Havas calls BBDO, FCB and Leo Burnett 'shitty' in video, and we have the reactions

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Credit: Havas

Late August is usually pretty quiet in the ad business, but a [insert adjective here, e.g., "gutsy," "goofy," "inflammatory"] video from Havas that made the rounds over the weekend has given shops something to talk about.

The video, which Havas says was only intended for internal use, popped up on industry gossip app Fishbowl and prompted plenty of commentary. In part that's because Havas North America creative leaders call Leo Burnett, FCB and BBDO "shitty agencies"—as poop emojis (with accompanying sound effects) pop up on the screen. The shop's true competition is "kids with iPhones and millions of YouTube followers."

The video features Havas Creative North America CEO and Chairman Paul Marobella, and Chief Creative Officer and Chairman Jason Peterson. Peterson told Ad Age the video is the first of a series intended to update staffers about new work and business across the network. He said this first teaser video is meant to break free from traditional corporate update emails.

The video drew a range of reactions on Fishbowl, from the bad—"Tone-deaf," "Is this Havas video a joke?" and "What is this even?"—to the positive.

"Yes it's a cringeworthy video but it's open and more than what your CCO has done lately," one person wrote. "I cringed, but good for them." Another: "Actually, these guys are right on the fucking money."

"The good news is that Havas is already bigger as an agency [than] any kid with an iPhone," said Greg Paull, R3 Principal, in an email. "The bad news is that they still have less revenue than BBDO, FCB or Leo Burnett. Perhaps they will 'blast' their way up the revenue stream with poop emojis."

Leo Burnett Group CEO Andrew Swinand said in en email, "He is right, Havas is definitely not competitive with Leo Burnett and probably should be worried about losing business to kids with iPhones."

FCB and BBDO declined to comment.

For those who haven't clicked on the above video, Peterson also talks about the ad agency model, "which has allowed agencies to become vendors," and says Havas wants to help clients learn how to market in today's world. "Our world has changed," he says, "and our creative output has changed. To move from creatives to creators simply means we have an idea and we have the ability to make it ourselves. Production is baked into our creative department. We have cameras, we have drones, we have iPhones, we can shoot and make all of our content ourselves."

Marobella talks about the organization's priorities of improving its reputation, improving its relationships and driving revenue: "We're actually a business, and driving profitable revenue for us is a priority because it allows us to have nice things … like a juice bar."

The video signs off with Chance the Rapper's new song, "I Might Need Security," which begins with a repeated "Fuck You."

Though the video could be found on Vimeo until Monday afternoon, it has since gone missing -- it has been moved to internal channels at the agency and can no longer be viewed publicly. Peterson said the video was meant for internal use. "It's not meant to be an open statement on the industry," he said, adding that he wasn't hiding anything, "other than I think Paul and I are making ourselves look a little bit vulnerable and stupid in the video."

"This was an internal video meant to hype them up about winning the day, the year and the business. We're in a competitive industry, but we had no intention to offend other agencies," said Marobella. "The business is evolving, so too are we. We're being transparent about the fact that that is the case to our employees, that means taking a clear position on having a different approach."

Peterson said the video is meant to set his agency apart from other shops, which have "hot-air executives and chairmen that are so far removed from what is going on. For us, creative isn't a department in the agency. We're a creative agency."

Asked to respond to criticisms that he had called other agencies "shitty," Peterson said the video was internal, so if any Havas employees "want to go work at these other agencies please by all means go and do it."

He added: "I really do not believe that other advertising agencies, especially part of the big holding companies, are our competition." He said other agencies are "great for doing what they're doing, and it's not what we do."

Afer this story published, Havas said the video was well-received internally and met its intention of firing up employees. It provided a quote via email from an unnamed employee to that effect. "I love working for an agency that has a clear point of view," the quote reads. "I've worked for dozens of creative agencies who work in fear and Havas is not that. There is a clear direction and we're willing to go out, take chances and seriously try to do things differently."

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