WPP’s Hogarth pre-media company is dragged into row between SodaStream and Clearcast

Much muttering in UK adland about TV copy clearance gatekeeper Clearcast’s decision to ban SodaStream’s Alex Bogusky ad knocking plastic bottle consumption.

Not only do they suspect the board of Clearcast – made up of representatives of the main UK free-to-air channels (including the BBC), Sky and CNN, for some reason – of being got at by the big fizzy drinks companies (which SodaStream has targeted directly in other promotions) but the strange ban has also re-ignited worries about Clearcast’s recent decision to move its pre-media contract from Adstream to Hogarth, part of WPP.

Hogarth now prepares all ads for transmission on the UK’s TV channels.

These are murky waters indeed.

On the face of it, Hogarth, which began as a WPP in-house press repro company and now handles all WPP agencies’ production needs in the UK (officially at least), should have nothing to do with Clearcast decisions about which ads run and which shouldn’t. But presumably it offers advice from time to time. On a wider front, agencies outside WPP are unhappy that a company owned by a rival (and a big one at that) plays a pivotal role in the process of getting their ads on air.

As far as we can see WPP stands to gain little from cosying up to, say, the likes of Coke or Pepsi because it doesn’t handle their business. This is definitely a gap in its portfolio – but that’s surely a conspiracy to far.

The ultimate arbiter of whether or not an ad can go on-air in the UK is Ofcom but that doesn’t help very much if Clearcast channels give an ad the thumbs down. Channels outside the Clearcast cabal are able to make their own decisions.

Suffice to say that Clearcast’s bizarre decision to ban the SodaStream ad, which may well be overturned on appeal, has shone a light on some contentious business choices.

Update 29/11/12

A rather cross Clearcast has complained to us as follows:

The specific erroneous points are highlighted below for you:

· “Not only do they suspect the board of Clearcast – made up of representatives of the main UK free-to-air channels (including the BBC), Sky and CNN…of being got at by the big fizzy drinks companies …”

Our board is made of 6 of the major UK Broadcasters (Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV, Daybreak and Turner). The BBC and CNN are not on our board. The BBC in the UK does not carry advertising.

The reference to us being “got at by the big fizzy drinks companies” is, as you say, SodaStream’s thoughts on how we came to make the decision but for the record, our decision regarding the ad had nothing at all to do with any sort of influence from big soft drinks companies. Every decision we make about an ad is wholly determined by whether we believe it complies with the BCAP code and that any claims being made can be substantiated. We felt the SodaStream ad did denigrate the soft drinks industry, yes, but according to rule 3.42 of the BCAP code, not according to any fizzy drink company. The SodaStream decision (and all decisions we make) are made internally and independently from anyone outside the organisation – that’s the way we work.

· “Hogarth now prepares all ads for transmission on the UK’s TV channels.”

As you will see from the press release on our site, Hogarth have recently been awarded the contract to replace our current system, Adway. As there is a lot of preparation and development work to undertake, we are still approximately 10 months away from going live with the new system, so your assertion of “now” is premature here. Additionally, Hogarth won’t be “preparing” ads for transmission. They will simply be developing and implementing our online workflow system with advertisers and agencies. Importantly, the system will be a standalone system (see my next point).

· “But presumably it (Hogarth) offers advice from time to time”

There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that Hogarth would ever “offer advice” to us about which ads to clear. It would be like saying your surgeon would take advice on a heart transplant from his IT support. Discussions with Hogarth will relate to the system only. Vitally, we have to review confidential information on behalf of many advertisers and agencies so that it can verify the claims being made in ads on behalf of broadcasters, which is a condition of each broadcaster’s licence. We recognise the paramount importance of keeping confidential information secure, and have ensured contractually, functionally and procedurally that CopyCentral (the name of the new system) will do so. Hogarth is required to meet strict requirements for data security as well as to comply with the Data Protection Act and will be subject to audit by one of the “big four” audit firms to ensure that this is the case. Therefore, the idea that Hogarth will be able to lean on our pre-clearance decision making process is ludicrous.

We hope you will correct your piece in the specific areas covered above as these major errors undermine the credibility of your site as a whole.

Aren’t Turner and CNN the same thing really? Accept that the Beeb’s not involved. And that Hogarth’s not fully on the case yet although UK agencies are still up in arms about the appointment, outside auditors or not.

And is criticising the soft drinks industry, in a rather amusing commercial, the same as denigrating it? Not sure we can agree on that Clearcast. But we’re a broad church here at MAA.

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