Most years pass with a handful of vaguely notable events which are
quickly forgotten, but not 1997.
This was a year of sweeping, fundamental change, leaving the country
radically different from 1996. Marketing has played a pivotal role in
many of the year’s key events.
Faultless marketing was certainly behind the relaunch of Labour as New
Labour, with its neat haircuts, voter-friendly policies and ’on-message’
troops marshalled by Peter Mandelson. Labour’s consistency and unity
contrasted sharply with the disarray of the Tories.
Labour’s victory made the country think it was entering a new era,
encouraging a culture of radical change, in which Britain itself was
This process was being talked about before New Labour got in, but it
gained real momentum once Blair adopted it as a key theme of his
Early talk of ’Cool Britannia’ - focusing mainly on British hipness and
creativity - was broadened out to a fundamental re-evaluation of
national identity in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales,
British Airways’ brave redesign sums up this national rethink. Dropping
its Union Jack corporate logo in favour of a ground-breaking design
incorporating a range of world art, BA got the whole country talking
about notions of Britishness and heritage. The British Tourist Board
kept the debate going with its new brand image and the Design Council
fuelled the fire with a report commissioned from think-tank Demos called
’A new Brand for Britain?’.
The Millennium Dome - and whatever goes inside it - continues to spark
debate about what kind of messages Britain should be sending to the
world in 2000, and at what cost.
Bearing all this in mind, isn’t it odd that in a year when the products
of marketing touched so many lives - be it in the form of New Labour,
New Britain or The Spice Girls - the profession found itself having a
confidence crisis. A host of studies - by, among others, the Marketing
Society and Marketing Council - concluded that the marketing function is
under threat. We are told that marketers are being sidelined in the
company and that their roles are being appropriated by other
It is clear that marketing is often setting the news agenda - just look
at the tobacco sponsorship row - but its overall value to business is
not being recognised. That needs to change in 1998.
It was a good year for ...
Newell & Sorrell’s courageous new corporate identity was well received
by the marketing community but more uncertainly by the public. Margaret
Thatcher took offence but BA is not her baby anymore and the new
identity showed the world a more adventurous face.
Rapier Stead & Bowden
Defying some of adland’s greatest egos, this below-the-line agency beat
Soho’s finest, Saatchi & Saatchi, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and HHCL &
Partners, to win the much coveted pounds 50m Cable & Wireless
Communications account in July.
Despite grumblings of unfair pitch briefs and the rapid departure of
marketing director Ruth Blakemore, Rapier held on to the account and the
yellow face teaser campaign followed with the ’What can we do for you?’
campaign in the summer.
The market leader finally woke up to the fact that its advertising was
falling short of the mark and its image needed pepping up, especially
when faced with a branding onslaught from Orange and One-2-One.
A pounds 30m investment resulted in all its retail outlets being
rebranded, heralding the demise of People’s Phone, the launch of a new
corporate logo, and the emotive ’Words’ ad campaign from BMP, which
broke in July.
Howell suddenly found his wallet bulging after Tim Bell’s Chime
Communications and Martin Sorrell’s WPP group bought out HHCL & Partners
in a pounds 20m deal in October.
Companies couldn’t seem to get into this sector fast enough. Retailers,
in particular, rushed to set up their own services or jump into bed with
one of the established players. Sainsbury’s launched its bank and Tesco
opted for personal finance, while Asda linked up with Lloyds TSB and put
the banks in its stores.
Richard Branson, not surprisingly, had to be there too, and launched his
Virgin One account in October, run by Royal Bank of Scotland.
Meanwhile, consumers rubbed their hands in glee as the windfalls tumbled
their way. Alliance & Leicester, Woolwich, Halifax and Northern Rock all
shed their mutual status. As the high street enjoyed consumers’
new-found spending power, Nationwide remained the only major building
society to stick to its guns.
Royal and Sun Alliance won the prize for the most drawn-out pitch of the
McCann-Erickson finally won on a project basis with no sign of its long
expected brand-building campaign, instead concentrating efforts on the
Royal and Sun Alliance yacht. And sticking with the yacht theme,
Commercial Union resolved its account pitch between Duckworth Finn Grubb
Waters and Leo Burnett aboard its sea-going yacht. Duckworth Finn
clearly knew its spinnaker from its mainsail and won the pounds 10m
Life was a little less rosy for Lowe Howard-Spink when Lloyds Bank, now
reincarnated as Lloyds TSB, dropped the agency after 15 years in favour
of Saatchi & Saatchi and DMB&B.
