Real Media Riffs - Thursday, Oct 26, 2006

OKAY, BUT TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW -- The good thing about Wal-Mart's selection of Draft FCB and Carat as its new agency roster is, well, that they've selected Draft FCB and Carat as its new agency roster. The assignment is an important vote of confidence by the world's biggest retailer for two organizations that really needed it. Actually, make that three. Draft FCB parent Interpublic needed another boost,too. And Wall Street gave it one Wednesday, after news of Wal-Mart's decision leaked out. It was kind of like the inverse of what happened when Interpublic lost the General Motors buying assignment to Publicis' GM Planworks last year. But then we've always known that the invisible hand of the marketplace is prone to giveth and taketh away.

In any case, we think Wal-Mart recognizes something in both Carat and Draft FCB - and Interpublic as well - that the rest of the marketplace may not have caught on to yet. And that is: Sometimes it takes some experimentation, including a couple of failures, before you get it right. We're not saying either organization has cracked the code on the New Marketing, or the New Media, but we think they at least have the desire - and the balls - to try and crack it.



Okay, so it may be easier when you're a challenger brand like Carat to break the status quo, or a come-from-behind, brand-in-transformation like Draft FCB, to take a few chances. After all, what do they have to lose. But they are practicing something Madison Avenue often preaches but doesn't always apply to itself: They're trying to differentiate themselves from a pack of me-too organizations.

Don't get us wrong. This is not a slap at the entire industry. There are plenty of other organizations doing smart, bright and innovative things. This column just happens to be about these companies. And yes, we know that we've been waxing on lately about both Draft FCB and Interpublic, and we probably haven't been gushing enough about Carat. At least that's what some of their senior managers have told us about the litany of "negative" stories we've written about the once-ascendant media services brand. But the truth is, they were open for it. Carat probably grew too fast and too soon and with not enough substance to show for it, and was ripe for a brand correction - or at least a tempering of its smugness. But we think they've gotten the message. They've eaten some humble pie. They've taken a few hits, missed a few pitches, and lost some of their stars. But they've got two of the most important ingredients for building a media services brand of the future: a competent organization, and perhaps more important, the desire to do so. Founding U.S. CEO David Verklin proved that early on. And now his new head of U.S. operations, Ray Warren, is doing the same.

Keep in mind that Wal-Mart hasn't actually announced its decision, but we trust that this one is a fait accompli. And its timing couldn't be better, coming as the sharks are circling around Carat parent Aegis Group, which some expect to go into play at any moment. Whether and how any of that plays into Wal-Mart's decision we may never know. What we do know is that there are other intriguing connections surrounding this pitch and the relationships of its players that we'd like to know more about. One is the role that Ray Warren played in helping Wal-Mart marketing czar Julie Roehm initiate an industry task force to test an online trading system for buying and selling media. Unlike previous attempts, this one's actually getting off the ground early next year, and the task force is teaming up with none other than eBay to field it.

Another interesting connection is the role of Bill Cella, the chairman of Interpublic's Magna Global media negotiating unit, who has emerged as vice chairman of Draft FCB just as it's about to take on Wal-Mart's business. What role did Cella have in that one? And what role will he have coordinating with the Carat team?

But the most intriguing relationship coming out of this account shift, is the one Wal-Mart will have with the media, and the consumers it seeks to reach through them. Look for the retail giant to dramatically alter its mix, and to begin experimenting with an array of new media options, especially interactive ones. We also expect to see it make a significant about-face on one of the retail industry's primary weapons: newspaper inserts. Think about it, FSIs are to mass retailers what TV is to mass marketers: the base buy. That should shake some people up.

Okay, so now for the sad news in the Wal-Mart decision: GSD&M is out. This saddens us for a number of reasons, not least of which is that those kids from Austin give us a reason to actually root for Texas. Another is that we simply love Roy Spence, and for the life us, we cannot understand how he failed to charm the Wal-Mart team for another 20-year tour of duty.

The last thing we have to say about this is the Sam Walton line Spence is fond of invoking. Walton, Spence would say, would get down on one knee, look you straight in the eye, and inquire, "I know what I know. Tell me what you know?"

OH, BUT WHAT TO WEAR? -- Wal-Mart's decision to radically shake-up its advertising, media and marketing strategies is coming none too soon, according to one of our favorite shaker-uppers: the team at Naked Communications. According to Naked, the truth is that the traditional marketing model has already died. And it can pinpoint the exact date to prove it. It happened on Dec. 1, 2005. We're not entirely sure why it happened on that date, but we suspect it has something to do with U.K.-based Naked opening its U.S. offices in New York just about then.

In any case, we haven't heard much from the Naked team since then. Sure, we've been hearing of Naked sightings. People we know say they show up in pitches all the time - competing, ironically, for creative advertising reviews, not media or communications planning. But that's another column.

Anyway, we were pleased to be invited to a "memorial service" Naked will host Nov. 9 to celebrate the "life of the traditional marketing model." According to the Naked invitation, it spanned from July 1, 1941 to Dec. 1, 2005.

One thing that clearly has yet to die, is the traditional way in which Naked markets itself: ambitiously.

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