Media Perspective: Why Carat's actions speak louder than Starcom's words

Joe Eszterhas, famed for his screenplays for hits such as Basic Instinct and Flashdance (not to mention the dismal Showgirls), tells a story about pulling the wool over the eyes of Hollywood executives.

He failed to sell a script for a film of his called Magic Man. Ten years later, he changed the title (to Telling Lies In America) and sold it for a seven-figure sum. Nobody realised it was the same tale they'd read a decade before.

A handy lesson in packaging up the same old story and finally managing to flog it. Which is something that media agencies, in an oversupplied and increasingly commoditised market, are having to become increasingly adept at.

The latest effort to find a point of difference came last week from Starcom MediaVest Group, which unleashed its rather less-than-catchy "we create the space for ideas" strapline.

To be fair to Starcom, it is at least steadily upping its game in the marketing stakes. Its previous attempts, often imposed from corporate HQ in the US, have been laughable. Who can remember, for instance, its "fueling brand power" mantra, a positioning that was quietly replaced in 2006 with the earth-shattering and alliterative "connections that captivate"?

In one sense, what Starcom is doing is admirable and is a firm attempt to add focus to a massively confusing positioning within the UK media agency market. But does Starcom really create the space for ideas? Surely this new line merely draws attention to the possibility that the agency can do a passable job of booking some media space for those clever-clog ad agencies to fill with their pretty pictures and amusing copy.

A very harsh assessment, perhaps, given that the Publicis-owned agency has invested significant sums in big new tools - one of which has the natty name Snakes and Ladders (hopefully not suggesting that client fortunes can go down as well as up).

But there is a natural inclination in these tough times to favour action over posturing. So I was impressed by Carat appointing Robert Horler, a digital media man, as its new managing director. This seems to me to promise much more in the way of change and point of difference than any amount of new marketing collateral or investment in tools can possibly offer.

Starcom may pull off a neat trick and I genuinely hope that it does (how interesting it would be if the agency could become a force in the UK). But given that it's a business run by exactly the same people who were running it before, this would amount in my eyes to a triumph of recycling the same old same old rather than of genuine endeavour and inspiration.

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