region. Just this morning I spoke with him about it. He has a son and we spoke about his son's education. I'd like my grandson to go to a trilingual private school. The public schools are bad. He should learn English, German, and French -- Spanish would also be important. But the private schools are very expensive. That's why I told my son to emigrate to the West for the sake of my grandson.

You sound bitter.

Yes, I am.

At whom are you angry?

It's not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. I don't understand why we don't develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. We have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! When a President can stay in power for 25 years, like in Egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. Either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. But the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion.

Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

So, now you understand.

This post originally appeared on Harry's Place.

Blake revival

First the BBC did 'Doctor Who', now someone is having ago at another cult SF drama 'Blake's 7'.

Just like 'Doctor Who' with its paper and plastic sets and quite scary aliens, 'Blake's 7' flew across the galaxy fighting for freedom in quite a nice looking ship. Now they're coming back.

First as a radio series and then as a TV show. The production company behind the show, B7 Productions, is doing a bit of a 'Battlestar Galactica' (but without the budget or network backing) and reimagining the show from the start.

All the old characters are back, voiced by new actors. Best of all is Daniela Nardini, Anna from 'This Life', who will play Supreme Commander Servalan. The sexiest and baddest woman in the galaxy what with her jet black short spiky hair and penchant for wanting to kill everyone who stood in the way of her typically diabolical plans. Nardini is perfect for it.

When they do film it, she gets my vote for that role (you know if I had a vote).

Also on board is someone called Derek Riddell, who has been in 'No Angels' and 'Doctor Who', as rebel leader Blake and the other prize role, that of cold-hearted killer Avon with a great line in sarcasm and icy one liners, is played by Colin Salmon who starred in Pierce Brosnan movies as a MI6 agent and had roles in action flicks such as 'Alien vs. Predator' and 'Resident Evil'.

It will initially run as a series of all-new 36 x five-minute audio dramas based on the original cult series broadcast on the BBC in the 1970s, with a special extended CD edition released for retail the month following broadcast.

In the original series, which ran 1978-1981, Terry Nation (who also wrote much of 'Doctor Who' - but had nothing to do with 'Torchwood'...talking of which is back for a second season, according to the BBC) gave us the world a vision of the future, a future where the galaxy is ruled by the iron fist of a galactic federation where citizens are drugged and where freedom and justice are things of the past. Enter our band of freedom fighters and outlaws. A magnificent seven in space onboard a ship called Liberator.

The much-anticipated, live-action revival of the 'Blake’s 7' is in the pipeline, but there are no details yet.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sky Lost

Sky seems to be losing 'Lost' viewers faster than you can say difficult third season.

According to the overnight figures the BBC's not that good really 'Torchwood' is now managing to beat 'Lost' now that it has moved to Sky.

'Torchwood' was watched by 971,000 viewers on BBC Three in its 10pm slot, which up from last week's 958,000, I've seen a couple and really not so impressed. I've been to Cardiff and really aerial shots don't help. And why are they're only four of them, I know budgets are tight but four slightly annoying people and one care seems a little tight.

As for 'Lost' it is down to considerably less than 1m viewers and only pulled in 863,000 viewers on Sunday. Not so good.

Since the move from Channel 4 to Sky One there has been a steady decline for the cult show whose lack of plot movement is painful. Its first outing on attracted 1.4m viewers, compared with the average 2.8m that tuned in to follow the fortunes and mysterious plotlines of the survivors of Oceanic Airlines flight 815.

Obviously a lot of people have stopped watching and I'm one of them. One of the problems is the scheduling. Sky airs it and then repeats it later in the week at ten whereas E4 would air 'Lost' at on Sundays as part of its Second Chance Sunday or you could always catch it on C4 around sixish. It just seemed to work better on Channel 4.

After paying all that money to buy 'Lost' could at least sort the scheduling out.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Grey day

Say it ain't so: Ed Meyer, Grey's 'benign dictator', is off. I can hardly believe it.

We'd come to believe in this office that Ed would never go. We had many theories about the one nicked named "he who walks at night", which is surely the only explanation to account for his longevity.

He retires after 50 years in the industry and 36 running Grey, which is an incredible achievement.

According to Campaign, an official announcement on his departure is due before, Christmas, possibly one saying that he will only stay for another 20 years...or leave in April. People always seem to go in the spring.

Meyer will be 80 in January and is still in the office everyday, kind of like the Queen, but you know, different.

Who knows why he stayed so long. It was only recently that Meyer netted £105m from sale of WPP shares two days after the Grey the merger completed.

He must literally have pots of money lying around but has no time to spend it. I mean no time because he spends his entire life in the office. Clearly the rest of his time is devoted to walking those New York streets with a huge cape. Okay, he might not actually do that, but apparently you can't libel the living dead, so really that should be okay. Come on, it can't just be us who have come up with the theory that he is a member of the family that only walks at night.

It isn’t just the £105m swelling his back pocket, but the salary of $3.65m he picks up each year. This is on top of the $500m he picked up with the deal with WPP was first done.

Sir Martin Sorrell and Meyer have been said to not be the chummiest. You can maybe see why. Meyer makes the famous workaholic Sir Martin look, well, slightly less workaholic. Maybe they share tips about how to evade doing anything in life that does not relate to building a large, successful business.

The prince of darkness of the agency world as we also like to think of Ed is said to have ruled Grey with an iron authority and he only sold out at the last minute – being 78 when he signed the deal with Sorrell.

But this isn’t even the end of the Ed Meyer story. Despite "retiring", he has a clause in his contract entitling him to office accommodation, support staff and expenses for five years after his retirement.

