The Book of Tens 2010

Book of Tens: Biggest Stories of the Year

Recalls, Oil Spills, Media Mergers and One of Adland's Most Lauded Execs Leaving the Industry

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Credit: Fred Harper
Not only did BP spill 158 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico with an off-shore oil-rig explosion that killed 11 people, it was also pegged as the ultimate hypocrite. BP's 2001 launch of its "Beyond Petroleum" campaign from Ogilvy had been held up as a rebranding case study. But its disastrous oil spill that flowed for three months this year was a harsh reminder that despite waving the green flag, the company is still very much in the oil business. Its campaign was not only at odds with reality, but BP was seemingly unprepared to deal with the fallout, bungling messages and public statements like this gem from then-CEO Tony Hayward: "I'd like to get my life back."

When the Supreme Court ruled in January to overturn two key elements of campaign-finance law -- the ban on corporations using their own money to engage in political activity, and the blackout period that prevents certain groups from spending money on ads within 60 days of an election -- it set the stage for the biggest midterm-election-spending season ever and a windfall for local TV stations. Of course, it also didn't hurt that Republicans were energized in their fury over President Obama's health-care legislation and looming deficit. Add to that an active tea party, and that resulted in Democratic incumbents, many of them used to easy re-elections, having to fight hard -- and spend more -- to keep their seats.

Much ink has been spilled over the past few years questioning if and when people start eschewing $100 cable TV bills and opt for the plethora of free online content. But this year, it finally arrived: the first total decline in subscriptions since, well, the advent of cable. In the second quarter, the multichannel TV industry -- cable, satellite and telcos -- collectively lost 216,000 subscribers compared with the same period last year. The trend continued into the third quarter, though many industry execs are quick to point out the losses are still a small percentage of the more than 100 million multichannel subscribers.

In July, Alex Bogusky, the rock-star adman who has won piles of industry awards, graced many a publication's cover, wrote a diet book and, like any real celebrity, boasted scores of fans, haters and Twitter impersonators, left the industry to become, in his words, an "insurgent in the new consumer revolution" as part of Fearless Revolution, an activism-fueled business platform he founded. Whether or not he's the new Ralph Nader (branded skis, anyone?), his departure shone a light on a bigger question the industry had to ask itself: Why are some of its best creative people leaving if not the industry, then at least the big, established shops that were supposed to be the pinnacle of success in adland?

One would think Steve Jobs was the second coming for the publishing industry, the way iPad frenzy hit once the tablet launched in April. There have been scores of iPad editions, including some very nice ones from Wired, Popular Science, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Heck, News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch even assembled a team of pop culture all-stars to create content for his brand-new all-iPad venture, The Daily. Early results show wide disparities in just how valuable the device has been for publishers, with tech and science titles showing more impact, but it will be tough to determine whether that hope turns into dollars until iPads and subscription offers become commonplace.

Pepsi yanked commercials for its beverage brands from the 2010 Super Bowl, instead putting its efforts toward Pepsi Refresh Project, a social-media-fueled campaign meant to support community-building projects. Born in January, the campaign proved one of the most hotly watched by fellow marketers. Refresh boosted Pepsi's clout at the local level, helping bottlers snag more shelf space and media interest, but it hasn't yet proved whether it can lift sales. For its part, Pepsi is back in the Bowl in 2011.

The changing of the guard at Walmart U.S. (see People to Watch, page 8) ushered in a retreat from its recent merchandising strategy that knocked thousands of items off the retailer's shelves and cleared the aisles of promotional merchandise. The retailer made moves to give regional and store managers more power over what their stores carry and how merchandise gets displayed, and backed off on demands that marketers fork over their consumer marketing funds for Walmart to use in its programs, refocusing on a return to Everyday Low Pricing.

OK, so the deal still isn't done, and was technically announced last year, in December 2009. Yet Comcast's move has consumed the media world's attention for the better part of this year. When it closes, it will combine a cable-provider giant with a content giant and it will free GE from some of the stress of being in the media business. Some suspect the new entity will try to make a run at ESPN, by combining NBC's sports assets with Comcast's Versus, but more interesting for advertisers is its potential to drive new couch-potato behavior, such as increasing video on-demand and introducing more folks to new forms of interactive, high-tech advertising.

Toyota and Johnson & Johnson, two of the world's most-respected companies, revered for quality and high standards, were subject to grueling recalls in 2010. But they were far from alone. Joining the recall trend were Fruiti Pops frozen-fruit bars, Gap baby swimsuits, four varieties of Kellogg cereals and 550 million eggs. All of that -- and the fact recalls today are widely publicized through any of your favorite social-media channels -- amounted to a distinct case of numbing recall fatigue for many consumers.

After more than a year of being lambasted by agencies, internal marketing colleagues and, yes, the trade press, the industry's procurement players set up a task force under the Association of National Advertisers that includes high-powered executives from IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch. The goal? To repair the widespread misalignment between procurement executives and their internal and external marketing partners, and to help those who work in the marketing procurement field become as smart as possible about marketing, creativity and strategy.

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