Care less Wispa

Does anyone else think the following – one an honest-to-goodness advertising campaign (from Fallon no less) and one a piss-take of the world without computers – look suprisingly similar?

(And yes, that is Rolf Harris).

The entire cracked photoshop contest is a lot of fun, imagining what the world would be like if the internet disappeared tomorrow. Particularly good is the theatre audience watching a cat doing something cute (a la YouTube) and the real life Rick-rolling.

The Wispa campaign basically says: people like sharing this crap on the internet, now let’s take some pap and shove it on a billboard sign. There’s something interesting in the idea from the point of view of creating salient advertising – each poster will be unusual and might make the passerby wonder what on earth it is about? But – of course – it will also be meaningless to most people.

Salience is important, but… erm… what the hell has it got to do with chocolate bars.

The site explains:

“We’ve decided to give our advertising space to you guys as a thank you for all the love you’ve shown to Wispa.”

“We have bought thousands of billboards all over the UK and Ireland so that you can share your special messages with the world. Yes, that’s right, you let us know your special message and if it gets selected we will post it on a real billboard in the location of your choice.

“So if your mum lives in Birmingham you could post her a special message, say a poem, and we’ll try to give you a site as near to her as possible.”

Here’s one:

(It’s for a dog!)

All of them are up on the site. There’s also the ‘gold panel’ of ‘normal’ (there needs to be about five sets of inverted commas around this freak show) people like Cara Stripp. Does anyone older than Cluster (see above), really think that these profiles aren’t made up?

As you have probably guessed I love Wispa, and was really keen for Cadbury to bring it back. So a few years ago I got involved with the bring back Wispa facebook group, and even though it is now back, I still spend lots of time on the site chatting to other Wispa fans and getting involved wherever I can.

I love Wispa because it’s something that I grew up with and it holds good memories for me. Everyone remembers their favourite sweet as a kid and for me it’s never changed. I like the special texture and just the fact that it tastes so gooooood!

My love of Wispa has become infamous and I often receive Wispas as parts of presents from friends and family. I even have Wispa earrings and a necklace which were specially made for me!

The thought process seems to go along these lines: People are really motivated by social media. People follow recommendations from real people. So if we make up some ‘real people’ and have them recommend us, and then get a sort of weird implied (but not really obvious) recommendation in return for some free poster sites, then everyone will love us.

We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again. The term ‘social media’ is a bit misleading for the advertising types. It is media, but not in the sense of ‘media buying’. You can’t purchase a chunk of it.

It’s certainly a truthful observation that there is a phenomonen around social media that people like it and respond to it, but it does not imply that it can be used for commercial messages. Good commercial messages can be amplified by social media. But that will happen if they’re good, interesting etc; not because they appear to be social in nature. Fallon must know this… it’s the point of the Gorilla.

I find this whole stage of advertising evolution really embarrassing to watch. It’s like a Wispa sponsored X-Factor at Sunderland townhall: “People love X-Factor, let’s get us one of those…. obviously on a smaller scale though, cause we’ve only got a 100k budget”.

Just because you can


I’m not a twitter expert. This seems to put me in the minority. And it’s a great thing that so many people have a view on what the microblogging service is doing in communications and how people, and companies, should be interacting with it.

Over at e-consultancy there’s been a couple of recent interesting outbreaks of expertise. The first was the victim of poor research. John Gaffney went about a critique of Walmart and Best Buy’s social media strategy. His assertion was that the brands ought to be on Twitter and were not. I’m guessing the author was probably more suprised than anyone when the first comment came from the Best Buy community editor themselves and talking about the amazing work they are actually doing. Other commentors pointed out the author himself had only been on the service 1 month and had posted 14 times. The author apologized, the editor delivered a half-hearted apology, Ashely Friedlin jumped in with something more closely resembling attrition, and the post itself was updated to recognise the error.

So far, so much schadenfreude. I’m sure Gaffney will not repeat that mistake, and I’m sure e-consultancy will in general continue to be the broadly respectable rag for news, opinion and social media that it has been to date.

The post was then followed up by e-consultancy editor Chris Lake carrying out a sort of half-arsed audit of what the biggest agencies in the UK are doing about twitter. Essentially he had taken the NMA top 50 agencies (overall) and looked to see whether they had a twitter feed under their own name. I think it would be fair to describe the research in this case as brief, consisting of how many followers and posts each account has and so on.