So in five years time, expect to be reading again that Ed is leaving the building. Maybe even for good.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Veiled Christmas

Channel 4 is taking the veil for Christmas and it strikes me as a stunt.

The decision to host a potentially controversial alternative Christmas message featuring a fully veiled Muslim woman has grabbed dozens of headlines this morning, as you would expect.

The broadcaster said it would screen a 10-minute Christmas Day message from Khadija, a Zimbabwean-born lecturer in Islamic studies who is now a British national and who has worn the niqab for 10 years.

I was going to make a joke at this point at nobody is going to be able to hear her, but that would be plain wrong, so obviously I will do no such thing.

Khadija is going to reflect on differences between western and Muslim culture over the last 12 months, including the debate about wearing the niqab in the UK, the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed published in the Danish press and comments made by the Pope.

That's all well and good and a debate to be had, but putting someone up in a niqab appears to me as a cynical move that will see the content of the message and debate washed away by the furore and headlines it will create about the wearing of full-body religious armour.

Channel 4 has chosen the best person to discuss the issues of the last year, just a controversial image on the back of the trouble stirred up by Jack Straw earlier this year when he said it hindered communications and Muslim teacher in Dewsbury, who lost her industrial tribunal. We have no idea who the person is, I suspect no one knows her from Adam and she'll quickly return to obscurity after the fact.

Being generous, you can see where they might have been going with all this by choosing a controversial candidate for the Christmas message, but you only have to look at others it has chosen in the past, such as Sharon Osbourne, 'The Simpsons' and Sasha Cohen's Ali G, to know what is at the root of Channel 4's thinking: publicity innit?

In announcing the decision, Channel 4 said: "The right to wear religious symbols from niqabs to crucifixes, remarks made by the Pope about Islam and the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed have all generated a debate about multiculturalism, secularism and integration.

"A debate in which British Muslims have played a key role and one that will shape the future of British society."

The 'Alternative Christmas Message' will be broadcast at 3pm on Christmas Day, when ITV and the BBC show the Queen's Christmas address to the nation.

Not even the Muslim Council of Britain is impressed. All it was saying was. "It is not worthy of comment."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Viagra kids

US doctors think kids are seeing too many ads for Viagra, among other things.

No, seriously. A report on Reuters says children should be exposed to fewer television ads for anti-impotence drugs and more for birth control.

Who would have thunk it?

Having just sat through the long-running junk food ads debate in the UK, which has finally reached some sort of conclusion with tough restrictions (rightly) imposed on the purveyors of junk food, it’s strange reading about something like this on the other side of the Atlantic.

I know anti-impotence drugs like Viagra are advertised on US TV, but when on earth do they show them that children get to see them. Sensibly a pediatricians group is calling for erectile dysfunction drug ads not be shown until after 10pm, when fewer children are watching television.

It makes you wonder what kind of impact that kind of message could have on kids. Talk about extra anxiety. It's all very odd and its raises an interesting point about as to whether children should not only be shielded from the likes of junk food ads, but from advertising more generally.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for limits to children's television viewing and access to the internet, as well as restrictions on how alcoholic beverage makers promote their products. All sounds sensible on the basis that inappropriate advertising contributes to many children's ills, from obesity to anorexia and to drinking too much alcohol.


"If we taught kids media literacy, you can essentially immunise kids against advertising,”"said Dr Victor C Strasburger, a pediatrician at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the lead author of the statement.

Monday, December 04, 2006

800lb gorilla

James Murdoch seems to want it all ways. Complains about the BBC, but wants us to believe that BSkyB's investment in ITV is somehow honest.

On Friday, Murdoch junior, the Sky chief executive, accused the BBC of “megalomania” among other things.

In a speech in London, Murdoch laid into the BBC and said its digital ambitions smacked of megalomania, referring to what he said were its ambitions to create a British Google funded at the taxpayers' expense.

"Indeed, the UK's main state broadcasting agency, the BBC, famously fantasises about creating a 'British Google' -- and wants the taxpayer to fund it. This is not public service; it's megalomania," he said.

The words pot, kettle and black clearly mean nothing to Murdoch. He wants it all ways.

If the competition is, well, up to competing against the global might of News Corp then it must be stopped... competition such as the BBC, which is one of the few British media brands seen to have a global reach, or a merged ITV and NTL.

BSkyB spent £1bn breaking up that merger and seems to have got away with it.

Rupert Murdoch snapped up a 17.9% stake in ITV, effectively derailing NTL's £5bn merger bid for the commercial broadcaster. The move is currently being investigated by Ofcom, but I don't see any thing happening.

On Five Live last night with Jeff Randall, James Murdoch was explaining BSkyB's investment in ITV with lots of talk about being in it for the "long term" and seeing "value" in the business.

He hinted at why it was really done, by saying the "dynamics of the market around ITV played a part in creating the opportunity for us” before stressing "the reason we did it was very straightforward; that we see a lot of long-term value in ITV”.

Little of it rings true. Everyone knows that it did it to frustrate the competition, to unsettle the market, and its long-term am is to continue to frustrate anyone else who might want to buy ITV (such as European player and Five owner RTL) and create a credible commercial rival to Sky's 800lb bully of a gorilla.

BSkyB might have already lost a pile of money on the deal (it bought high at 135p and shares are now at 110p), but that is worth it to control the market in the way it does.

Of course no one is going to say that, because then there really would be an outcry and an investigation, but in the meantime it’s business as usual for the Murdochs, the regulators and the government.