CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/DAEWOO’S MEDIA STRATEGY; Are media owners picking on Daewoo?

John Owen on the motives of the media owners who foiled Daewoo’s ad tactics

John Owen on the motives of the media owners who foiled Daewoo’s ad


Picked on by its rivals? Forced to pull out of trade shows and

relinquish preferred positions for its newspaper ads? That’ll be the


Last week, the South Korean car manufacturer cried foul over the

treatment of its ads in the national press (Campaign, 22 March).

Positions it had previously been allowed close to other car ads were

refused after pressure from competitors. Or so Daewoo and its media

agency, CIA Medianetwork, claimed.

The main problem seems to be that the new kid on the block, Daewoo,

doesn’t do things like everyone else. It doesn’t use dealers, it doesn’t

make commercials about driving through flaming fields, and it doesn’t

use small print in its ads. It is rocking the boat.

It was sheer provocation, then, when Daewoo’s agency, Duckworth Finn

Grubb Waters, wrote an ad explicitly pointing out the lack of small

print and that - unlike many other car manufacturers - the price quoted

in its ad was the on-the-road price, with no hidden extras. Worse still,

CIA used its knowledge of competitors’ press buying strategies to buy

spaces in adjacent positions in a selection of national newspapers. When

CIA returned to book more space two weeks later, it claims it was told

it could not have the same slots because it would annoy other (bigger

spending) advertisers.

Quite how widespread the refusals were is unclear. Some newspaper sales

heads claim to have no knowledge of difficulties with Daewoo. Others say

the problem was resolved with all parties happy. But leaving aside some


Daewoo’s more contentious claims, the question remains: how close to the

bone can advertisers go before pressure from their rivals forces media

owners to act? And how much does the size of the advertiser’s budget


It isn’t about breaking rules. This isn’t a case for the Advertising

Standards Authority or the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. As

one senior account man in a bigger spending competitor’s media agency

admits: ‘Daewoo’s ad is factually correct.’ His beef is simply that,

with both its copy and its media strategy, the car maker is taking ‘a

very aggressive stance’. Moreover, if he can use his financial leverage

to counter that, he will: ‘As a big customer -considerably bigger than

Daewoo [which spent pounds 11 million on advertising last year] - we

would lever the amount of money we contract to the newspapers on an

annual basis. Basically we’d say: if you don’t do what we want, we’ll

take money away from you.’

Of course, this isn’t a tactic often used. It is only when an advertiser

breaks rank, like Daewoo, and is perceived to threaten the profitability

of the industry as a whole, that strong-arm methods come into play.

Such was the case when Superdrug was refused ad space in glossy

magazines and colour supplements for its discounted fine fragrances in

1992. The upmarket perfume houses, fearful of a price war that would

slice chunks off their profits, used their muscle to see off this

renegade from their natural advertising habitat. Superdrug was forced to

use more downmarket women’s weeklies for its campaign.

In the Daewoo case, it is impossible to be sure how many competitors

complained and to whom. Bob Offen, the managing director of Mediastar,

which handles the pounds 70 million Peugeot-Citroen account, says the

problem was averted before it happened. Nevertheless, he is forthright

about the consequences of allowing a competitor to damage his own

client’s advertising. ‘We were warned some time ago that part of

Daewoo’s strategy was immediately to follow other car ads,’ he says.

‘Our view is that if you allow that to happen, you are betraying a

confidence about where our ads are booked. If you deliberately put them

next to our ads, don’t expect to get paid by us.’

Mike Ironside, the ad director of the Daily Mail, agrees wholeheartedly

with Offen. ‘Hell would freeze over,’ he claims, before he would agree

to such a strategy for any advertiser - big or small. But he would also

resent phone calls to warn him off. He argues: ‘If Ford had rung me up -

which it didn’t - to say it didn’t want Daewoo next to its ad, I’d have

probably done it out of sheer cussedness.’

Guy Griffiths, ad manager of the Independent and the Independent on

Sunday, says he did give Daewoo certain guarantees, which didn’t please

its competitors. But he adds: ‘It is normally possible to keep everyone

happy.’ Like Ironside, he maintains that size doesn’t matter in these


But Gary Birtles, the joint deputy media director of Lowe Howard-Spink,

which handles the pounds 75 million Vauxhall account, disagrees.

‘Pleasing one small client at the risk of upsetting half a dozen big

ones doesn’t make commercial sense,’ he points out.

Not that Daewoo is that upset. While CIA and its client continue to

complain about the bigger car manufacturers’ attitudes, they do not bear

any grudges against the newspapers. And they are also well aware that

the ‘them against us’ scenario does Daewoo’s brand no harm at all.

‘We will continue to put our point of difference across with creative

and media concepts that are unique to Daewoo,’ Greg Grimmer, the account

director at CIA, insists. ‘If that upsets other manufacturers, that’s


And, though he doesn’t say it, we may infer, that’s the point. Just as

it was with Superdrug and other advertisers, such as Virgin and Lil

lets, which set out to be different. Daewoo, which sold 15,000 cars in

its launch year, was not voted Campaign’s Advertiser of the Year for

nothing. Creating a point of difference within a cluttered marketplace

has never been more important. It requires memorable advertising, brave

media strategies and - not least - clever PR.