You want a TV commercial made and ready to air by yesterday? Then
Brian Watson is your man. You want to know if it’s worked? Well, that
could take a bit longer to find out. Would five days be OK?
Coming from anybody else, Watson’s claims might seem about as genuine as
those from the 90s equivalent of a snake oil salesman. But Watson is no
In 19 years at FCB, he has written more than 700 commercials for the
Daily Mail - a feat that will earn him a mention in next year’s Guinness
Book of Records. Rarely have any of his films failed to boost sales of
the paper by less than 3.5 per cent. On one famous occasion, when the
Mail was serialising the Duchess of Windsor’s love letters, sales leapt
by almost a quarter.
Screen a Daily Mail ad on Saturday and by Monday you’ll probably know
how effective it’s been, he says. By Wednesday at the latest. ’We know
how to get a proposition across in one hit.’
Last week, Campaign revealed that the threat of defection by the Daily
Mail has spurred FCB into launching a specialist second string agency -
FCB Productions - to run the pounds 12 million account. Watson is
chairman of the new set-up and Robert Ballin, the account director on
the Mail business for 20 years until his abrupt exit seven months ago,
returns as a consultant.
Watson’s spin-off is the latest manifestation of what many regard as a
belated attempt by the advertising industry to accommodate and be taken
seriously by retail clients whose business is potentially lucrative but
which is often derided even by those immersed in it.
’Big agency people have always been snooty about retail,’ a leading
marketing consultant declares. ’So the only way they can get people to
work on it is to run it separately. It’s an admission of failure.’
Even Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, no stranger to handling big retail
accounts, is setting up a new agency to handle its recently acquired
Sainsbury’s local marketing and Savacentre account. Andrew Roberston,
AMV’s managing director, claims the degree of co-ordination required
means it can only be handled properly by a specialist unit.
At Faulds Advertising in Edinburgh the capture of the pounds 6 million
Kwik-Fit account in April has precipitated the formation of Kwik Faulds,
a division dedicated to handling the car maintenance giant’s business.
’Clients like Kwik-Fit like to know they have a team of people who
understand their business,’ Christine Tulloch, the agency’s marketing
director, explains. ’We can’t be jacks-of-all-trades any longer.’
Meanwhile at Ogilvy & Mather, plans are also afoot to use the agency’s
Ford dealerships business to launch a subsidiary to supply ads for
high-volume clients needing rapid production.
’It surprises me how little agencies understand about retail when so
many of the UK’s biggest advertisers are retailers,’ says Brian Hovell,
head of the retail unit at Bates UK where retail clients - including
B&Q, Woolworths, Superdrug and Safeway - account for a third of the
agency’s billings. ’But there’s always been a stigma attached to
Why do agencies and retailers often make uncomfortable bedfellows?
Conflicting cultures are a major reason. Compare Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s
best forgotten experiences with Asda and WH Smith with the long retail
client relationships enjoyed by Bates and by Asda’s current agency,
Publicis. They are acknowledged as being among the handful of UK shops
that know how to run and retain retail business.
Not surprisingly, retail clients regard themselves as a breed apart.
One recently told Martin Jones, managing director of the AAR: ’You can
smell if an agency is into retail or just talks it.’
Jones says: ’Retailers not only want to know the systems are in place
for work to be turned around quickly but they expect their agencies to
be checking the sales figures every Monday morning.’
While agencies have been forced by the rising power of retail to get
their hands dirty, retail advertising has at the same time become less
The turning point came in the early 90s when Lowe Howard-Spink’s
campaign for Tesco, starring Dudley Moore, along with AMV’s celebrity
recipe films for Sainsbury’s, proved it was possible to push product and
enhance brand values simultaneously. Adam Leigh, the Bates deputy
managing director who heads the Safeway account team, says: ’Retail is
now the dominant sector that manufacturing used to be.’
Some believe that FCB Productions may win over some retailers, despite
the fact that it is difficult to recruit top-calibre staff to such
operations. The upcoming digital TV explosion, combined with the limited
shelf life of many retail commercials - in some cases less than a week -
may help to enhance its allure.
Others, though, are more cautious. At Bates, not all retail clients are
in the retail unit. Some, like Woolworths, with broader needs, remain
outside. ’Retailers need a combination of architects and bricklayers,’
says Neil Kennedy, a former Bates vice-chairman who is now a marketing
consultant and a non-executive director of Allders department
’They not only need somebody who can produce 120 ads a week but offer
strategic advice as well.’
Watson believes he is likely to be working for clients who have no
requirement for planning and account management, who already have their
strategy sorted out and whose only need is for it to be interpreted.
It’s like taking your car to be serviced, he says. ’You might enjoy
chatting up the girl on the front desk - but it’s the grease monkey with
the spanner who will do the job.’