#AdForumSummit Day 3: DAN, IBM iX, Phenomenon & Havas

AdForum Worldwide Summit NYC April 2018

by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) NEW YORK CITY: Thirty tired consultants set out again at 7am on Wednesday morning for Day 3 of AdForum Worldwide Summit, 23–27 April 2018, this time to meet with Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), IBM iX, Phenomenon and Havas.

Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN)

We met with Nick Brien, one of AdForum Summit’s favourite CEOs, who’s recently been appointed as CEO of Dentsu Aegis Networks in the Americas. Brien is a veteran of the industry and talks about being back in the heartland of advertising, now that he is with DAN. This is a relatively new network, with Dentsu having only bought Aegis five years ago. It could be said that the Japanese are quite secretive or discreet about their operations. What we know about them in South Africa and Africais that it has a number of media agency and digital media brands, and has recently started to acquire creative agencies — such as Fox P2. This is also the case in the Americas and the UK and Europe, where it is strong. In the UK, it has McGarry Bowen and John Brown Media as creative agencies and has recently appointed a leading creative ex Mother to lead its creative thrust.

It seems as if the network is focused on real growth with the addition now of Brien to lead the way in the Americas. DAN reported that agencies such as 360i, a digital media agency in the group, is about 55% media and the rest of the growth is coming from content and creative.

DAN is a network to watch: it is flexible and innovative without the constraints, it seems, of the traditional holding companies. Brien wants to ensure that the group provides the objective input that clients need more and more, and what agencies were set up originally to do.

Our comment to them was that we, as consultants, know very little about them and perhaps their marketing needs to be upweighted!


We saw IBM’s digital/design arm two years ago in New York and a lot has happened since. The kind of business it is winning is in the area of marketing transformation and marketing analytics. It’s also starting to obtain recognition in creative award shows such as the Effies. It does compete occasionally with digital agencies such as AKQA, Sapient and R/GA.

IBMiX has 40 studios throughout the world with 16 000 associates, including a thriving office in South Africa. It conducts regular research among CMOs regarding business transformation globally.

Once again, blockchain came up as a technology, and IBM demonstrated where it’s being used in advertising already. Because blockchain can’t be altered, it helps with brand safety and media transparency. Unilever, GroupM and IBM have already started to use this and it’s helping with automated reconciliation processes, transparency and ROI.


The highlight of the day, this independent agency with offices in Los Angeles (110 people) and Chicago (10) showed us what is possible when agencies are involved from the very beginning in partnering with clients. “Familiar is failure” is its ethos and it believes that it charts the unknown to drive business transformation.

Case studies for Intuit, Fly Wheel and Wilson sporting goods demonstrated its abilities. We were particularly impressed with the four-minute film for Intuit, the overall brand for sub-brands Quickbooks, Turbo Tax and Mint. Interestingly, the equity of the sub-brands has been very strong from a product perspective and those brands are handled via Wieden and Chiat Day.

The way Phenomenon works is to encourage its clients to think of a remarkable question which will describe what the problem is that the agency needs to solve.

The agency is looking at projects for brands with questions such as these:

  • Pepsi: What business would we be in if we did not sell soda? Pepsi will produce a first product line beyond the bottle. Millennials are not buying sugar water.

  • American Express: How do you make a 168-year-old brand a thought leader in travel for millennials?Friendcation without the friction.

  • P&G: How would you launch P&G’s first luxury brand? The first beauty brand that sees you.

These are the questions that clients are posing to it and this is where it’s helping them with its years of experience and very high levels of strategy and creativity, as well as digital expertise being at the heart of the agency.

Its competitive set may be Pentagram, Interbrand, R/GA, McKinsey, Frogg and Ideo; it has many competitors.

A really refreshing view of the industry and working with brands at a deep level.


Our final stop for the day was with this network agency, which is telling their story better and better each time we see them. We were shown a photo of Bill Bernbach from the ‘50s telling us that “[b]ad news, advertising is f*cked”, meaning that the industry hasn’t strayed from its premise that everything can always be improved and should be.

Havas has been winning business in the past few years, focusing on three factors:

  • From creative to creator

  • Leveraging the Havas Village concept

  • Entertainment within advertising

Havas sees itself as the “smallest big agency” and is committed to breaking down barriers in the world of marketing.

Key words and phrases during this summit

As always, we are taking note of the words that are being said most frequently:

  • Storytelling

  • Narrative

  • Agile

  • The holding company model is broken

Five agency visits on Thursday, so more highlights to come.

And, so, to bed.

See also


Johanna McDowellJohanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. She is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits as an international consultant, which helps her lead the SA advertising industry forward, keep in line with international trends and remain competitive. Johanna also runs the IAS Marketers Masterclass, a programme consisting of masterclasses held in Cape Town and in Johannesburg.

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