Emap Metro’s men’s title became the biggest-selling lifestyle monthly -
ahead of all the women’s titles, never mind its fellow men’s titles.
It enjoyed a 178% rise, breaking the 500,000 mark with a circulation of
504,959 a month in August.
French car giant, PSA, owner of Peugeot and Citroen, moved its pounds
89m media account to Initiative Media in July. Not such good news for
the incumbent, Mediapolis, as PSA accounted for about 40% of its
It was a bad year for ...
No sooner had BA stopped patting itself on the back for the launch of
its new identity than it was plunged into a damaging industrial
relations dispute. BA management made few friends with its bullying
attitude toward striking staff, and passengers were left stranded at
airports. This was in contrast to the global, caring brand strategy it
had invested pounds 60m in trying to promote.
It started in May when Shell’s marketing director, Raoul Pinnell, told
its ad agencies it wanted them to cut their fees by half. Later that
month, Dominic Cadbury, chairman of Cadbury Schweppes, attacked the
’froth’ of advertising with which he felt marketers were obsessed. In
October, Niall FitzGerald, chairman of Unilever, lambasted ad agencies,
saying: ’I do not find today’s advertising agencies being much of a
match for tomorrow’s marketing opportunities.’
In the same month, Saatchi & Saatchi announced it was dropping the word
’advertising’ from its title. Reports of the death of the ad agency may
be premature but they face growing competition from management and brand
consultants keen to claim the strategic high ground.
The telecoms giant started the year with a tussle with the BBC over its
use of ex-EastEnders actors in one of its ads. It avoided pulling the
ads, and the wrangle was eventually resolved with the help of a few cuts
But in July it lived up to its reputation of having a revolving door in
the marketing department, with the departure of Mike Wagner. The
personal communications marketing director was shunted across to head
its mobility services group and is yet to be replaced.
Meanwhile, the infamous American marketing consultant, Ed Carter,
continued to throw his weight around, allegedly assaulting an AMV board
account director and BT’s finance director.
Hasbro finally admitted defeat for the 35-year-old doll after Sindy had
been trounced by her big-boobed rival, Barbie. It withdrew its pounds 5m
ad support in January and sentenced Sindy to a slow death.
The alcopops bubble may have burst this year, with the sector facing
intense criticism from pressure groups and the media for targeting
underage drinkers. Industry watchdog The Portman Group finally showed
its teeth in September, forcing some brands off the shelves and others
to adopt more adult-oriented designs. This was despite new evidence
which suggested there was no link between alcopops and increased teenage
Although it was the fastest-growing sector in Marketing/ACNielsen’s
biggest brands survey, the growth of alcopops has peaked and is now on
the decline. Many retailers have de-listed the smaller brands and only
the big names like Hooch look as though they will survive.
The lottery operator faced the PR crisis from hell when its annual
results were leaked and details of directors’ exorbitant salary
increases hit the headlines in May. Camelot had to face the music with a
government, less disposed to boardroom indulgences.
The McVitie’s marketing director is rumoured to have been banned from
talking to the press after he first revealed that McVitie’s was slashing
new product development investment and then led a call to top
advertisers to join an organised boycott of selected ITV regions in
protest at airtime inflation.
THE YEAR OF THE SPICE
The power of marketing was never so apparent as with the success of
Scary, Ginger, Posh, Sporty and Baby. While the adults among us may have
groaned at yet another endorsement, eight-year-olds couldn’t get
Whether the film will sustain their success remains to be seen, but you
could never accuse them of being picky when it comes to
It began with Channel 5, then Pepsi got on the bandwagon.
Other link-ups included Walkers Crisps, Polaroid, Elida Faberge’s body
spray Impulse, and then the computer game with Sony and the Spice Girl
Research suggests the public has had enough Spicemania but Pepsi wants
more and BT is making its mind up.
NO SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE
Probably the single biggest issue to hit marketing this year was
Labour’s proposed ban on all tobacco advertising.