Without wanting to repeat the debate which became lengthy, the point emerged fairly quickly that agencies (like mine which is in the list) have often started out with a company feed, only to move to individuals twittering under their own names fairly quickly. I think it’s also fair to say that the mere presence or absence of a twitter stream does not confirm or deny a reasonable approach to the medium – just as the presence of a brain does not imply brain activity.

I sort of pointed this out on the post (and to be fair, unlike the e-consultancy twitter feed, the author was all over the replies). It has taken me a couple of days to spot the gotcha in this part of the author’s response to me:

I’ve seen thought-leadership work wonders for agencies and Twitter enables that quite brilliantly. No longer do you have to release a white paper, or in-depth blog posts, but you can communicate at a micro level on a platform that is targeted to people’s interests.

I’m sorry it’s taken me a little while to realise what is was that was jarring in the author’s response but isn’t ‘thought leadership’ something that PR people invented in the late 90s. I don’t mean promoting yourself through good ideas. I mean the concept that a single thought-leading idea will be used in marketing or PR. Isn’t is an idea precisely oriented to single-track mass media of which Twitter is the antithesis?

For me, the benefit of Twitter in terms of promoting our agency is that people can see that there is a great deal of (leading) thought going on, and they can get involved in those thoughts and start a debate. But EMC Conchango as an entity doesn’t have a single view on anything. It’s got 400 views. Some are about technology, some about society, some about e-commerce, and on and on. We’re a pretty engaged bunch and we talk about stuff a lot, so we’re often broadly in agreement on certain points but the suggestion that there is an EMC Conchango view point on anything (or indeed an e-consultancy view on anything) seems wrong to me. That would be a denail of thought, and certainly wouldn’t be an indication of our leadership position. Unless we were following the North Korea model.

Of course,  one size will not fit all, and it will make sense for some organisations (especially one-man agencies – or two-man agencies where one man doesn’t have any opinions) to blog as an enttity. I for one am delighted to know that more big agencies are prefering to let staff think (and communicate) for themselves in such a personal new medium.

Agencies and echos

Here I am in New Media Age. Always a pleasure. And this article makes a good exposition of the vast range of agencies competing in this area.

It would have been nice if they could have included the ‘However….’ after the bit where I talk about how good non-digital agencies sometimes aren’t at digital design.

Also a bit of a shame that the article somewhat uncritically peddles the Doc Marten’s work, which was exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote the ‘however’ bit. 

In any case, for any of you interested to know, here’s what I originally said.

– Traditional design agencies have been busy upping their digital games over the last couple of years, and many believe their involvement in brand identity gives them an edge over their pure digital counterparts. What is your response to this? 

It’s certainly true that a lot of traditional agencies are working hard to break from marketing-led and brand-led design areas into digital design. Equally, it’s obvious that they have some of the most important building blocks: passion, imagination and an understanding of their clients’ brands. However, whilst many have produced interesting work, there is still a great deal of opportunity to for  most of these agencies to build out their digital capabilities and to continue to move towards more digitally-oriented thinking.

In disappointingly many cases, agencies appear to lapse into re-deploying their staff without considering the different skill sets and experience that are needed for the best digital design and strategy. And, without a fundamental shift in skills, we will too often see offline thinking brashly applied online. When all you have is hammer –as the saying goes – everything starts to look like a nail.

The most obvious change required is the understanding of digital as more than a transmission of communication messages, in which the recipient is an essentially passive observer. Instead, we must be in the business of creating and managing entire consumer experiences.

Putting the user truly at the heart of the design process, the business strategy, and innovation cycles requires a structured approach to research, evaluation and insight, sometimes overlooked in the desire to sell an image-led or communications-idea dominated campaign. 

Agencies must also avoid shying away from looking hard at clients’ business realities. When the project you’re working on has a life outside of Photoshop, you need to think not just of how you will create it, but what it’s true lifespan will be: how will it be maintained, how will it impact on the business; what will the business do to make it a valuable asset?

Finally – and perhaps most surprisingly for agencies committing to the digital area – is lack of understanding of the technology itself. To be truly digital, design agencies must eat, sleep and breathe technology. They must be fascinated about what it can do and how it works, they must push the boundaries of what is possible and the experiences it can create for consumers.

