Media refugees find second lives // Mariah n’ Robbie // A Cannes yawn

Media refugees find second lives // Mariah n’ Robbie // A Cannes yawn

Two new ventures prove there’s life and opportunity out there for those who have escaped traditional agencies, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: More early Christmas ads reviewed, and a cut n’ paste Cannes game you can play at home.

Just when you think agency land was becoming dull and predictable, we have no less than two new media agency ventures launching in the same week.

First up is The Press Business, launched by former GroupM press supremo Steve Goodman and Peter Thomson, once of Omnicom/M2M.

And hot on their heels comes Dino Myers-Lamptey, lately of Mullen Lowe Mediahub, launching The Barber Shop (main picture).

While the two ventures will plough different furrows, Goodman and Thomson doing what it says on the tin and Myers-Lamptey focusing on strategy, they nevertheless have much in common, as well as telling us something about the state of the business.

Steve Goodman

Here’s six things that occur to me.

First, there’s life and opportunity out there for refugees from traditional (i.e. network) agencies. It’s not that long ago, however, that once those of a certain level of experience no longer found that kind of life palatable, their options were few — mainly a matter of jumping from one network to another and hoping they were different. But this has changed, and there will be many of similar experience looking at this trio and thinking “I can do that”.

Second, given the macro forces driving the world of work — the gig economy (in the portfolio sense of the term), flexible/virtual working and so on — they will have no difficulty finding recruits as and when they need them.

Three, given the hollowing out in talent terms of big agencies, experience matters and, in the right circumstances, can carry a premium. There’s no better way to monetise that experience than by working for yourself.

Four, scale and infrastructure are less relevant, and expertise (and contacts) more so even if, in Goodman and Thomson’s case, it’s a niche (albeit a relative one).

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Five, although I think it is wrong, the trend to client in-housing of media creates opportunities. Despite their brave talk, clients — even large ones — cannot go it totally alone on media. They need help, and ex-agency folk with wise heads can provide it.

And six, there’s not just a gap in the market, but a market in the gap. This is driven by those other macro forces, digitisation and entrepreneurship. Start-ups need to lean on people with experience, but structurally and culturally, big agencies are not equipped to provide it.

Mariah ’n Robbie

Last week I promised to cover off the Christmas ads as and when they come. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise they’d all come so fast. In some cases, it feels like lemmings jumping off a cliff.

But not all. Who knew, when we’re stuffing ourselves on so much, that crisps were such a big deal at Christmas, worth hiring Mariah Carey for? Me, if I was going to buy crisps at Christmas, I’d stock up on premium ranges.

But there are many for whom a giant grab-bag or six-pack do the trick, and this is where Walkers comes in.

What starts off as a typical naff Christmas special (Mariah warbles, offers up ‘time for giving’ platitudes) suddenly acquires a bit of piquancy as she fights over a bag with a member of the film crew. It’s in the long tradition of Walkers ads, where a celeb refuses to share their crisps. But Mariah — and who would have guessed she could laugh at herself — turns in a nice performance. It’s fun, memorable even… but limited-edition ranges of Pigs-in-Blankets and Brussels Sprouts flavours… that’s a couple of variants too far.

Aldi, meanwhile, is sticking with Christmas hero Kevin the carrot, back for his fourth season. To keep the idea fresh, Kevin is under threat from a mob of Brummie-accented sprouts, aka the ‘Leafy Blinders’, who feel carrots will usurp their traditional Christmas role.

The nod to Peaky Blinders gives it a sense of topicality, although given the feverish times we live in (Brexit/Trump impeachment/Hong Kong) the underlying hint of mob violence may make some people feel uncomfortable.

Cue Robbie Williams as the voice of Kevin, reprising a seasonal version of Let Me Entertain You.

As Christmas ads go it’s certainly more entertaining than Asda’s, but it’s beginning to feel generic. Kevin is obviously an Aldi property, but without him it’s just another supermarket ad with the same products as everyone else and a celebrity voice-over.

Cannes — running out of ideas

Anybody thinking right now about Cannes 2020 has probably got nothing better to do with their day, but just in case anyone is, Cannes has released its ‘themes’ for 2020 — all eight of them. Seasons-wise, it feels awkward. Anyway, you can find the official version here.

Look away now if you’re expecting anything fresh, because what we have feels like a tired recycling of old ideas. Nevertheless, Cannes says, these are the things the industry is thinking about.

1. Creativity is (its emphasis) the business growth engine

My view: When wasn’t it, at least from the Cannes perspective?

2. Creative disruption in commerce

My view: Hmmm… as of the about the last five years.

3. Post-purpose: brand accountability and activism

My view: After years of purpose overdose, possibly a correction. Or probably more of the same.

4. Your brand is my experience

My view: This will keep Accenture happy

5. Looking to 2030: Making your business future-fit

My view: Who isn’t trying to make their business future-fit? But who’s thinking of 2030? Even 2025 is a stretch.

6. Applied Creativity: Where data, tech and ideas collide

My view: Desperately old hat.

7. Storytelling at scale

My view: Feeble attempt to combine two old themes (storytelling and personalisation at scale) into something new.

8. Let’s get back to brand

My view: When you’ve run out of ideas, it’s time to call on a hardy annual: long-term v short-term… again.

This feels like a pointless cut-and-paste exercise to me: take all he existing marketing/adland cliches, cut them up and reassemble them in completely random order.


Disruption is the business growth engine.

Storytelling: where data, tech and ideas collide.

Your brand activism is my experience.

Purpose at scale.

Brand will keep your business future fit.

These make as much or as little sense the ‘official’ themes.

According to the Cannes people, these themes are based on research with 1,500 industry folk and detailed interviews with 100+ big cheeses. All I can say if that’s the best they can come up with, no wonder the industry feels like it’s on a hamster wheel.

But then I think that is part of the point of Cannes. Delegates like to pretend they’re immersing themselves in new thinking, but in reality they prefer the comfort of the familiar.

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