‘Frenemies’ no more; Now Google and Facebook are ‘flexible friends’, says WPP’s Sorrell

Sir Martin Sorrell – the man who famously labelled Google and Facebook as “frenemies” of the advertising world – has revealed that he no longer sees them that way.

Instead, WPP boss Sorrell said he now sees the giant platforms as “flexible friends”, nudged in that direction by political and public pressure.

Speaking at Advertising Week in New York, Sorrell referenced the iconic British advertising slogan for the Access credit card, “Your flexible friend”. The brand was later taken over by MasterCard.

Sorrell first labelled Google as a “frenemy” around a decade ago, referring to its ability to be both a friend and an enemy to the advertising industry. He later softened his stance, saying that both Facebook and Google were becoming “friendlier frenemies”.

He was asked by interviewer Ken Auletta about adland’s place in the world next to the likes of Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

He said: “The top five companies , the fearsome five, headed by Apple, are worth at least three trillion dollars. The biggest one, Google, $630bn. All the rest of them, around half a trillion. In fact the question is which of them is going to be the first trillion dollar company… probably Apple, but who knows, maybe Amazon, which is coming up fast on the rails.

“Little old WPP is a 25 billion dollar company, and we’re the so-called biggest in the industry. So it’s a tiddlypot little industry in relation to the others.”

Sorrell: Compared to the fearsome five, we’re a tiddlypot little industry

“This pressure, that has intensified. I now think of all the things going on – digital disruption, Google is our ninth biggest customer now. It’s our ninth biggest client and its our biggest investment.

“I was asked if Google was still our frenemy and it reminded me of that line, I think from Mastercard, of “our flexible friend”. I think Google has become a flexible friend.

“Whether that’s due to… the EU putting pressure on them, whether it’s because of the brand safety and consumer brand safety and the threat of regulation with it, whether it’s because of Steve Bannon’s exit remark on leaving the White House about Facebook and Google being utilities and should be regulated as such, I don’t know.

“I think Google and Facebook have become friendlier frenemies, or flexible friends, because with scale and size comes responsibility. And the pressures they are under, they are very considerable.

“They have margins to die for. Clients in our industry, the AMA (American marketing Association) have talked about transparency. The margins in our industry are nowhere near the 50% and above (of Google and Facebook). With that comes responsibility.”


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