– What advantages do you believe pure digital agencies like Conchango have over traditional design agencies moving into this space?

Strategic design agencies like Conchango have structured our business precisely around creating and enabling incredible customer experiences. We are not here to win petty awards but to make a real difference to how our client’s customers feel about their digital interactions. Our team comes from a very varied background. Yes, many of the team have worked in brand- or advertising-led businesses. Others may be user-experience specialists, experts at experience planning and management, experts in business change, or technology specialists. Our ambition for bringing this eclectic team together is to transform our clients’ digital customer experiences. And so we are aligned behind that single goal, in a way in which we believe some traditional design agencies will find it difficult to do.

 – What do you think the biggest challenge is for traditional design agencies trying to grab a slice of the digital pie?

Design agencies are a varied bunch and the challenges will vary widely. Many will need to seriously rethink how they use research. Some will need to look at their skills in interaction design or technology. Others will need to think about how they plan for experiences which have extended life spans. Whilst adding new disciplines, agencies must work hard to make the most of the skills that already exist: quality visual design, quality copy production, client management and so on, without trying to merely roll them across to the digital space.

– What do you believe we will see in 2009, in terms of how this landscape will evolve?

There will be a polarization, as there was in 2000/2001. Design agencies must either get serious about digital or get out of it all together. Getting serious will require investment and a willingness to undergo a change in culture. But, in a market  where supply outstrips demand (especially at the bottom end), agencies still dipping their toes in the digital pond will find it is time to refocus on their areas of strength.

The complexity of digital thinking and digital design will  continue to increase over the next 12 months, accelerating  in line with dramatically shifting patterns of consumer behavior and significant increases in sophistication across many technology areas. It’s an incredible space to be working in, but agencies must be driven by more than a motivation to get where the budgets are going.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum


In the last post, I talked a bit about the new Skittles site. This post really comes by way of an apology for a small experiment I ran following that post, and a couple of unexpected observations that came out of it.

The experiment was to try and take over the twitter search feed which had previously been (all of) the Skittles new ‘social media concept’ home page. The idea was to turn it into a large advert for something other than Skittles. As alluded to by Amelia , I could have chosen a a very ‘specialist’ or even offensive product. Instead I went for a simple, delicious and peanutty competitor, Reese’s Pieces – not least because I’m mildly addicted to them. 

Unfortunately by this stage, the Twitter feed was no longer the site’s home page (instead being relegated to the ‘chatter’ section). Something tells me it might quietly disappear altogether fairly soon.

Frankly, it was very easy to do. Indeed, it could easily be accomplished using brute force alone. All you need to do is set up a twitter account and constantly repost comments about your product with the word ‘skittles’ (not even the hash tag) in them.

So far, so good. I coloured it up a bit by also creating an identity for my product and an appropriate little picture. 

Manually putting the posts in is a bit dull so I set up a (google) app engine page to do it, using one of the Twitter APIs. That sounds fiddly but actually wasn’t much more complex than adapting some code samples from the web. App engine itself is relatively easy to understand, and it’s free.

I’d originally plalnned to post ‘Personally I prefer Reese’s Pieces to Skittles’ at regular intervals. GAE doesn’t currently have prebuilt fixed interval event calling (what’s called CRON) although this approach would still have been easily done. Instead, I turned it into a poll, where other users would click on a link saying, basically, ‘click here if you prefer RP to Skittles’. Each time it was clicked, the poll question was reposted.

And that was it. Every post on the Skittles chatter page for most of the weekend was someone saying they prefer a competitor product, and showing a picture of it.

There were a couple of issues, aside from being pointless. Firstly,Twitter limits tweets per hour which made the page hijacks bunch up a bit (although, again, I can think of multiple straight-forward solutions, if this were a serious attempt to cause trouble).

Secondly, someone – perhaps Mars or their agency, perhaps Twitter themselves, perhaps a search engine or a spammer was following posted links automatically – leading to loop that would ‘vote’ for RP every second or so – until tweet sending per hour was reached. Again, this could be easily fixed for a proper attempt to regulate the flow.