As passions ran high for all those involved, it proved to be the first
major crisis Tony Blair faced, especially when Labour was forced to
return Formula 1 figurehead Bernie Ecclestone’s pounds 1m donation. The
ban, so long pledged by New Labour, turned into a ’will they, won’t
Pre-election - Labour declared its anti-tobacco advertising and
September - hinted the ban would be a total blackout, including all
direct marketing and point-of-sale promotion
November - Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, said Formula 1
sponsorship would be exempt and direct marketing may only be subject to
a stiffer voluntary code, rather than EU legislation
December - Britain signed the EU Directive ensuring that in ten years’
time everything short of point-of-purchase promotion will be outlawed in
the tobacco industry in the confines of the European Union.
The prospect of a ban forced tobacco companies to cut some innovative
deals. BAT bought the Tyrrell F1 team in a deal worth pounds 30m and
Rothmans decided to use the Williams team to promote its Winfield brand
LAUNCH OF THE YEAR
March saw the launch of the first new terrestrial channel since Channel
4 started 15 years ago. Its teething problems of poor or non-existent
reception in some areas and a shortage of retuners was glossed over when
it finally came to screen with an acclaimed brand identity designed by
Of course the ubiquitous Spice Girls started off the proceedings and
advertisers jostled for position in the first ad break, with the opening
night attracting 2.6 million viewers.
The programming may have left something to be desired but by the end of
the year its news format was winning over the audiences. So much so that
C5 decided to move the roving Kirsty Young to the 7pm slot, putting her
head-to-head with Channel 4’s Jon Snow.
MOST CONTROVERSIAL AD
Guinness’s ill-judged sado-masochistic ad, which bore an uncanny
resemblance to the death of Tory MP Stephen Milligan, was withdrawn in
January. The ad, which appeared in FHM, showed a leather-clad man
trussed up in a room, with a picture of John Major on the wall and a
bowl of oranges by his side. Guinness apologised to the Tory party and
reviewed its advertising approval process.
I’LL SEE YOU IN COURT
Marketing issues made their fair share of court appearances in 1997.
It all began in February with the copycat tussle between United
Biscuits, courtesy of its Penguin product and Asda’s Puffin. United
Biscuits won the case in March although it lost its claim that the
Puffin name alone infringed Penguin’s registered trademark.
Police were called in to investigate a multi-million pound fraud in
Orange’s marketing department. The case against Paul Squires, Orange’s
former group print manager, and two others will be heard in court next
McDonald’s won the 313-day McLibel case against Helen Steel and David
Morris in June, although the two activists claimed the moral victory
Abbey National’s former marketing director, Mike Doyle was sent down for
eight years in July for his part in defrauding the bank of pounds
Direct Line Financial Services won a High Court injunction against the
Advertising Standards Authority in August, preventing the publication of
its monthly report until reference to a complaint was removed.
PEOPLE MOVES OF THE YEAR
Christine Walker leaves Zenith. By the end of the year she has set up
her own media venture with M&C Saatchi.
Lisa Gernon, ex-marketing director of Orange joins Cable & Wireless
Mobile division as regional director and ends up as chief executive
before the year end.
Simon Waugh leaves his job as managing director of Saga Services to
become marketing director at Centrica.
Sega adds to its marketing disasters by ditching its European marketing
director position in a management shake-up, which puts Andy Mee out of a
Shaun Powell left his job as commercial director at Barclaycard to
become Thomson’s marketing director.
Sam Chisholm reveals he is to step down as chief executive of BSkyB for
Ruth Blakemore, marketing director of newly-formed Cable & Wireless
Communications, leaves suddenly after only a few months in the job and
overseeing one of the most controversial advertising pitches of the
She is now commercial director at Bradford & Bingley. Capital Radio’s
chief executive, Richard Eyre, leaves to become ITV’s chief
Kevin Johnson from sports marketing group, ISL, joins The Millennium
Exhibition as commercial director.
Camelot marketing director Jon Kinsey leaves to become marketing and
strategy director for British Gas Trading.
Simon Esberger, Mercury Communication’s marketing director, opts out of
Cable & Wireless Communications and decamps to take up the marketing
director role at Cellnet.
ITV poaches Procter & Gamble’s managing director of cosmetics and
toiletries, John Hardie (left), to be its marketing and commercial
director. Jim Hytner, BSkyB’s marketing supremo, joins Channel 5 as
marketing director, replacing David Brook who moved to Channel 4.