Awards shows address issue of ‘pseudo-clients’

A series of television spots for Vancouver pet supply store Canine Equipment, featuring an elderly man and his homicidal dog, caused quite a stir at last year's Lotus Awards. But it wasn't the sight of splattering blood that got everyone all...

A series of television spots for Vancouver pet supply store Canine Equipment, featuring an elderly man and his homicidal dog, caused quite a stir at last year’s Lotus Awards. But it wasn’t the sight of splattering blood that got everyone all steamed up. It was the fact that most people had never seen the ads before.

The spots – in which the dog variously electrocutes and mutilates his master – did run in the Vancouver market, but in such low weights as to be virtually undetectable. For many in the agency community, the Canine Equipment ‘bad dog’ campaign was yet another example of work being done for what are pejoratively called ‘pseudo-clients.’

Pseudo-clients are those with little or no marketing budget and who have little or no say in the creative direction of the campaign. The agencies that are behind such controversial and low-weight campaigns, many in the industry charge, are less interested in selling the client’s product or building brand awareness than they are in qualifying to win an advertising award.

The issue has caused so much concern that members of the Lotus Award committee are planning to meet this month to discuss whether they should tighten the entry guidelines to prevent such work being submitted.

‘There has been some concern expressed about whether the inclusion of this kind of work takes away from the credibility of the show,’ says Lotus Award chairman Richard Fisher.

It’s an issue with which organizers of awards shows across Canada are grappling. Last year’s Advertising & Design Club Awards book included a denunciation of so-called pseudo-clients by Jamie Way, ADC chairman and creative director of TBWA Chiat/Day. ‘It seems increasingly that only small and trivial accounts are privy to our talents and passions,’ he said at the time. ‘At the end of the day, does an award-winning ad for a tattoo parlour really affect Canada’s reputation and presence in the world (advertising) scene?’

For many in the creative community, work for pseudo-clients is seen as a legitimate way to interest larger clients in the creative possibilities of advertising as well as to promote the creative muscle of the agency. Others, however, see it as merely a convenient way to grab awards.

‘Our clients put us in a box,’ says Alvin Wasserman, president of Vancouver-based Wasserman & Partners Advertising, which has a policy of not courting so-called pseudo-clients. ‘The box includes (the client’s) budget, their positioning, and the demands of the market. The real art of advertising is creating compelling and effective work that breaks out of that box while still respecting the client’s limitations.’

But work for pseudo-clients, or ‘Robin Hood clients’ as Rethink’s Chris Staples prefers to call them, can help to raise the creative bar for every client in an ad agency’s stable. Staples points to his former employer Palmer Jarvis DDB’s award-winning and edgy work for McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada as an example.

‘A lot of the McDonald’s advertising elsewhere is boring, but by seeing the work we were doing for smaller ‘Robin Hood’ clients, McDonald’s got a lot more comfortable with a different kind of ad,’ he says.

While agencies should always be looking for new and unusual ways to help their clients move away from the pack, it’s even more important to do so for small clients who have little or no media budget, Staples says. A campaign for the tiny Kelowna, B.C.-based Tree Brewing Co. featuring a search for the ‘G-spot’ did not even run after it was banned by the B.C. Liquor Control Board, but Staples estimates the campaign received about $200,000 worth of media coverage.

Drafting rules that eliminate pseudo or Robin Hood work from award shows will be difficult, if not impossible, without punishing small clients who cannot afford large media buys, says Fisher.

For Phil Brown, the creator of the Canine Equipment ‘bad dog’ spots, the grumbling is merely a matter of sour grapes.

‘I don’t see the problem,’ he says. ‘We did work for a real client, they do sell pet supplies and the commercials ran.’

Kraft Heinz beats the street, but reports slight sales slide

The company's Q2 net sales, while down slightly, reveal continued demand for snacks and pre-packaged meals.
Kraft Heinz

Kraft Heinz is reporting earnings of 78 cents a share, beating Wall Street’s estimate of 72 cents a share, thanks to continued demand for snacks and pre-packaged meals. However, the company also reported a net sales decline of 0.5% compared with the same period last year, to $6.6 billion, according to its latest Q2 earnings report, released Tuesday.

The company experienced a favourable 2.3 percentage point impact from currency and a negative 0.7 percentage point impact from its February divestiture of Hormel Foods – including the Planters peanut brand – which closed in the second quarter of 2021.

Its cheese divestiture – which included the sale of its natural cheese division to Lactalis – is expected to close in the second half of 2021, says Kraft Heinz Global CEO Miguel Patricio in this morning’s conference call.

Adjusted EBITDA slumped 5.2% versus the year-ago period to $1.7 billion and increased 6.6% versus the comparable 2019 period. Higher transportation and inflation-related goods costs continue to affect the company’s bottom line.

Kraft Heinz’ organic net sales declined 3.6% in Canada over the last three months compared with a comparable period last year, this as total net sales rose 8.8% year over year. 

However, its overall organic net sales slipped 2.1% compared with 2020 figures. This includes the negative impact stemming from exiting its McCafé licensing agreement. However, this decline was partly offset, Kraft Heinz reports, by “partial recovery in foodservice channels and retail consumption trends.”

“Food service is recovering, and recovering fast,” Patricio stressed in today’s earnings call. He said “the bet to support QSR” early in the pandemic, with individual packets of ketchups and sauces, is paying off.

Channel trends are still normalizing, he warns, and it’s too early to see how at home or away from home, will net out. “We have big ambitions for away from home business,” he said. Consumers continue to evolve how they eat, with Patricio saying that Kraft Heinz is collaborating with a popular DTC brand for its Philadelphia cream cheese.

Accrued marketing costs, the company reports, rose to $968 million from $946 million in December 2020.

“We are investing more in our brands, and better as well, building a much more creative company,” Patricio reported.

Kraft Heinz is also strengthening and diversifying its media presence, he said, driving repeat rates for those discovering and rediscovering the brand. Patricio added that the company is continuing to drive its transformation program forward, modernizing its brands and better connecting with its consumers.