Was it vandalism? It certainly looked like it on their site, but really that is more a reflection of the Skittles’ approach. The way Twitter search works means that a feed with no followers, which is only a few minutes old, can dominate the search results. There is no inbuilt mechanism in this sort of setup to infer the authority of the post or the poster.

Clearly I was being a pain deliberately but there can’t ever be a reason why a lonely twitterer shouldn’t be able to say what they want to themselves (bear in mind that ReesePieces1, my Twitter identity had zero followers for most of the experiment – although even this bizarre character picked up three SPAM followers in a couple of days). And Skittles can scarcely object to their customers using the brand name – that’s the entire premise of this whole stunt.

So, my apology is to anyone who found the experiment intrusive or annoying, although it certainly showed what I wanted to test.

Whilst I’ve found the whole Skittles site launch most peculiar, it has been interesting to watch both the reaction to it, and the variety of thinking about what it means.

For me, the most telling aspect has been the brand’s reaction to trouble. Having Twitter as the dominant social media format certainly was quite brave. When that started going wrong, they switched to Wikipedia. Well it didn’t talk about deviant sexual practices, but you’d have to conclude that no one at the agency had really read it.

This is what it said at launch:

Skittles is a brand of chewy fruit candies produced and marketed by Mars, Incorporated. They have hard sugar shells which carry the letterS. The inside is mainly sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil along with fruit juicecitric acid and natural and artificial flavors.


Skittles are not kosher[3][4] or halal in the US or Europe.

Since then, the main Wikipedia entryhas been toned down a bit (by the agency?) and the links to Wikipedia have been updated to point at this bland varieties page. The home page now points to the brand’s YouTube channel (the area they control most) and shows the brand’s TV ads… which is exactly what every other ‘convenitional’ FMCG brand site is. Was it worth it?

Chasing rainbows

Now that's what I call marketing - ET sells Reese's Pieces

Listen, I’m not going to start believing my predictions. I promise. After all, one correct hit in all these years is not good odds. However, I do find it a bit spooky that I wrote this post last week talking about just how pointless FMCG-brand websites are, and how useless FMCG brands are therefore likely be on Twitter, and in less than 5 days, Skittles relaunches its site in a special efffort to prove me right. Perhaps they’re watching the house.

(For those who haven’t seen it, the site isn’t really a site, it just points at Skittles-related social media like Twitter, Wikipeida, Facebook and YouTube. The point is supposed to be that the concept of a site is becoming less meaningful and your brand should be in disparate locations. This is all true. But it doesn’t matter when you’re Skittles, because no one cares).

It also showed how mind-numbingly bored the twitter community must be. Because it properly lit up for the first time in ages. The discussion went something like this

‘What the hell has Skittles done to its site?’

‘I dunno, but if I twitter about it, I appear on it’

‘Wow that’s circular (and I also like it because I’m secretly seeking social approval because I never got picked for the football team in school)’

‘I think Skittles are shit’

‘Look, you just turned up on the Skittles site, in twitter, talking about how the Skittles site is shit because it uses twitter’

‘How post-super-modern. Now I like the Skittles site’

‘Skittles are made of dead flies’ eggs’

‘Now it says ‘skittles are made of dead flies’ eggs’ on the Skittles’ site’










‘I wish everyone would stop taling about Skittles’

‘I wish everyone would stop taling about Skittles’

‘Talking about not talking about Skittles is actually talking about Skittles’



Stop and think. Put yourself in a deep state of reflection. Imagine the quiet trickle of a river. Forget all about microblogging. And ask yourself: are you going to buy any more Skittles? If you only had slightly old cheese and Skittles in the house, which would you eat? Do you believe Skittles are healthy? Would you give them to your three-year-old child?

Thought so.

It would be somewhat better if the idea was new. But it’s such a clear rip off of the Modernista! site from last year that I’m suprised they even changed the colours.

It’s not just proof of how redundant FMCG brand websites are, it’s an admission of the fact, by an agency. Otherwise it wouldn’t be an improvement to have one replaced by… nothing at all. The agency hasn’t even put up marketing messages for the individual brands – instead showing Wikipedia pages (as, ahem, predicted by Mystic Meg here). Jesus guys, at least string the client along a little bit. Or is this your big ‘going out of business’ sale?

