Opinion: Perspective - Trend for global work is bad news for ad networks

Mercedes-Benz's decision to ask one agency to produce a global campaign is not very good news for the advertising status quo.

First and foremost, the only way you can trot out an ad that has global reach is by reducing its relevance in each market. In most cases, international spots simply add to the ad-break clutter, while nudging awareness. The launch of a new Mercedes television ad, tailor-made to UK tastes, used to be something to look forward to. The global one won't be.

But on top of offending our creative sensibilities, global ads pose a threat to the network giants. This is ironic, given that the networks were set up to mirror the globalisation of client businesses. Unfortunately, many of these client businesses are now discovering that they can save money by appointing a local agency to produce a regional campaign.

Lager brands are dead keen on this trend right now. Last week, Carlsberg called a pitch, shortlisting Shop, Wieden & Kennedy and the incumbent, Saatchi & Saatchi. Heineken has been moving towards global campaigns for some time, asking StrawberryFrog to create them. In addition, the mystery talks with Sir Frank Lowe's The Red Brick Road are rumoured to focus on global branding work.

And Mercedes is not alone in the car market in opting for this route. General Motors has been asking its roster to pitch for regional briefs for some years now (something that has helped Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners to become the 19th-biggest agency in the UK). Meanwhile, Toyota has been shifting business out of its network, Saatchis, and commissioning Clemmow Hornby Inge to devise pan-European work.

However, the move is motivated by something more profound than simply slashing costs. It is also about getting value. Some clients actually feel that they are being charged to keep a myriad of account handlers on the ground around their networks.

The network system has been built up over the past three or four decades, but, more recently, technology has enabled small players to handle any work for any client in any market.

And these domestic agencies don't have the overheads of the networks.

The networks need to show clients that the armies of staff they have on the ground are useful. Because they could be: advertising recruits are energetic, intelligent and ambitious. Rather than simply service international accounts along the existing, entrenched, lines, the networks need to harness staff's collective brainpower and use it to drive sales of their clients' brands.

What a pity that Interpublic feels it is necessary to force McCann Erickson to stay away from the Reckitt Benckiser business currently in play.

It seems absolutely incredible that IPG ever allowed FCB to sign a contract that prevented the entire holding company from handling any business from SC Johnson's rivals.

After all, managing conflict accounts is one of the main reasons the holding company model has evolved.

Aside from protecting the fragile FCB network, IPG's desire to appear whiter than white after the damage accountancy errors have wreaked on its Wall Street standing probably goes some way to explain its decision.

It is important that the holding company is seen to be honouring its contracts as it tries to win back the trust of some of its more nervous clients.

However, the decision is a shame for the wider advertising market because SC Johnson's demand is an unfair one. The overlap between FCB and McCann Erickson is minimal and in no way threatens the confidentiality of either network's clients. In addition, it would have been great fun to watch SC Johnson try to find a holding company that didn't handle any conflict business.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.

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