Monday, February 28, 2011

Alex Benady - “Maurice Lévy: The Napoleon of advertising”

In this article for The Independent, Benady interviews Maurice Lévy, one of the biggest players in global advertising. Maurice Lévy is the CEO of Publicis, a major French advertising company that owns several of the most important advertising agencies in the world (Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, and Fallon) as well as media buying agencies (Zenith Optimedia and Starcom). Lévy started in Publicis as a computer programmer who grew to be the successor of Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet as chief executive, the only two CEOs in 80 years.

In the interview Lévy says that, unlike the Anglo-Saxon companies, Publicis is not obsessed with being the largest company in the industry, but it is rather focused on obtaining global reach so that it can be the best in the industry. Lévy also mentions that as a French advertising company, Publicis’ focus and approach are completely different to those of the Anglo-Saxon companies. Publicis’ tag line “Vive la difference” is applied throughout the company’s businesses, adapting to and embracing the different cultures in which Publicis is involved. However, as a French advertising company, Publicis faces the challenge of being underestimated or viewed negatively by the global business community, and since “all the big client firms are Anglo-Saxon, German and Japanese,” Lévy and Publicis have to work extra hard to show the company’s outstanding results.

"I mix it up, i whip it and pop it in the pan" or "I tie her up, whip her, and then give her one."

Lévy makes an interesting comparison between the creative work of the French and of the Anglo-Saxon. He says. “The British are very much dominated by sense of humour but at the same time you find the demonstration of the product. The Americans are very much head on – product benefit, matter-of-fact rationalization. The French play down the rational and play up the emotional. They will place a lot of emphasis on aesthetic aspects. The ads have to be beautiful and sensual. Sometimes they move from sensuality to sexuality.” Lévy says this explains the French phenomenon of “porno chic” in advertising, although according to him; it’s a phenomenon that is fading.

Publicis’ transformation into the global advertising giant it is today is largely owed to Lévy’s vision and outstanding business skills. Starting in the late 1980’s Lévy started an agency shopping spree that has lasted all these years, and that has allowed Publicis to enlarge its global operations. The company’s success is also due to Lévy’s incredible understanding of the advertising business, and the consumers. He says, “Flexibility and willingness to absorb new ideas at an accelerating rate will be the keys to future success.” Lévy is aware of the transformations and changes the advertising world is experiencing, in relation to both media and consumer preferences. He adds, “Since media are meant to represent the world, the representation of the world moves faster than the world itself. We no longer live in a time of mediation; we have entered an era of immediacy.”

Marc Hayward - “Vernacular Geopolitics and Media Economies in an Enlarged Europe”

In this article, Marc Hayward discusses a series of events between important Saudi individuals and companies and the Italian media with the purpose of analyzing and explaining in detail the characteristics of media in the enlarged Europe.

The series of events are as follows:

Tarak Ben Ammar

Saudi Prince Al Waleed

• A meeting between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Saudi Prince Al Waleed to discuss Berlusconi’s plans to privatize Italy’s state-owned energy company ENI. Al Waleed also purchased 25% of Berlusconi’s shares in Mediaset TV so that Berlusconi could comply with Italy’s conflict of interest laws.

• The emergence of information about extensive ties between RAI, Italy’s public broadcaster, and Dalla Al Baraka Investment Bank, and the distribution deal signed between RAI and Arab Digital Distribution for the global distribution of RAI International.

• Rising interest about Tarak Ben Ammar, a French-Tunisian businessman and longtime Berlusconi associate who facilitated the sale of Berlusconi’s shares to Al Waleed, and who also negotiated the distribution agreement between RAI and Al Baraka Investments for the distribution of RAI International.
Silvio Berlusconi

It is important to highlight that the context in which these events were covered by the media was affected by the fact that both Prince Al Waleed and Al Baraka Investment Bank were being accused of providing funding for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The Italian public was therefore worried about the consequences or associations that Berlusconi’s relationship with these two entities could have for Italy.

Hayward goes on to say that the relationship between Italian media and Saudi capital “help[s] us to map the institutional and political-economic relations that constitute the transnational networks within which cultural commodities circulate,” but most importantly he states that the media coverage of the events “is grounded in the same discourses that frame the global ‘War on Terror’ and popular panics about the coming ‘clash of civilizations’ between the North Atlantic world and the Muslim world that circulate in Europe” (127).

Finally, Hayward redefines the “enlarged Europe” to refer to the ways in which Europe operates on a global scale, or the ‘footprint’ that it leaves outside the geographic boundaries of the continent (130). Since some of the subsidiaries of Al Baraka Investment Bank are considered the major distributors of Italian media internationally, which means we can no longer think of the role of media as constrained to the geographic boundaries of the continent either.

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