Top 10 things to forget in 2015

Volkswagen's scandal and procurement's assault on agencies are among the things adland would rather forget this year.

Volkswagen tarnished one of advertising's greatest success stories
Volkswagen tarnished one of advertising's greatest success stories

1. Volkswagen rides roughshod over its own brand

Earlier this year, the St Luke’s executive creative director, Al Young, told Campaign an anecdote about the time he got too cocky and was told by a client "don’t forget whose brand it really is". Sound advice, but it’s hard not to side with those who feel that VW rigging its cars to pass emissions tests has tarnished one of advertising’s greatest success stories – something about which the industry had every right to feel protective. What a bunch of lemons.

2. Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s annus horribilis 

No-one has enjoyed watching Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R tough out a hellish year – not even its rivals. Not just because the agency is one of the industry’s best-loved, nor because it is led by one of the nicest guys in advertising; rather, it was because much of the misfortune seemed so arbitrary. Three of the shop’s biggest clients – Vodafone, Land Rover and Lloyds – walked out the door despite being served good and, in many cases, great work. RKCR/Y&R’s fortune in 2015 has been an uncomfortable reminder to agencies of how precarious their position can be. Here’s to a better 2016.

3. Miles Nadal: don’t forget to keep the receipt

Nadal stepped down as the chairman and chief executive of MDC Partners in July amid a US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into his finances. The ensuing stories about Nadal’s expenses – which the SEC said "lacked appropriate substantiation" – contained figures that would make even MPs with the dirtiest moats blush. Nadal initially paid back $8.6 million (£5.6 million) to the company but his total liability was reported as $21 million.

4. Havas Media and Arena’s on- again-off-again new-business wins

How Arena managed to get all the way through the Virgin Atlantic review and then win the business without checking if Emirates, which works with its sister shop, Havas Media, might have a problem with it is anyone’s guess. In the event, just three weeks after the initial decision, Virgin Atlantic dramatically shifted the business into its second choice – PHD – in an unfulfilling move for all concerned. A week later, Havas Media found itself on the wrong end of Vincent Bolloré machinations for once when the French games publisher Ubisoft decided to split with Havas Media after just four months. Ubisoft was kicking back after Havas’ biggest shareholder, the Bolloré group, aggressively became the biggest shareholder in Ubisoft.

5. Nationwide’s bad credit

As procurement departments continue to pound agencies like cheap steak, clients should really remember the little things, such as crediting creative shops for their work. So you can imagine the consternation at 18 Feet & Rising when its former client Nationwide produced one of the agency’s scripts as a TV ad and then claimed that it had made it in-house. So enraged was 18 Feet & Rising that it filed a claim in the High Court seeking damages. The dispute was settled before it reached court, with Nationwide acknowledging the agency’s role – but without having to pay 18 Feet & Rising anything.

6. Geometry Global’s fishy Grand Prix

It’s not just clients that tried to steal the limelight in 2015. Geometry Global Dubai was forced to hand back the region’s first Cannes Grand Prix after accusations that it had nothing to do with creating the Lucky Iron Fish project. The Cannes organisers quickly concluded an investigation and decided that the Product Design Grand Prix for the Lucky Iron Fish, which was created to help fight anaemia in Cambodia, should go to the Lucky Iron Fish president, Gavin Armstrong, and no-one else. As one wag noted at the time, the debacle was like TBWA trying to claim credit for designing the iPhone. 

7. BMB’s hard luck of the Irish

Does Paddy Power know the havoc it has wreaked on the ad industry? Dumping Crispin Porter & Bogusky in 2014 was the final nail in the coffin for what was left of that agency’s original management team. And as if that wasn’t enough, the bookmaker appointed BMB to its £20 million creative account after an arduous pitch, only to change its mind and hand the business to Lucky Generals after three months. Cruel, to say the least. 

8. Procurement’s unabated assault on agencies

There were more reasons to despair over procurement departments in 2015. When Heinz reviewed its creative account, it asked agencies to agree to 97-day payment terms, an e-auction pitch and the decoupling of production. In March, the Marketing Agencies Association urged shops working with Anheuser-Busch to strike after it asked pitching agencies how many free hours of labour they would offer and how long they were willing to wait for payment beyond its standard 120 days. Finally, in September, Campaign heard reports of clients asking agencies to take bridging loans to pay upfront production costs. We despair.

9. The rise of ad-blocking

2015 was when ad-blocking finally became part of this industry’s discourse. The tipping point was the news in September that ad-blocking would be available on Apple’s iOS. Arguments that ad-blocking should be outlawed for taking the food out of the mouths of content creators were batted away by those who argue that online ads in their present form were hardly ethical to begin with. And the less said about reports into digital ad-fraud, the better.

10. The IPA’s report into client/agency relationships

"They’re like nagging children; they have no awareness that they are only a small part of my role." "I don’t think any of them have ever been into an Asda store; they shop at Whole Foods." These two quotes should tell you all you need to know about the IPA’s survey with Hall & Partners into client/agency relationships. Clients feel agencies are out of touch and a drain on their time. It is going to take more than an understanding of Snapchat to reverse this mindset.