Yeah but, no but… digital

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Perhaps we have a problem with teenage violence but there’s nothing quite so unseemly as old people scrapping it out. It only makes it worse when those pensioners are millionaire bosses of major traditional media and marketing firms. As Brand Republic reports (requires free registration), Martin Sorrell and Maurice Levy have been taking time out of the Davos World Economic Forum to pull each others’ hair and trade petty insults.

The argument relates to Publicis’ and WPP’s relationship with Google. Sorrell, rather astutely, has previously described the big G as ‘a short-term friend and a long-term enemy’.

Levy thinks Publicis has a longer-term plan with the search engine, initially represented as a staff swap between the two companies.

Trouble started when Sorrell dismisses Publicis’ relationship as little more than having a meeting, adding:

“What Publicis is doing represents a little bit of a concern that they didn’t get the technology right. I think Maurice is acknowledging a bit of an Achilles heel when it comes to technology.”

Levy’s response was to shout back across the playground,

“I’m sorry Martin said that — it’s really cheap, but it’s probably the result of his lack of understanding of technology.

“He’s a financier, I’m an engineer, and you can see the difference. I’m pleased with what we have done, and I’m sorry that my dear friend has not understood it.”

I’m sure tetchiness will only increase as the effect of traditional ads (and the budgets managed by the leading agencies in these two groups), take a bashing. Worth remembering too that Google had only just dropped the ‘beta’ badge on their search engine in 2000, and is now the disputed girlfriend of these two older boys, who should know better.

Anyone who’s worked in either of these monolithic corporations is likely to confirm that on average, the individual operating companies are incompetent at digital. Some moments of inspiration tend to come from high-priced digital acquisitions (which are then systematically bled dry) while more traditional elements of the groups are firmly in denial about the whole thing.

Clearly the pressure of reforming the beasts is starting to take its toll.

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