And of course today, there will be loads of interest on the twitter search. But what happens tomorrow when everyone’s moved on? They’re not coming back!

The problem isn’t that people don’t like Skittles. I happen to hate them. But, I do have an unnaturally strong affection for Reese’s Pieces, and even that doesn’t get me looking the little beauties up on Twitter. I never ever think:  ‘Hmm, I wonder what people are saying about Reese’s Pieces today?’ (Incidentally, and to save you the bother, the answer is nothing much: 5 tweets in 24 hours. Altough there is a quite a vibrant Maltesers discussion going on :-)).

The biggest conflict here is between the words in the phrase ‘digital creative agency’. Agency means you have to charge your client for doing something they couldn’t perfectly well do themselves, creative should mean ‘new ideas that add value’ (thank you Ken Robinson) but acutally ends up meaning ‘suprising or pretty ideas’, and digital means (has come to mean) that you can’t buy your way in very effectively. Try making a cake with that recipe.

As far as I can tell, there’s only two interesting things about this site: Why on earth it has an age restriction, and how the hell sold it to their client – why couldn’t they have put that video on the web?

Now we know what the future looks like

Back to the future

The whole phrase is ‘Now we know what the future looks like, what would we like to do with it?’

For the second post in a row I’m afraid I’m in a rather idealistic mood. But it seems to me, now, that we look at the structure of business and marketing as it’s being done by the market leaders, we look at posts by visionaries like this one, this one and this one, and we think we pretty much know how this is going to shake out…

The question of micro distribution of corporate reputation has been answered. The question of finding value inside organistations through enablement of individuals has been proven. The question of whether we think better separately or together has been answered.

So, my point is this. In the Future (doesn’t really need a capital does it, since it’s only a couple of minutes away), if we assume that we will broadly have a marketplace of ideas where we all now can have our say. If we will have a world where communities of interest can be powerful, and massively devolved. If we will have a world where companies can thive by coming up with powerful ideas and finding ways to communicate them quickly and powerfully. Then what do we want out of that world?

It probably sounds a bit irrelevant but it’s an important question. Because we’re not, any of us, I think really after better mp3 players, nor mobile phones, nor fruit smoothies.

But we also don’t really have the passions of the past. If we live in big cities, at least, we’ve started to see the back of racism, sexism, for the most part, intollerance; what are we worrying about now? Knife crime? I know it’s a serious question but it’s very recent and very media orientated. House prices? Economy? That’s just not intereting, really.

I think it’s about this (you’ll read a transcript of a Clinton interview about finding similarities rather than differences). For all the things that have been resolved, we live in a world where far too many inequalities exist for the wrong reason (there are good reasons for alot of inequalities of course).

But I’m in intrigued about views here.

If we’re all going to be a position where we have all this extra information, all this extra access to cheap, easy, global media, all of this ability to form communities, how do we use this to moderate our behaviour for the better?

And more to the point, what is we actually want to achieve? Or are we all going to turn into Miss World, and look for world peace and happy families.

A little bit (of) interesting

Today was interesting. It was Interesting 2008, the Russell Davies ‘unconference’; in its second year and continuing rude health. The underlying thought appears to be the same: the first step in being interesting is being interested. Accordingly a very large bunch (maybe 400) cogniscati gathered in an incredible (and extremely well buntinged) hall – Conway Hall in Red Lion Square – to hear some of the best presenters in the UK talk about their pet subjects.

If you were being satirical, you would say it was the world’s best people on branding, advertising, etc talking about their favourite colours, shoes, fashions, music or whatever. Of course, what it was actually about was people talking about things that were close to their own hearts, they thought would be interesting for 10 minutes (i.e. not their jobs) and where they’d found some interesting material.

We had Winston Churchill, Why horses are afraid of crisp packets, the extent to which we can really understand the second world war with only 60 years’ perspective, the relative density of World of Warcraft, the rise and fall of Patagonia, and why a lego fetish is a good thing.

I honestly don’t think there was a bad presenter all day. Although, this last bit – the selection of speakers – is really where Russell Davies showed his hand (despite very amusing and scene-setting opening- and closing- remarks).

Was it middle-class -bourgeoisie guardian-reading nonsense? Absolutely. At one point half the speakers joined together for a Guardaian sponsored recorder playing session.

