Five things you didn’t know about advertising agencies: 1980s (2)

1/ In the early 1980s Interpublic was the only game in town as far as big networks and big clients were concerned. As the name suggests it was an attempt to put a corporate face on the whole business of advertising, being the self-styled intermediary between companies and the big wide world of consumers. But underneath it was as fractious and temperamental as the smallest hotshop. The big boss was Phil Geier, who had made his reputation in London, and beat two US barons, Bill Backer and Carl Spielvogel, to the chairman’s job. Backer and Spielvogel left with the Miller account and Coke was set to follow them. Until Interpublic/McCanns came up with this:

‘Mean Joe Greene’ was the big guy.

2/ Relations between the UK and Germany have been a touch strained for the past 100 years (two world wars which the Germans lost but seemed to win in terms of economics) but London agency WCRS did its best to patch up relations with this 1980s ad for Carling.

It says everything about the relationship really, the quixotically brave Brits launching their dam-busting bombs and some hyper-capable German so and so catching them. Not like real life of course, half the Dambusters squadron in 1943 were shot down and thousand of Germans died in the floods when the Ruhr dams were broken. Which the Germans promptly patched up.

But the ad was fun and did Carling (and WCRS) no end of good. The Germans weren’t especially amused.

3/ Margaret Thatcher, the UK prime minister through the 1980s, was, arguably, advertising’s biggest benefactor from the world of politics. Famously intolerant of anyone who disagreed with her, most notably her own cabinet ministers, she seemed to be a pushover for the silver-tongued ambassadors of adland. First among these was Saatchi managing director Tim Bell who persuaded her to run the famous ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster’ devised by the agency in 1979. Bell remained a key advisor even after he left Saatchis (he was subsequently elevated to the House of Lords) and was followed by the likes of Maurice Saatchi (also subsequently ennobled) and Young & Rubicam’s John Banks (who wasn’t). All these characters and many others had the run of No 10 Downing Street as Mrs T reeled off a string of election victories.

4/ While the luminaries of adland were queueing up outside the PM’s boudoir Martin Sorrell, former finance director of Saatchis, was turning a listed shopping trolley manufacturer called Wire & Plastic Products into a marcomms holding company. In 1987 he bought J.Walter Thompson, the fourth-biggest and most venerable ad agency in the world, for $556m and, in 1989, Ogilvy & Mather for $864m. Both companies were listed on the New York Stock Exchange and while gentlemanly JWT didn’t see it coming, O&M founder, Scot David Ogilvy (above), surely did. But, to his fury, he couldn’t do anything about the power of WPP’s money (borrowed) and found himself working for Sorrell who he famously termed “an odious little shit.” The two subsequently made up, or so the official version says, but Ogilvy, the most famous adman in the world in the 1950s and early 1960s, slunk off to a crotchety retirement at his chateau in France.

5/ In 1984 the SAWA awards (Screen Advertising World Association) now known as the Cannes Golden Lions (or some such nonsense) abandoned Venice for Cannes, still their home. Prior to that the awards, which started in Venice in 1954 as adland’s version of the Cannes Film Festival, had alternated between the two venues. For years the awards were run by cinema advertising company Pearl & Dean. Now it’s owned by publisher EMAP. There were many reasons for abandoning Venice, not least the local customs officials’ habit of confiscating any tin of film they could get their hands on until a wad of lira came their way. But the Venetians’ extortion was as nothing compared to the depredations of hoteliers, restauranteurs and night club owners on the Cote d’Azur. Even the fabled Cannes Golden Lions are modelled on the lions of the Piazzo San Marco in Venice, the sign of the Doge’s power. Still, some decent winners have emerged. This is the 2006 Lion for Ariston Aqualtis by Leo Burnett Italia:

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.