Audi/BBH limbo; P&G puts down a(nother) marker

15 Apr 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Audi/BBH limbo; P&G puts down a(nother) marker

A review that threatens to fracture the 37-year relationship between Audi and BBH is discombobulating to say the least, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: Marc Pritchard takes his turn

I confess to a mix of feelings when I read that Audi is to review its business with BBH: surprise/shock; amazement; sympathy.

The surprise/shock is the news of the review. The relationship is a symbiotic one, and it’s not often you can say that of anything in adland. BBH has built Audi into the UK force it is today, while Audi’s business has helped do the same for BBH. The two are joined at the hip. So a review that threatens to fracture a 37-year relationship is discombobulating, to say the least.

A short step back into history is necessary. When BBH took on Audi, it was a nothing brand in the UK, with market share of zip and you could only buy one from a dark corner of a main VW dealer showroom. By the late 80s, as BBH advertising took root, it ‘soared’ to 1.2pc or so.

Since then, driven by consistently outstanding advertising, it has inched up. Last year, market share was 6.08pc.

Last year, covering a period from 2015-2017, Audi won an IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix recording a ROI of £2.07:£1.

Yes, market share for 2018 was down 17pc (equivalent to 30,000 cars) on 2017, but according to one car magazine — and I don’t understand a word of this, so I’ll quote it directly — this was because “a shortage of engineers meant it could not homolgate its cars for the new WLTP emission standards in time”. A second factor, to which all marques are prone from time to time, is a lack of new launches or model relaunches. The same magazine predicted a rebound in 2019.

On the other side of the equation (and I speak from personal experience of having owned two Audis), brand strength was such that you could not get a bloody discount from the dealer. That’s clearly something to do with the advertising. However, with the car market in its current doldrums that may no longer be the case.

Ok, so that’s the surprise/shock bit. Next, amazement. This is the first time Audi has reviewed its business. In 37 years. That is astonishing. The relationship has survived — or thrived - during multiple changes of personnel on both sides. There is clearly something enduring in the chemistry between the two, and something that keeps the relationship fresh. Put it this way: in the same period, and to take a brand at random, Asda has had about eight agencies (and it is by no means the most flirty of clients).

Now for the sympathy bit. This is not the fact that Audi has called a review: it is clearly entitled to do that, and whether it is procurement-driven or not is irrelevant. On the flip though, this is described as a statutory review, which is a bit odd considering that perhaps ten other statutory review periods must have come and gone and been ignored.

No, the sympathy is over the timescale. According to Campaign, pitches will take place in May or June…but the result is not expected until January 2020. Come again? Six or seven months to come to a decision? That implies a precision-engineering thoroughness. But it also heralds an awful period of limbo, not just for BBH, but Audi too.

I can’t see how that is good for business. And, you wonder, is this something in the air at Audi’s VW parent? One of the other great, long-standing, client-agency relationships in the UK is between the main VW marque and DDB, which goes back even longer. And just to add a twist to the tale, just two months ago VW gave BBH its commercial vehicles account. Er…left hand, right hand...and so on.

P&G ups the ante with the platforms

Sometimes it feels like Marc Pritchard and Keith Weed are Tweedledum and Tweedledee, following each other with similar pronouncements on the state of the media eco-system; and sometimes it feels like they’re trying to outdo each other by rating up the ante. Take your pick.

Last week it was the turn of P&G’s Pritchard, addressing the ANA conference. His message: not that dissimilar to those made by Weed last year, in effect a call for the platforms to clean up their act.

This, as far as I can see, takes two forms: one, act as civilised publishers, promoting quality and privacy; and two, assure brand safety, accountability and third-party measurement. P&G, he said, would only put its budget in places where this could be guaranteed.

"Media providers that elevate quality, ensure brand safety and have control over their content will be the preferred providers of choice for P&G," he said. In effect, he’d like them to behave to the same standards as legacy media.

Good, but it would be so much better if other advertisers were prepared to fall in line. It’s a shame they don’t, and I suspect that they are perfectly happy to let Unilever and P&G do the talking for them.

As with Unilever, however, some of Pritchard’s pronouncements raise more questions than they answer. For example, will P&G remove all its money from the platforms immediately (since they currently fail the tests he has set)? How long will he give them to get their house in order? How will he know when they have? And on what basis will P&G decide what constitutes, not just brand safe spaces, but quality ones too?

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