Am offf to Cannes tomorrow for the 2007 Cannes international advertising awards and conferences. I have been asked by Adweek to write a daily blog entry (never thought of myself as a dirarist). You can catch it all on LeFreaque! Zoot Alhors! Here is my first entry....
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Am leaving for Cannes on Wednesday night with my Frog colleague Kerry Quinn. Looking forward to the ruckus. Was supposed to be there today, but we made the final of a rather exciting pitch that culminates tomorrow at high noon. The anticipation of it all has inspired me for the last few yards to the pitch finish line. The dash to the airport. The old friends, new friends, the work, the meetings, the bar of great gutters. All rather fun and very inspiring—in small doses, of course.
Last year as a member of the Titanium jury, I was whisked here and there, had my personal door opener, valet parking service. This year I’m a pack rat, and rather looking forward to it. All the stress and pressure of judging ... I’m actually looking forward to putting my feet up and enjoying it all.
I most look forward to:
1) The globality of it all. Hanging out with great talent from Tokyo to Toronto, from Sweden, Holland, Brazil, Mongololia, New Zealand, Russia, India. This is the true greatness of Cannes. Much like the thrill of the global family coming together at the Olympics.
2) Seeing a ton of work. There’s nowhere else on the planet where you can peruse warehouse loads of category work. You work on shoes? Well, the shoe industry will run 793 TV spots from around the world at 1 p.m. You do digital work for cars? Salon H from 7 a.m. until midnight.
It was reported yesterday that Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo, will take over from CEO Terry Semel. A lot is being discussed on this happening. Loved Jon Fine's blog in Businessweek. On a much smaller scale, as founder of StrawberryFrog I can empathize with Yang. It is not always easy to sit on the sidelines and let someone take over an organically growing entity. Although that’s exactly what one must do. Delegation is difficult but it’s HUGELY important for growth. Throughout history this is a most profound challenge. It was only ten years ago that Steve Jobs, took back control from Apple, which had been led by marketing executives into a $13, a share downward spiral. Vision and execution go hand in hand. Inspiration and getting it done. One without the other doesn’t work. But when they do it’s magical.
Who would have thought that some of the cosmetics you use on a daily basis are dangerous to your health. Or worse to your children's health. In the flat earth society, where a world of infinite information is available to all, here is a good example of how this is working in practice. Skin Deep is a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products brought to you by researchers at the Environmental Working Group. Who is the Environmental Working Group? Upon further digging I found that they are an independent not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers make informed decisions about their products. Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recently launched its Skin Deep website, the only online source for assessing and comparing the safety of personal care products. Skin Deep generates more than 1 million unique page visits a month and provides highly sophisticated safety reviews. The site evaluates the safety of nearly one-fourth of all personal care products on the market.
Skin Deep pairs ingredients in nearly 25,000 products against 50 definitive toxicity and regulatory databases, making it the largest integrated data resource of its kind. Why did a small nonprofit take on such a big project? Because the FDA doesn't require companies to test their own products for safety.
Strategy magazine just released their 2007 Cannes issue, featuring Vic Bertrand, CEO of Mega Brands on its Cover as one of the best and brightest new marketers of the year. The article focuses on Mega Brand's recent successes as a direct result of the brand strategy and creative work created and led by the Mega team at StrawberryFrog.
David Kiley, the Buisnessweek journalist who covers the automotive industry writes a blog regularly. He captures a lot of the developments of the car business as they happen or are about to happen. It's certainly worth a regular read. Here is his latest piece.
The shake up at Ford is underway. Ford North America president Mark Fields and Ford ad director Barry Engle are opening up its advertising assignments, with the struggling automaker seeking a new ad agency to come up with some ideas for pushing the 2008 Focus. Ford’s long-time ad agency, J. Walter Thompson (JWT), retains Ford’s ad account and is being given a chance to pitch for the business.
