Let them eat cake!

And so Publicis and Omnicom have joined forces, which, I suppose, is a cool way of putting it. But whatever they did they did it and like any marriage it is for better and for worse. Only time will tell.

Time will also bring us more of the same. To wit: For all their current blather about being right sized the other now-conspicuously smaller marketing driven holding companies will undoubtedly conspire, eventually, whether they like it or not. That is the only possible outcome when growth is your mandate. And in the modern, Western way of doing things (especially business), growth is always the mandate.

Precedents are manifest. After all was not Omnicom once a collection of smaller agencies? Likewise Publicis, Havas and Interpublic. Merger upon acquisition upon takeover. Agencies have been gobbling each other up for decades now. And what do we make of Sir Martin’s WPP? Everyone in Adland loves to debunk him but here we are imitating his strategy. Publicis Omnicom Groupe is but a continuation of growth at all costs.

sir martin sorrell
“Join me!”

Despite all the obvious, negative evidence (can you say cancer?) “growth” is considered equal to great. Even being eaten alive is considered a positive event. And not just for the eaters but the consumed bodies as well. Here, in Silicon Valley, the great wish of all start-ups is to be bought. It’s the same with big, old-fashioned businesses. Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter. JP Morgan Chase. Think about Kraft, General Foods, GE, Wrigley. We can name many more. They are all a collection of other companies, some not related at all. Last I checked, Wilson Sporting Goods was owned by Sara Lee. Cheese cake and tennis rackets?

Who cares? It’s growth.

Playing the devil’s advocate I must recognize the beauty of “coming together as one.” Isn’t that the promise of One World? It takes a village, right? Maybe if Israel and the Arab nations came together that age-old war would finally be over. What’s that bumper sticker say: COEXIST. “Can’t we all get along?”

You scoff. Hell, I scoff. I don’t believe in arranged marriages. They might “work” but they don’t hum. Ask FCB and Draft.


Forced togetherness doesn’t hum because it denies cultural identity –at the individual level and at the group level. Tribes do not want to be taken over in the name of manifest destiny. The only ones who (sometimes) profit are the tribal chiefs (shareholders), and when they are over and done with all that remains is the result: a big tumorous entity. Perhaps the most telling example of forced togetherness is the European Union. Has that merger worked? Maybe someday. But right now it’s something between “working” and a clusterfuck.

Mon dieu, work is sooooo boring.

You’ve got to love the French. The nation known for wine, women and song is going bonkers over the prospect of having to work for a living. Mass strikes. Angry picketing. Fuel blockades. The way they’re carrying on over President Sarkozy’s referendum (just passed) to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age, you’d think the Nazis were again marching up the Champs Elysees. (One wonders, where were they the first time?) Sarkozy needs this referendum to save considerable money that would otherwise be paid out in France’s lucrative but archaic pension system. It seems like a reasonable idea, particularly given the global economic crisis. After all, isn’t everyone trying to get work as opposed to getting out of it?

In America, we roll our eyes at France’s seemingly spoiled citizenry, literally and philosophically. Here, most of us have to work until we’re 65 or older, some far longer than that. And unless we work for the government (for shame), it isn’t because we’re trying to qualify for a pension; those rarely exist for us. It’s because we need the income, obviously. But it’s also because we have a seemingly inborn need to be useful and relevant. For Americans, “retirement” means old age and old age means game over. The idea of golfing everyday or playing canasta strikes fear in the hearts of most Americans. At least, if they’re being honest. Even those who dislike their jobs are likely fearful of the alternative.

The French don’t have this “problem.” The idea is to enjoy life to its fullest -Joie de vivre!- And for them that is seldom defined by work. In America we’re always asking each other what we do for a living. The answer defines us. In France, the question is considered mildly off putting, gauche, and even offensive. In the USA a laissez-fair attitude about work is frowned on. Laissez = Lazy. Not so in France.

Do not assume I am on one side of this issue or the other. First of all, my mother was born in France and did not come to America until she was a teen-ager. Believe it or not, I spoke French before learning English. As fate would have it, I also work for a French advertising agency (Euro RSCG), which is owned by a French holding company (Havas). Even my previous employer, Leo Burnett became part of Publicis during my time there. Ergo, I’m pretty damn sympathetic to the cause.

Secondly, and more importantly, even though I define others and myself by their work I’ve lately wondered if that’s a good thing. I’ve discussed this tension over and over on Gods of Advertising. Often the debate centers on being a self-absorbed copywriter/writer versus being a good husband and father.

Had I been raised in France would this even be an issue for me? Were the criteria for being a successful man different would I have different views about working? Maybe I would be a bon vivant, looking forward to a life of leisure as opposed to mildly dreading it.

David Jones, Kate Robertson, Oscar Morales for One Young World

At the Havas Café, adjacent the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes, World Wide CEO of Havas Worldwide, David Jones and Euro RSCG’s U.K. Chairman, Kate Robertson took the stage to announce the location city for next year’s One Young World summit in Zurich.

For those unawares, One Young World is an initiative started by David, Kate and Euro RSCG to bring together the young people of the world in hopes of creating and securing a better future for it. Last year’s inaugural event in London had over one thousand young delegates from over one hundred countries. In fact, our agency in Chicago sent two. Featured “older” guests included Bob Geldoff, Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan.

