MARKETING FOCUS: REVIEW OF THE YEAR 1997 - Jane Bainbridge takes a look at some of the highlights and low points of 1997, a year which had some memorable moments for marketers

Most years pass with a handful of vaguely notable events which are quickly forgotten, but not 1997.

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,

in August.

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.

Rupert Howell

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.

Financial services

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.

Initiative Media

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 ...

BA (again)

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.

Advertising agencies

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

by BT.

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.

Mark Horgan

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 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.


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

they’ debate.

Pre-election - Labour declared its anti-tobacco advertising and

sponsorship policy

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

next season.


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

Wolff Olins.

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.


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.


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.



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

health reasons.


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.


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