'It's not what Don Draper would have been doing'

Sir Martin Sorrell

Sir Martin Sorrell

Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO/founder of advertising behemoth WPP Group, has told Lions Daily News the global ad sector is currently going through a tough period as it transitions into a tech-driven business.

“It is a difficult market exacerbated by low growth and low inflation,” he stated. “But tech is the future; it accounts for 75% of what we do, which is not what Don Draper would have been doing in his day.”

Sorrell’s comments came as major rival Groupe Publicis announced a significant change in strategy towards major industry awards events, including the Lions.

When asked by the international media whether he would follow suit, he said the jury was out.

Sorrell, who is known for constantly addressing more efficient routes to helping clients reach consumers, will be examining the international marketing sector’s future at today’s Cannes Debate which sees him in conversation with two revered thought leaders in entertainment and sports.

His on-stage exchange of ideas of how entertainment and sports will help boost the industry’s future will be with Robert Kraft, one of the biggest investors in professional American football and soccer, and Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director, producer and co-chairman of Hollywood production powerhouse Imagine Entertainment.

Speaking ahead of the event, Sorrell explained why the duo were were ideal for the debate.

“Sport is a subset of entertainment and vice versa,” he said. “Both are a key part of what we do in marketing and highly relevant to what we see and hear in Cannes. Sports and entertainment establish an emotional connection to the different products and services we serve consumers. And tech is increasingly becoming important to that.”

That is also why Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, the tech sector’s “fearsome five” and the world’s most valuable companies, are involved in sports and entertainment, he pointed out. And he pointed to key examples of sports-entertainment-tech partnerships.

E-commerce goliath Amazon is the exclusive streaming TV partner of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football’s 2017 season. This means its Amazon Prime customers in more than 200 markets worldwide will be able to watch top-tier American football for free. Amazon snatched the NFL agreement from Twitter, which was the previous streaming partner.

Rakuten, Japan’s biggest e-commerce conglomerate, is sponsoring Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona in a deal worth €220m.

“Increasingly, digital media has made sports and entertainment more accessible and because of social media, live entertainment and sports are reaching more people than ever before,” he added.

He said these developments have contributed to the growing business of esports, the professional competitive gaming tournaments whose popularity prompted Amazon to pay almost $1bn for Twitch, the world’s biggest streaming esports platform, in 2014.

“Kraft also happens to be heavily involved in esports because competitive gaming is becoming more and more significant as both entertainment and sports,” he added.

Sorrell acknowledged the rising competition and consolidation in the global ad-tech sector as Verizon, the US telecoms group, merges the digital-ad assets of Yahoo and AOL. This will create Oath, a new platform set to be the third biggest ad-tech service provider after Google and Facebook.

But the ever-pragmatic Sorrell advised that the industry should not ignore emerging players like Snap, owner of the new-generation social platform Snapchat, and a major Cannes Lions sponsor this year.

Snapchat recently sealed deals to deliver content linked to the prestigious European football tournament UEFA Champions League to its 10 million-plus daily users.

“I would argue that Snap is the most significant third force in digital advertising,” Sorrell said.

He then referred to the ambitions of Vivendi, the French media, music and gaming conglomerate in talks to take over French advertising and communications conglomerate Havas Group.

“Although it could create a possible conflict of interest, as you have media planners and buyers at Havas selling client content that it owns, it will definitely be creating a new business model,” he added.

InterviewsHarriet Palmer