One Young World is a terrific example of a company proactively embracing social responsibility, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is one of the biggest trends in modern business. As David Jones pointed out (paraphrase), “It’s becoming more and more about what company’s are giving back to the world as opposed to taking from it.”

Marketing plays a key part. In fact, many of our clients (and yours too) are now spending time and money working on initiatives that add value to society and then talking about it. Besides being good corporate citizens, this is also a necessary business move. With the advent of social media and Internet connectivity, human beings no longer tolerate companies and brands that are not embracing values of some kind. Furthermore, when companies are seen as doing harm they are hammered for it, and not just by the press but also by everyone with a Facebook and Twitter account. Are you listening, British Petroleum? The message: Do good or else!

It’s easy to be cynical when big business and especially advertising agencies start talking about doing good works. Such entities are not known for altruism but for making money. Needless to say, they’d better walk the talk.

After the Havas Café event I spoke with my colleagues, Bill Mericle (CCO, Palm + Havas) and Blake Ebel (Co-CCO Euro RSCG Chicago) about this slippery slope. Was the spectacle of One Young World created more to look good than to be good?

“What’s wrong with doing both?” was their unanimous reply. They’re right of course. While creating One Young World clearly puts the agency in a broad spot light it is a deserved one. One Young world is an ambitious, complicated and costly affair. Procuring travel documents alone would tax most agencies beyond their patience. We should be proud that our firm is driving such a massive initiative. As Mericle pointed out, at the least, there is potential for “countless connections made on behalf of the greater good.”

The upside is considerably better than that. After all, these are the people who will be leading our world tomorrow. Presumably, after attending the One Young World conference in Zurich they will return to their home countries fired up to do some good. How could they not?

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This week I will be the sole North American judge for the International Advertising Festival in… wait for it: Dubai! The Dubai Lynx is sort of the Middle East’s version of Cannes. I do not know much else about the festival or, for that matter, the region.

What I do know about Dubai is that it is one of the seven emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates. Now if only I knew what an “emirate” was. I do know it is not a country. I also know that some of the most expansive and over-the-top architecture and developments can be found there, including a real-sized indoor ski slope and a network of man-made islands and resorts. I know this from odd, sensational snippets on travel TV or from the occasional friend of a friend.

In other words, I am completely ignorant of both the event and the place where it’s being held.

I also have no idea how good or bad the region’s advertising is. My guess is they are behind the west in terms of mass media advertising but on par with our digital capabilities. Why? Because there is no middle class. The poor watch TV. The rich surf the Net. Ergo TV commercials are naïve and Web experiences advanced. Again, I’m just guessing. I have no clue.

With this “clarity,” I intend to place my observations here and, hopefully, on a blog for Adweek, which is being worked out.

Won’t you join me? Dubai awaits!

In early 2001, I became Chief Creative Officer of a hybrid agency at Leo Burnett called LBWorks. About that time Element 79 began their new agency a few blocks away. Having this in common, I instantly viewed them as competition, two horses in a race. A race to what, I now wonder: more accounts, more awards, more billings? Ego can be a ridiculous thing.

In any event, there we were: options in a town not hard up for more. I think LBWorks began with about 50 or-so people and I imagine E79 did so as well. They had one acclaimed client (Gatorade) and so did we: Altoids. DDB and Omnicom backed E79. LBWorks had Burnett and Publicis. Like I said, lots in common.

We came off the blocks quicker, pulling in four new accounts in less than a year: Lexmark, Earthlink, Storagetek and Gateway. (Two years later LBWorks had a champagne supernova and the dream was over. Undone by our own success. it’s a good story but not for here.)

Slower to grow, Element 79 hung around, always doing exemplary work on Gatorade, gradually picking up business, and eventually becoming a real player in its own right. Creatively, only Nike had a better tagline in the category than Gatorade’s “Is it in you?” E79 possessed a potent offence, run by charismatic Chief Creative Officer, Dennis Ryan.

Not long ago, they beat my current agency, Euro RSCG, in a lengthy, emotionally draining shootout for Harris Bank. We busted our butts on that one and I was positive we’d won. And I was wrong. Element 79 had been a worthy nemesis.

Until, perhaps, now. With flagship Gatorade gone and all of Quaker leaving, it doesn’t look good. Ironically, they still have Harris Bank but you don’t have to be an accountant to know what that bills. Not enough. Not enough to feed the engines that fuel a mid-sized advertising agency like Element 79.

Maybe Element 79 has an ace no one knows about. Will Omnicom aid its wounded sentry? More likely, they will absorb the remaining troops, probably into DDB. And, of course, there will be casualties. The rumors are already out there. But if the end is near, let me be the first to offer salutations: You came. You conquered. You will be remembered well.

Which is better than most. Take the place I work at now. It’s previous incarnation (Euro RSCG Tatham Partners) ingloriously imploded, leaving dark stains in an all but empty building. Very messy.

The fate of Element 79, should it be time to talk of fate, will not be as gruesome. The epilogue favors a sequel, not a finale.


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