Sony’s sales are in the ascendant, but it wants marketing guru Ben Moore to become one of the key architects behind a more coherent brand image, which it hopes will return the electronics giant to its glory days of the 1980s. David Benady looks at the scale of the task facing Moore
Sony’s new European marketing chief Ben Moore takes over the communications controls at the Japanese technology giant just as it launches the latest phase of its award-winning advertising campaign for the Bravia range of LCD televisions.
The former DDB and Lowe account man, fresh from his previous job as head of UK marketing at Nike, steps into the shoes of Sony marketer David Patton (MW last week), who has left to join Grey.
Patton exits on a high, having been instrumental in helping Sony shift its strategy away from product innovation and onto a powerful brand platform with the launch of the Bravia range. The stunning ads he commissioned from Fallon involved bouncing thousands of balls down the hills of San Francisco and then paint-bombing a Glasgow tower block.
Sony’s latest ad, the last to be signed off by Patton, breaks in October just as Moore takes up the European marketing job. It is an animated offering involving hundreds of multi-coloured Play-Doh bunnies bouncing across New York.
But while Sony’s marketing firepower over the past two years has concentrated on Bravia Liquid Crystal Display TVs, Moore is thinking about promoting convergence. Sony produces films and music as well as audio and visual equipment, cameras and computers, and Moore tells Marketing Week: “There’s no greater time with all the opportunities that the digital age offers for a brand such as Sony to step into consumers’ lives in a way that is really empowering.
“There aren’t many brands able to bring content and product together in such a powerful way and offer tools that allow consumers to go off and create their own pieces of content. There is an opportunity for Sony to really show how connected it is.”
Moore, aged 39, was headhunted for the role of vice-president of communications for Sony Europe’s consumer electronics division and will report to European vice-president Fujio Nishida. He will have a small central marketing team but will mainly work with marketers from the product units and from different countries. This will require considerable diplomatic skills and a great deal of travel.
Moore already has substantial experience with Sony, having managed the brand’s advertising account when he worked at BMP.DDB between 1995 and 2000. During that time, he helped create the Sony Armchair ad, voted the 67th greatest ad of all time. As one former colleague says: “He is extremely driven by creative work – that has been his big thing. He is good at getting clients to buy brave work and driving that through.”
At Nike, his scope for commissioning big campaigns was limited, since the brand’s TV ads are produced by its lead agency Wieden & Kennedy in Amsterdam. But Moore worked on the Run London campaigns and the St Wayne poster for last year’s World Cup created by W&K London, which featured footballer Wayne Rooney in crucifix pose with a red cross daubed across his chest. It brought outrage from some quarters for its mock crucifixion imagery with MP Stephen Pound calling it “crass, offensive and insensitive”. Moore says: “We knew it was controversial, but we weren’t courting controversy.”
He joined Nike in 2003 after a spell as head of account management at Lowe. He left Nike this summer in pursuit of a bigger role, and the move to Sony certainly seems like a giant step. Moore prides himself on his creative credentials, having worked as an architect for 18 months after studying architecture at Thames Polytechnic. But he decided it was not the industry for him and joined the graduate trainee programme at Saatchi & Saatchi before getting the job at DDB. “The creative process for advertising isn’t dissimilar to architecture,” he says. “I have an understanding of how I can help that process. I have been taught to think creatively.”
Moore denies being a Yankophile, though says he was strongly influenced by Nike’s “Just Do It” philosophy in the 1980s. Jorian Murray, co-founder of agency Dye Holloway Murray, who worked with Moore at DDB, says: “He is incredibly passionate about what he does, he takes it seriously, and cares so much about creativity. He can seem quite earnest – that is the flip side of being dedicated to doing the right thing.”
The brand Moore is joining is in the middle of a makeover. While it used to lead the TV market with the technically superior cathode ray tube technology of the Trinitron, it missed the boat on the development of LCD televisions at the beginning of this decade.
Having fallen behind on technological innovation, Sony has sought to make up for it by streaking ahead with its advertising. The Bravia launch in 2005 has certainly sharpened Sony’s marketing in contrast with Samsung, the LCD TV market leader in Europe which trade observers believe has had a rather scrappy approach to communications, spending heavily but spreading it thinly and with little creativity across its product ranges.
Sony is now number three across Europe in LCD TVs behind Samsung and Philips and number two in the UK after Samsung. According to Bob Reikes of consultancy Meko, the Bravia ads have helped close the gap with Samsung over the past 18 months. “It has had to differentiate in other ways than saying Sony has the best picture,” he says. “It has had to turn the Bravia into something unique.”
Some believe the Bravia campaign may be nearing the end of its shelf life, so Moore’s biggest challenge will be finding the best way to progress Sony’s communications. The Bravia ads have created a cool glow over all Sony electronics products, though the strategy is thought to be controversial within the organisation where different product units battle for marketing spend.
In fact, the walls that have existed between the product groups within Sony are perceived as a block on the company’s ability to create technological innovation. Sony is seen as a shadow of its former self in the 1970s and 1980s, when it led the electronics world with developments such as the Trinitron and the Walkman. Some believe it has never quite recovered from the 1994 resignation after an illness of its founder and inspirational leader Akio Morita, who was credited with inventing the Walkman.
Moore says: “Some of those walls have been unceremoniously broken down and it feels as if there’s a much greater energy and a desire to work across the business. There is a recognition in Sony that the more the brand can act in a cohesive manner, the better that is for all parts of the business.”
It will be Moore’s job to communicate that cohesion to the technology-buying public.