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June 28, 2008

All hail Maurice Levy, Emperor of Buzzword Bingoland

By Peter Kirwan MM blog

Did you do algebra at school? If so, do you remember solving a quadratic equation but not properly understanding how you’d done it?

I wonder if Maurice Levy, chief executive and chairman of Publicis Groupe, feels that way today.

In launching VivaKI — yes, that’s how they spell it — Publicis Groupe has done something important. But the world’s second-largest network of ad agencies is having a very, very hard time explaining it to the world.

Take a look, for example, at this press release, in which Levy himself stakes a claim to being the King — no, the surely Emperor — of Buzzword Bingoland.

It’s a fair bet that the PR bunny who had to write it is now working his or her way through a bucketful of Prozac as a prelude to six months’ compassionate leave of absence.

The tech-flavoured end of the blogosphere is already taking the Michael. Entirely legitimate when you consider that Publicis seems to have wildly misinterpreted the meaning of the expression “open source”.

It would have been far simpler to get Jonah Bloom, the Brit who edits Advertising Age in New York, to write the release. Hacking his way through the thickets of verbiage, here’s what Bloom perceives:

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The Audience on Demand Network [will allow] Publicis Groupe clients a single point of access to plan and buy a single campaign across Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and AOL.

And there’s this:

The VivaKi Nerve Center. . . ,which initially will tap into about 30 full-timers situated within Publicis Groupe agencies around the world, will be the data analytics hub of the operation, pooling consumer and media data from all the agencies and developing new ways of analyzing and using it.

So we’re talking about automated planning and trading plus massive data warehouses. And although Bloom doesn’t mention it, we’re also talking about hollowed-out agency brands positioned like shopfronts around the edge of the model.

Publicis isn’t the only ad agency network moving in this direction. In fact, Levy’s proposal feels like the standard template I encounter in discussions with folk from Adland.

Most understand that their organisations need to become system integrators tinkering expertly with the mighty technology platforms built by Google and its rivals.

Along the way, they hope to perform the reverse double backflip that will propel them into the future as technology-intensive, rather than people-intensive, organisations. In other words: just like Google, but less profitable.

M. Levy admitted recently that he got into advertising in order to chase skirt. He also enjoys suggesting — in a pre-Cluetrain French-accented way — that the job of advertising is to “seduce” the consumer.

Perhaps it’s time for him to focus on his strengths and let the technocrats get on with the heavy lifting.

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