Blockchain ad bamboozles; and WPP and I - aligned as one

16 Jul 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
Blockchain ad bamboozles; and WPP and I - aligned as one

What happens when you let engineers run marketing? A nation left utterly confused by your tech-babble, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: a declaration of interests for all future comment on WPP...

“Oi, Dominic. Watch this ad. What’s it all about?” my mate shouted at me at approximately 18.56 last Wednesday. We were ready for the game. He was on the sofa. I was sorting the beers and the peanuts.

“I don’t get it. Is it about blocked toilets? Is it about toilet chains? You know about ads. Tell me what’s going on.”

Me: “Er, no. It’s about a thing called blockchain.”

“What’s that then?”

Me: “Shut up. Who cares. Let’s watch the game.”

I have no doubt this scene was repeated all over the country as this ad by Hdac Technology played out. Cue national bamboozlement.

In the ad, a smart young family living in an ultra-modern house go out for the day, leaving the dog behind. Suddenly, a variety of white goods come to life - the fridge, the shower, the washing machine, the heating control - and talk about how much energy they’ve used. The dog is spooked (and so, too, 99.99% of the audience, no doubt).

“Hdac Technology is smart and secure thanks to the blockchain solution,” concludes a voiceover in a tone as smooth as whipped cream.

Wow, you wonder, who are these Hdac people and how come they’ve got the cash to spunk on what surely will be one of the most expensive spots of the year (34m audience or so)? It turns out that Hdac stands for Hyundai Digital Asset Company (based in Zug, Switzerland, wouldn’t you know), which immediately gives it some credibility in both the money and the tech stakes.

You can read more about Hdac here; it is also involved in the bitcoin world, which probably explains the fraud warning on the home page and the fact that I am now getting served up some bitcoin ads (just go away, please).

So...a decent launch strategy or just plain mad? I confess I’m undecided. The decision to use TV during the World Cup as the launchpad is sensible enough. In terms of instant and wide reach it does the trick - a timely reminder of what TV does best. In this case, it’s the equivalent of the Super Bowl and, assuming Hdac hasn’t run out of money by next January, that will surely be next.

But it falls down on clunky execution and strategy. In fact, the ad is really all about the Internet of Things and connected devices. It may be underpinned by blockchain, but who cares about that. And who understands blockchain either? Even in the ad world, where people talk about it, I’ve only ever met a handful of people who can explain it.

Hdac would have been better off talking about connected devices, a more widely understood concept. But, I suspect, the big cheeses at Hdac are so in thrall to the concept of blockchain that they think everyone else will be. But that’s what happens when you let engineers run the marketing.

I also question the timing of the ad. I assume one intention was to spark an explosion of search and social media activity in and around the showing of the ads. But come on, just before the start of England’s biggest game in 28 years? Give me a break. I’d rather listen to Gary Neville.

And talking of pundits and footballers, while I’m not much one for celebrity endorsements, why the hell didn’t they get a leading football figure to front the ad? We could have seen Gareth Southgate using his IoT-connected waistcoat wardrobe to choose just the right one from his selection of hundreds.

WPP and I - aligned as one

It was after the third senior WPP executive, sad-eyed and long-faced, told me how impoverished they were feeling - like I’m a counselling service - that I felt I had to do something.

Although one had the grace to admit theirs was, as they said, a ‘first-world problem’, my issue was empathy; or to be precise, a lack of it.

Their problem? The dive in the WPP share price, down from about £18 at its peak a year ago, to around £12, a fall that pre-dated the current state it’s in. As senior executives, they had filled their boots from a no-doubt generous share option scheme. And now, with shares well below what they had paid, they were feeling it. (Funny thing is, when they were in the money, they never told me how wealthy they felt.)

So how could I feel empathy and, if necessary, share some of the pain?

There was only one answer: buy some WPP shares. So now I am a proud(ish) shareholder, ready to experience the ups and downs with them. Yes, I have splashed out a whole £1,250 on them.

If you’re wondering if I have applied some scientific investment thinking (analysis of cash flow, p/e ratio, dividend policy and all that stuff) to this decision, you’re broadly wrong. Besides believing the shares are under-valued, this was an emotional decision.

In honour of the brilliant JWT-created strategy for De Beers diamonds, I thought of following the one month salary principle. But a) it’s not a love match b) it’s not forever and c) I’m a freelancer.

Since I bought (at £12.39, if you’re wondering), the price has jumped around albeit within a restricted range. Six weeks on, I’m about where I started.

One curious thing: despite losing the bid for Media Monks to SMS last week, the WPP share price actually moved up, an indicator the market doesn’t believe (yet) that SMS is going to destroy WPP in a fit of revenge. I don’t either. As I wrote before, I think this is more about rehabilitation than revenge.

Anyway, I’m more interested in the perks of being a WPP shareholder. First, I get to go and watch the high drama/farce of the annual general meeting, maybe even ask a question.

Second, if the price is up, I could buy WPPers a drink.

And last, aside from the empathy thing, I get to berate them if the price is down. “Come on. Pull your bloody fingers out. You’re underperforming,” I will tell them with all the authority I can muster as a shareholder.

I’m not sure which I’m looking forward to most.

(Naturally, in any future columns covering WPP, I will declare my interest, although you will probably be able to tell by the tone how I’m feeling.)

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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 20 Jul 2018
“"One curious thing: despite losing the bid for Media Monks to SMS last week, the WPP share price actually moved up, an indicator the market doesn’t believe (yet) that SMS is going to destroy WPP in a fit of revenge. I don’t either."
Is it curious though? The share price suggests that letting Sorrell go was seen as a positive thing (at worst, net neutral) in business terms - he had, after all, overseen the precipitous slump from £18, and the rumours of major clients reviewing their relationships with WPP. If that's the case, what he does afterwards with someone else's money should be fairly irrelevant to WPP's share price, as shareholders have clearly decided his way isn't WPP's way. In theory, anyway.”