George Parker: Walmart, Larry Ellison, TikTok and me

I must admit I have no idea what the TikTok fuss is all about. The service is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and Der Trumpf is making a big stink that the platform can be used by the Chinese government to mine users’ data. I am, however, somewhat mystified when I consider that as the majority of users of TikTok appear to be eleven-year-old girls posting videos of themselves doing bad dance routines, exactly what data it is that the communist devils are looking for? Anyway, back in August, Der Obergropenfuhrer said he wanted the American operation sold within 90 days. Time’s nearly up.

The two main contenders for the deal are Walmart and Oracle who would jointly invest in a new US based entity, TikTok Global. This piqued my interest, as I have personal experience of working with both companies. Although, I must confess, they are both experiences I would not wish to repeat.

First up, Walmart. I never actually worked on the account. I freelanced with Ogilvy on the pitch when the account came up for grabs back in 2006. As it was, and still is, the largest retailer in the known universe, several major BDAs (Big Dumb Agencies) threw millions of dollars into the pitch. I have it on reliable information that Ogilvy blew well over a million dollars on this folly. They didn’t get it, it went to Draft/FCB, which at the time was promoting itself as the “Agency of the Future.”

Unfortunately, it quickly transpired that Howard Draft had been getting inside info from Walmart’s marketing department. They lost the account after just two weeks, and Draft became the “Agency of the Past.” So, obviously, the pitch was re-opened, and Ogilvy blew another million on the re-pitch. However, as part of the pitch, and the re-pitch, I had to make a couple of visits to Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered. It’s the only place I have ever been where there are more churches than houses, and all the inhabitants walked around with giant pig’s heads on.

This is because the University of Arkansas football team are known as the “Razorbacks.” No crazier that all the fans of the Green Bay Packers who walk around with giant slabs of cheese on their heads. American sports are indeed a mystery.

Moving on to Oracle. I had the misfortune, even though making big bucks, of dealing with Larry Ellison, the founder, chairman, uber-fuhrer, and reincarnation of Genghis Khan of this giant software company. What you have to realize, is that, in common with others I have written about in the past, he believed he could do no wrong, could walk on water, and was far more creative than the wankers he had to deal with from the agencies he hired and fired with regularity.

On one memorable occasion, we where at Oracle’s mammoth headquarters in Redwood City, waiting to present the next mind-numbingly bad campaign for his approval. It just so happened that on that day his net worth had slipped from a trillion gazillion dollars to a mere mega gazillion dollars. I suggested to the agency suits we should postpone the meeting to a more opportune time. Being suits, they ignored my coruscate advice. Obviously, the meeting was a disaster, and as usual, Larry declared he would have to do the ads himself. Always remember, this is one of the richest guys on the face of the planet, although like everyone else, he is falling behind Jeff Bezos by the hour.

He once owned that largest yacht in the world. ’til he was outdone by a Russian oligarch. (Isn’t communism great?) He also owns the world’s greatest collection of private airplanes, including a MIG 13 single seater fighter. His house in Woodside, California, is a reproduction of a 16th century Japanese emperor’s palace, worth $70 million in chump change. When he gets home at night after a day walking on water, he changes into his Ninja outfit, straps on his Katana swords and goes out to decapitate bamboo bushes. Bonsai…

Good luck to whoever gets the business. You’ll need it!

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.

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