I was reading in AdAge about the new L’Oreal US Marketing Chief, and while this has nothing to do with little brandarms in the little corner of Mumbai, I remember 6 years of working with L’Oreal at McCann in Mumbai. Rajan Narayan, now the very capable head of Quadrant, was the Account Director. And boy, do we have stories to tell.
Those were the days of 15% commissions, and L’Oreal paid us only 7%, thanks to the international fee decided on by the gods of McCann Worldgroup and L’Oreal Paris. But they paid promptly, on the 1st of every month, and made regular salaries possible at McCann Mumbai. That was about the nicest thing we could say about our experience with L’Oreal.
A lot of our work was ‘adapting’ the international L’Oreal and Maybelline work for India. Adaptations meant taking delivery of the ‘mechanicals’* from L’Oreal Paris and rearranging them to the sizes required in Indian media. No local additions or alterations allowed. None whatsoever. And in that elementary requirement, the client found reason to fault the agency. One afternoon she summoned me (by that time the ECD at McCann) to complain that the face of the model in the in-shop posters was larger than that of the horizontal press ads. She had raised the roof in a conversation with the GM. I sat in front of her and explained that:
1. the press ads were horizontal and the posters were vertical, and that the graphic allotments to type and visual would necessarily have to change
2. press ads are read about a foot from the face, the posters have to register at least 3 to 5 feet from the viewer
She was silenced with this argument. But an argument she most certainly wanted.
“Do I have to summon you every time I have to get something explained?” she demanded. I made soothing sounds but restrained myself from pointing out that if things like these had to be explained to the head of L’Oreal India’s marketing ……
We had 4 gripes with L’Oreal, none of which we could ever hope to express, much less be solved:
1. L’Oreal was an international account, and inspected as it was by an inspector of every shape and size in McCann APAC, made L’Oreal one of the Damocles swords hanging over our heads.
2. L’Oreal complained about the smallest things to our CEO, and constantly threatened to take her complaint “to Paris”.
3. Even though 90% of the work was adaptation, everything HAD to be approved by Paris. Any Indian-looking bit in any visual would have to be documented and explained, with an insight, if you please.
4. They would relay their combined comments/observations on Mumbai work at end of day Paris time, which meant we would receive them all at around 9 pm Mumbai time. We had to make ALL the changes, and very quickly, so always worked overnight because we would have to show comments and changes to the Indian client at 900 am, then rush to accommodate their comments, then email everything to Paris before noon. Then we would wait because Paris would throw a fit because the Indian marketing team had changed something they had asked for, and for the umpteenth time, the Paris L’Oreal people and the Indian L’Oreal people would call each other, say sweet nothings and agree on one thing: McCann was the culprit.
We took every precaution. A large part of the McCann team on L’Oreal were some of the most impressive young ladies. They went to meetings perfectly dressed, behaved impeccably, and their visits to L’Oreal were the highlight of the day for the gentlemen at the L’Oreal office. But strangely, the L’Oreal marketing team took their dress code very …. er …. nonchalantly, if I may. Had you put the McCann team and the L’Oreal marketing team in a room and asked a stranger to pick out the L’Oreal marketing team, they would have picked out the entire McCann team without a moment’s hesitation, and, for good measure, taken pains to comment that a blind man could tell which of the girls in the room were the ones working on an international cosmetic brand.
Things came to a head once and L’Oreal India took ‘the matter’ to L’Oreal France. The worldwide head of the L’Oreal account at McCann, someone with a equally French name, Claude Solonniere, was required to come down to Mumbai and see the mess for himself. All of us at McCann were frightened stiff. Claude was supposed to be a senior, experienced McCann hand, held in very high regard by L’Oreal. We expected an aristocratic European, immaculately attired, worldly-wise, impossible to argue with, who would rake us over the coals. Claude turned out to be a gentle-spoken, kindly Frenchman in his 50’s, who after hearing us out, gently assured us that it was the same story in every McCann office around the world, and would we please calm down and where could he try some top-quality authentic curry in Mumbai.
Solonniere came back from the L’Oreal meeting and had one observation to make: “I am alarmed to note that not only does the L’Oreal marketing team definitely not use L’Oreal products, they seem to me not to use any cosmetics at all!”
*what we call artworks, they call mechanicals. What we call visuals they call art work.