But Ford is clearly testing the waters for some new creative juice and thinking about the struggling Ford brand. Word is that there are two agencies—both owned by JWT parent WPP—vying for the assignment. I know WPP offers Ford a set price for its work. And, yes, I know that Ford has to watch its pennies. But if I were Mark Fields, sales and marketing chief Cisco Codina or Ford ad chief Barry Engle, I’d be looking outside WPP at New York agencies StrawberryFrog, Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, Mother, Anomaly, as well as The Martin Agency of Richmond and perhaps Fallon Worldwide of Minneapolis.
The 2008 Focus is an important vehicle for Ford. The current Focus is a heavily rebated under-appreciated budget sub-compact. Its reputation in the U.S. was severely damaged between 1999 and 2004 when it had numerous well publicized recalls. Quality has improved greatly, but Ford still hasn’t been able to rehab the car’s image despite he fact that it was on Car & Driver’s Top Ten list several years in a row.
The Focus, despite its early critical success, has also been the victim of Ford neglect. When the automaker launched a new Focus in Europe, it carried over the old model in the U.S. with cosmetic improvements because the models’ poor rep for quality wouldn’t allow Ford to charge enough to cover the costs of a new design. As it is, Ford loses around $3,000 a car because of heavy discounting and high-cost manufacturing in Michigan. So, the media, which hailed the new European Focus has constantly reminded readers that the U.S. was getting sloppy seconds. I couldn’t help but grimace (since I am a fan of the current Focus as a great value proposition) as I heard Car and Driver’s Mark Gillies at the Detroit Auto Show bad-mouth the Focus to a group he was leading around the show floor. I thought: “C’mon dude. The car is $12,000 out the door.” I know what Mark was getting at. The Focus was a good thing when it came out, and it shouldn't have to saved nine years later. It should be thriving like Honda Civic.
The real worry for Ford is that the new Focus design caught nothing but bad buzz at that auto show among the press corp. It will be offered only as a four door and two-door coupe. Ford has reduced the manufacturing complexity to lower costs in the hopes of making a profit on each car. The current Focus comes in a four door sedan, four door hatch and two-door hatch. The four-door wagon was already killed off.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is a design engineer by training, nevertheless has some strong opinions about marketing and the Ford brand. Having come from Boeing last September, he has absolutely no reason to be loyal to JWT nor does he have any interest in protecting the agency politically. All he is interested in is moving the needle on sales and building up the brand. he is relentless about investing in every facet of the Ford brand globally.
JWT is part of WPP Group plc. JWT recently joined with other WPP agencies Y&R (Lincoln and Mercury) and Ogilvy & Mather (corporate advertising) and other WPP vendors working for Ford in new office space on the other side of the Southfield Freeway from Ford headquarters. If JWT doesn’t retain the Focus assignment, it will be a blow to its stature and pride. If I were them, I’d be pulling out the creative stops to knock Mulally and Co. off their feet with ideas.
It won’t be easy with a design that has already been graded “M” for Mediocre. The two things the Focus has going for it in the 2008 version is the availability of Sync, the telematics system that Ford developed with Microsoft and Nuance Communications that, among other things, reads text messages to the driver through the car stereo, as well as fuel economy that reaches around 37 mpg on the highway. Both features should be of great interest to buyers under 30.
Ford has been very much a company with an “agency of record.” And JWT has been doing some very effective work n the last year—the Fusion Challenge campaign and current ads for the Ford Expedition to name two efforts. But companies are realizing that a very effective tool in creative marketing management is to invite other agencies to pitch a single product or campaign as a way of pressuring an agency or shopping for a new one.
A mighty good question. The answer currently lies with the management team. Not an easy choice by any means. Many a top marketing maverick has tossed their hat into the ring. The yardstick against which we are measuring the right candidate is: are they modern thinkers? Do they stand for strategic and creative excellence? Are they action-oriented and have a reputation for delivering the most effective and best work for a select group of clients? The search is on!
When it comes to building a company where talent thrives, I've been a long believer that actions speak louder than words. Sure there are ways to make people happy, such as boni, raises and higher titles and like other responsible firms we do this. But more than that, it comes down to details like creating an environment where people feel that they can make a difference. This does not mean anarchy or a lord of the flies’ kind of office setting, it simply means as the captain of the ship, to believe in talent and add inputs to build and focus talent further. What more is wonderful and inspiring? At the Frog we spent the first 6 years not entering any award shows and instead putting all that investment back into staff, doing annual agency trips to the world's most inspiring destinations for team building, a Frog Conference for education and for inspiration, to spend time with other members of the Pond who you normally don't meet on a daily basis. Below are some of the places we've been. Istanbul, Iceland, Marrakech.
