Speaking at a recent FT conference in London, Sorrell claimed “we are now Maths Men not Mad Men”, in reference to the TV show about adland.
But his remarks riled many ad agency bosses and even sparked an open-letter from Mark Silber, the executive creative director of WPP-owned mobile ad agency Joule. He criticised his boss’ excessive focus on media and metrics over creativity.
Now, writing as a guest columnist for The Drum – which started the row by quoting him in the first place – Sorrell admitted he had upset quite a lot of people, adding: “Some took it to mean that ‘creativity’ had been relegated to the lower leagues.”
In an effort to appease his critics, Sorrell then went on to praise campaigns from WPP networks which had won industry plaudits, including Grey New York’s campaign for DirecTV, and what he called “my all-time favourite”, BTS United Oslo’s work for language education company Berlitz.
He enthused: “There’s certainly no shortage of exceptional work in TV (and press, outdoor, radio and other traditional media). It remains hugely effective for clients, and hugely important for our business.”
Sorrell also turned his praise on Ogilvy Sao Paulo’s Real Beauty Sketches for Dove, adding: “It’s a superb film that touched a nerve and made headlines around the world. Peerless work, brilliantly conceived and executed by people at the very top of their craft.”
He then attempted to explain his original comments: “I was talking about the ever-increasing importance of big data and technology to our business, and how they’re revolutionising what we can do for our clients.
“Creativity is the beating heart of our business. There is no business without it. But it doesn’t belong exclusively to one discipline or another. Imagination, inventiveness, wit, ingenuity and talent are just as at home in media, PR, software development, data and research as they are in art and copy.”
Data marketing is a major part of WPP’s operation, accounting for £10bn-plus – equivalent to 25% – of its revenues. The group plans to increase this significantly; Ogilvy & Mather recently followed sister agency Wunderman in creating the role of chief data officer in a bid to claw in more data clients.
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