Campaign Middle East newsletter, 9 October, 2005

I’ve been trying to decide what advertising year it is here in the Middle East.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  October 9, 2005

Will region’s newcomers stay true to their brands?|~||~||~|I’ve been trying to decide what advertising year it is here in the Middle East. One adman I know is convinced that when he observes female focus groups from Saudi Arabia, he’s back in Victorian England. The all-important manners, the all-covering clothes, the all-encompassing separation of the sexes — many of his consumer insights are based on this assumption. But then again, with the relative newness of media agencies as separate disciplines, perhaps we’re in 1985, which was when separate media buying agencies began to make a go of it in the UK. Or maybe the early 90s, when the same really started to happen in the US. But as we reveal the arrival of PHD, there’s another possibility — the late 90s. That’s when PHD — created by David Pattison, Nick Horswell and Jonathan Durden — shook things up in UK media by virtually inventing the third generation agency. The first generation had been full-service — making the ads, then buying the media for the client as an afterthought. Then, with the rise of the media independents, came the gorillas with calculators — tough negotiators who realised that by specialising in media buying they could save clients enough money to make hiring them worth their while. And finally came the true media planners. Those who proved that price negotiation was not enough — clever insights into use of media could deliver more value to clients than a price negotiation ever could. Enter PHD, sweeping all before them as the first media agency to successfully combine brilliance in media planning with strong price negotiation. And now, a decade later, enter PHD into the Middle East. Admittedly, the reasons for its arrival are depressingly pragmatic. Parent company Omnicom wants a second string sister agency to OMD to overcome client conflict. PHD, already strong in the UK and North America, will expand across the globe. For evidence of the pragmatism, look at the fact that even a week or two ago, in the Middle East at least, the second string agency was going to be called Mediawise, another Omnicom brand altogether. So the question is: will this new agency really have PHD’s DNA? It seems that the talent is being hired in locally — much of it straight out of OMD. Will media creativity really be at the heart of what PHD does here? Can PHD be true to the parent brand? And, of course, is this market, with its culture of brown envelopes and opaque deals, ready to support an agency where the emphasis is on great planning, not on where the biggest media owner kickback is coming from? I really hope so. And there’s a second transplantation coming up that raises similar questions. BBH, the iconic creative agency set up in 1982, is entering into an alliance with Face to Face. BBH created too many acclaimed campaigns to list, but perhaps the most famous was the 1985 Levi’s 501 TVC set in a laundrette, in which the then unknown Nick Kamen stripped down to his boxer shorts to the soundtrack of I Heard It On the Grapevine. Not only did it mark a quantum leap for the brand, but it changed the way that the world looked at advertising. The alliance comes as a result of BBH winning the global business for Unilever’s Vaseline account. But with the agency also after the worldwide business for British Airways and Omo — one of the biggest global pitches ever — it’s clear that this is only a first move. And it raises exactly the same question as the setting of PHD does. To move from a loose alliance to becoming a genuine part of the BBH network, can Face to Face be worthy of the essence of what made BBH great in the first place? It’s a vital issue. After all, if advertising and media agencies can’t stay true to their brands, then who can?||**||

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