I was going over some pictures of our first few weeks in business in the US, which will be three years next February 2008. Time sure moves fast. Here are some images from our first office on 14th and 9th ave in the Meat Packing District, prior to our new offices on Madison and 27th street.
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Today fans are a buzz about the last episode of the Sopranos. Now what? Next up is Mad Men, an original new TV series by the Executive Producer and Writer of the Sopranos, Matthew Weiner and Lionsgate. Radical Media founder Jon Kamen worked with them on the pilot episode. Mad Men is Hollywood's vision of the ad biz. It all starts soon on AMC. Weiner has the writing skill, Lionsgate have the acumen and good judgement, and Kamen certainly has the stories, having produced some of history's best TV campaigns.
I had the fortune of seeing a preview of the show and it's utterly BRILLANT. I loved it. Its about our industry, but told through a period piece from the 50s and 60s when working in the ad biz was hot, when the words 'Madison Ave' alone made CEOs shutter. And when an independent agency started by Bernbach sparked a creative renaissance.
What's noteworthy about this series isn't that its coming on the heels of the last season of the Sopranos, but that it comes at a time when the US ad industry is going through the kind of revolutiuonary renaissance that hasn't been seen since the 60s. Beforehand I anticipated a cooler version of 30-something; afterwards I realized that this is really a show about today, and a bigger statement about how far our industry can go now.
When we started StrawberryFrog eight years ago we did so because we felt that we could challenge the domination and control of the advertising industry by the huge corporate agency dinosaurs. Because the net had created parity, technology meant we could compete with the big boys.
As a result, we created a space that makes better work. The agency operates as a tightly knit egalitarian unit. The Frogs are blessed with a steely resolve and sharp perception of the advertising profession, it's almost as if being part of StrawberryFrog is like being part of a ideological movement. The Frogs commitment is absolute, and the team’s endorsement of the frogs quirky but persuasive manifesto is self-assured. Its certainly allowed us to step out of line to set the pace against the big corporate dinosaurs which are simply too big and slow to keep up with the revolution at hand in our industry.
If someone starts something special it creates the space for a lot of other people to think 'if they are doing it, we must do it too, otherwise we'll get left behind'. Then everyone starts running. If everyone is making traditional stuff in traditional ways and then suddenly one company starts to create innovative work, it opens up the whole market to better advertising.
And in the adworld with so many big established agencies trying desperately to evolve, many very good talents have left the traditional agencies or they have been let go...and these Mad Men (and woman) are starting new agencies like BDM, Brew, Stick and Move, and the brightest star on the horizon Persuasion Arts and Sciences, which doesn't only do excellent TV and print, but is dedicated to inventive use of media, plus holding-company owned smaller shops like Zig and Cutwater. There are many many more start ups in New York, LA, Chicago, LA and SF. And across the country.
All of this fuels the new renaissance.
The culture and workspace in our New York and Amsterdam FrogPonds have a lot to do with creating innovative work.
In New York, we have sixty frogs working in a big penthouse loft sitting all together in a bright light basketball-like space, which means we can work with a lot of motivation, inspiration and knowledge. Everyone knows and appreciates each other's work, so if anyone is called away, another frog steps in and keeps the system going. It lets us work on many more accounts than an agency this size would typically have and I dare say without losing innovation or creativity. We built the agency around the open room principle, the "open space" principle for speed; friendship, agility - momentum - and all the necessary things that help Frog make things happen. 2008 will all be about competition, everyone is having to run faster, be more inventive, and the clients know it. So they are increasingly looking for agencies in the outside lane. What we've done may sound edgy but its is actually the complete opposite. It’s totally user friendly and effective. Clients join our team and they work together with us. It gets results but we also have a lot of fun.