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Prince Advertising Social Media Marketing

Bernie Ecclestone fiasco and misguided Prince tweets show it's time for advertising to ditch its celebrity obsession

By Jeremy Lee, columnist

April 26, 2016 | 4 min read

Well that was exhausting. Like a whirlwind, Advertising Week Europe swept into town and then swept out again. And what did we learn? Well, that’s for others to decide (time limitations meant that I wasn’t able to attend as many events as I’d like), but an overwhelmingly clear message is that the event would do well to lose its obsession with inviting irrelevant celebrities.

While the confused and offensive ramblings of Bernie Ecclestone dominated the headlines and ensured that Advertising Week Europe got coverage, does anyone in this business really care – let alone learn from – what he, Jeff Brazier and David Haye think about advertising? If the conference is to shake off its reputation as a souk for (some irrelevant) tech firms to ply their wares in seminars that look suspiciously like they have paid for, then some gentle editing of next year’s itinerary might be in order and such no-marks erased from the agenda.

I sincerely want and hope Advertising Week Europe to be the success that it deserves to be – god knows there’s enough for us to be proud of as well as a lack of platforms for us to do so – and it remains a real credit to the Advisory Council, most particularly the unstoppable energy of Kathleen Saxton, for getting it off the ground in the first place. But for it to properly become something that “educates, enlightens, engages and entertains” (Advertising Week figurehead Matthew Scheckner’s words) it remains a work in progress.

Some involvement with the wider creative community rather than just the fringes of media technology and programmatic would probably also help – in one seminar a show of hands revealed no clients, a tiny number of creative, and an overwhelming number of staff from media agencies and companies. And there’s little to be gained from those two constituents of the industry just speaking to themselves.

Anyway, moving on. It’s not just the organisers of last week’s conference that think by hooking themselves, however awkwardly, to a celeb it will make them interesting and cool. The sad death of the creative genius Prince produced the widely ridiculed tweet from Homebase, for which it later apologised.

In its defence, it’s likely that the grossly misjudged tweet was sent by an in-house junior rather than an agency acting on its behalf (I sincerely hope), but what to make of a global edict sent from on high at Havas Worldwide imploring staff to commemorate the death of the musician to post tributes to him with the hashtags #PurpleMonday and #Havas?

As Chris Hirst, the European and UK group chief executive of Havas, wrote thoughtfully in this very organ on the Boaty McBoatface farrago, “we should not be using social media as a substitute for leadership, judgment and good old-fashioned decision marketing”.

Indeed we shouldn’t and it’s good to see that the rest of Havas seems to have taken his advice on judgment rather than the diktat from the agency’s global communications director. At the time of writing the total number of tweets that include both hashtags stands at the grand total of err three while the ‘powerful image’ created by Studio Six that Havas thoughtfully created for its staff to “use and spread widely” doesn’t seem to have been used at all.

Perhaps the irony of Havas attempting to co-opt Prince, an artist who fell out with Warner Bros for the way it corporately tried to manage his creativity, wasn’t lost on its staff. Anyway, common sense prevailed but Havas isn’t the first and won’t be the last agency or company to be guilty of such blatant opportunism when the next celebrity slips from this mortal coil.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JezzaLee

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