Was it brilliant? Absolutely. A room in London was filled with some of the cleverest and most critical people of their generation, who allowed and understood their peers to do the most difficult presentation of their lives. We were a good audience – of course – but only for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, intense acts of bravery were conducted on stage as people with a lot to lose tried to be interesting to this dragons’ den.

Hats off to Russell, hats off to the speakers, and here’s to Interesting 2009. I’ll definitely try to be there. I’ve been racking my brain all day about what I’d talk about and I’m coming up blank. The best I’ve got is:

  • Untranslatable words / words that have never existed
  • Object orientated programming and what it can teach you about knowledge and YOUR life
  • How education works in other countries
  • How the WestWing (the TV show) changed the world
  • The Toyato Production Sytem, who nicked it and how it’s changed the world

Hopefully ee you there. And a pleasure to meet a whole bunch of you today, It’s been one of those days that makes it clear the new world isn’t a temporary one.

More: here and here

No longer just your wife


The new Red Brick Road site contains a neat little spoof site about overblown promises and ‘strategies’ from agencies (“The Yellow Brick Road”). Particularly good is this fictitious company’s philosophy statement:

‘In today’s networked world, we understand that the customer is no longer just your wife, she’s the boss. That’s why we believe customers shouldn’t just consume our advertising but create it as well, something we call Brand Consumation(TM). Rather than just research customers, we get them to literally write and approve all our briefs, and to create all of work too. That way control is firmly in their hands before the process has even begun.’

Sound familiar?

Monkeying around


If yesterday’s Mix keynote was all about products and developers, today’s was all about Ballmer himself, who was interviewed on stage by Guy Kawasaki.

Kawasaki, an ex-apple evangalist,  pulled no punches – poking Ballmer on Vista, Google,  Yahoo and Apple, as well as some pretty suprising jokes about chair throwing, anti-trust hearings and Ballmer’s infamous monkey boy dance.

All of these were met with surprising good grace (although his less calm side never seemed too far from the surface). At one point, Ballmer even performed a brief  minor variation of his dance on the request of one of the audience members, changing it to ‘I love web developers’. And, at one point we saw Ballmer goofing around and pretending he couldn’t carry Kawasaki’s MacBook Air because it was too heavy, and offering to get him ‘a proper machine’.

The strategy position in general was pretty clear. On the subject of Yahoo, the reason for the purchase it that Microsoft sees search as the killer app of online advertising, and it sees (as we heard yesterday) online advertising as its key monetisation strategy. The greatest ‘synergy’ is pure scale. Does winning mean beating Google? Is it a zero sum game? Yes.

However, whilst Google was the enemy in Microsoft’s online ambitions, Ballmer made it clear that there were other competitors in the other major markets they operate in: desktop, server and enterprise, entertainment and devices. The competitors ranging from IBM to Linux.

One of the overriding messages of Mix08 however, has been that the other fights aren’t necessarily zero sum games, with Microsoft showing a genuine drive to interoperability in many spaces. Are they serious about this? Well AOL and DoubleClick were on stage at the key note, showing how their technologies fit with various Microsoft platforms. It all seems pretty genuine and various people have commented in a palpable change in the way Microsoft is now dealing with the outside world.

Interesting to hear Ballmer describe Microsoft’s Search offering as the ‘little engine that could’, and to point out that the giant was very much the underdog both here and in the personal devices market.

What about Facebook? He made it pretty clear the 2% stake in Facebook was a relatively small deal for Microsoft and that he cared more about their advertising ‘partnership’ with the social network than their stake in it; validating the view that the shareholding is a purely defensive manoeuvre.

The question and answer session came to a close with a very bizarre and slightly uncomfortable question from an employee at Avenue A Razorfish, part of aQuantive which Microsoft bought last year to get their hands on Atlas.

As a lot of people have noted, Microsoft is in a difficult position with Avenue A because of their relationship with other agencies. It’s been assumed it will be run independently or sold off. But the question from one of its staff in such a public forum: ‘What are your plans for us, we hear a lot of rumours’, must still have come as a bit of a surprise.

Ballmer seemed unphased, and said the business would be left to run independently so long as it remained profitable but I wonder if any chairs went flying after he exited the stage.

(More here)

Yeah but, no but… digital


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.