While agencies and brands spent much of 2020 touting camaraderie, unity and togetherness in their advertising, behind the scenes, plenty of execs did what they always do: fight. Yes, even the pandemic did not stop the normal feuding that occurs inside the industry, whether it's brand on brand, CEO versus CEO, or Facebook against, well, everyone.
Below, some of the battles that caught our eye.
Fortnite vs. Apple
Everyone loves a David vs. Goliath battle, and gaming brand Fortnite certainly won points for taking on Apple over its demand that video game makers give the company a 30% cut when selling virtual goods through its App Store. Fortnite parent Epic Games sued, alleging monopolistic behavior after Apple pulled the game for trying to circumvent the rules. But what caught the ad world’s attention was an ad Epic dropped that spoofed Apple’s classic “1984” ad. Of course, Apple was no worse for the wear: It finished No. 3 in Brand Finance’s annual rankings of the top 500 global brands, down only one spot from 2019.
Facebook vs. everyone
The social networking giant spent the summer fending off attacks from critics about its hate speech policies and by the end of the year it was on the defensive from the Federal Trade Commission’s allegations that it runs an “illegal” monopoly. But here’s the thing: As much as people, brands and politicians love to lash out against Facebook, it’s still as Teflon as ever, at least when judged by ad sales, which reached $21.2 billion in the third quarter, up 22% year over year.
Martin Sorrell vs. Mark Read (and WPP)
Sorrell, who left WPP in an ugly breakup in 2018, has continued to assault his old company in the press. He targeted his successor Read in an interview this year with the Financial Times, calling for him to step down “before he is pushed,” while criticizing Read’s restructuring of the holding company as “driving people nuts” and “killing the businesses.” WPP shot back at its former CEO accusing him of mounting a “disgusting” campaign to destabilize the business, according to FT.
John Schnatter vs. Laundry Service
John Schnatter just can’t quit Papa John’s—or at least stop throwing legal bombs on his way out the door. Schnatter exited the chairman’s role of the pizza chain in 2018 after word leaked that he allegedly used the N-word on a conference call with Laundry Service. He sued the agency in 2019, alleging it leaked the news and that it was taken out of context. And in October he followed up by issuing a press release claiming he has a recording of the ad agency’s executives “plotting to damage” his reputation. The case is still in federal court, so this feud is likely to last well into 2021, and maybe beyond.
Joe Alexander vs. Diet Madison Avenue
Here’s one fight that might have finally run its course: A federal court earlier this year dismissed the former Martin Agency chief creative officer’s suit against the shadowy Instagram account that made accusations of sexual misconduct against major industry figures, including Alexander. The court cited a jurisdiction issue in the lawsuit, which also targeted Adweek and its former editor-at-large Patrick Coffee.
Bernie Sanders vs. McDonald’s
The liberal pol took a shot against the fast feeder in March after its Brazil unit in March ran an image of its Golden Arches separated, in an attempt to encourage social distancing. Sanders saw it and leveled a Twitter attack against the company’s sick leave policies: