Long Term Brand Building Requires a Strategy of Vigilance

Lisa Wright,

What keeps most C-level executives up at night? It’s “lack of speed and agility in their business” according to advertising legend Sir Martin Sorrell.

Executives operating in the IP domain know that most brand stewards sleep with one eye open! Monitoring trademarks and tag lines for potential infringements is a 24/7 task in this ‘always-on’ digital world. 

We met Sir Martin recently at Web Summit 2019 where he spoke to us in depth about two personal passions of his - brand protection and leveraging technology - to make business more agile and cost-effective.

Career at a glance  

Sir Martin’s career started on Madison Avenue in 1985, when he bought a controlling stake for $675,000 in WPP -  a company that manufactured wire and plastic products. By 2018 he had built WPP into a massive marketing services business with a market value of $20 billion, 175,000 employees and 3000 offices in 112 countries.

He left WPP last year and is now Executive Chairman of startup S4 Capital, which he founded in May 2018. S4’s mission is to: “Create a new era, new media solution, embracing data, content and technology in an always-on environment for global, multinational, regional and local clients and for millennial-driven brands”.

Sir Martin Sorrell (Brand Protection Requires A Strategy of Vigilance)

Sir Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman (S4Capital)

Marketing insights

Sir Martin spoke at Web Summit 2019, on Center Stage with reporter Charlie Warzel of the New York Times. His insightful talk on “Building the Next Great Ad Empire” outlined his big vision for the advertisement and marketing industries. Sir Martin also took part in a robust panel discussion on “Everything You’ve Always Wanted To Know About Marketing But Were Afraid To Ask” which focused on marketing trends for 2020 with CMO Fernando Machado (Burger King) and Jane Wakely, CMO (Mars, Incorporated) during the conference.

Take out from Burger King, Mars and S4 Capital 

Fernando Machado (Burger KIng), Jane Wakely (Mars Incorporated) and Sir Martin Sorrell (S4 Capital) on ‘Everything you’ve always wanted to know about marketing but were afraid to ask’. Marketing trends for 2020:
  • “We will be talking about purpose. Purpose drives growth, but we will also be holding ourselves to account to make a meaningful and measurable difference.” (Jane Wakely, Mars Incorporated)
  • “Using technology to improve the service to the guest and to better communicate with our fans. The big idea is key though and we will use a certain technology only if the idea lends itself to this.” (Fernando Machado, Burger King)
  • “Building the relationship directly with the consumer. First party data creates the opportunity for highly relevant, personalized content at scale, delivered programmatically with monitored results.” (Sir Martin Sorrell, S4 Capital).

Sir  Martin Sorrell (S4 Capital) on ‘Building the next great ad empire’:

  • “When you buy media online you don’t buy volume - you’re buying media in a nanosecond and therefore brain and agility is far more important than scale.
  • A focus on cost is critically important - that means being as efficient as possible in a low growth world, where there’s no inflation.
  • Having personal control of your company - being able to invest in long term brand building and make long term decisions which are in the interests of all stakeholders..
  • You must educate the consumer on data protection - we are living in an ‘opt in’ world.”

After the two talks we met with Sir Martin in the Media Village where he shared his vision for faster, better, cheaper advertising, marketing and brand protection services.

TrademarkNow Interview with Sir Martin Sorrell

1. S4Capital is at the fore-front of embracing new technology in the provision of advertising and digital marketing services. What is your take on the latest in AI technology and how it can contribute to the work that you do in the advertising and marketing domain?

AI is one of the things that we use already at S4 Capital - artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, voice - all these things we use as tools to create content and distribute content to meet digital media planning and buying. So it is a critical area for us to understand. When we look at the companies that are involved in that ecosystem, it is Google, Amazon, Facebook, TenCent, AliBaba, Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, IBM, SAP, Bytedance, Baidu, Snap and Twitter - but we decide agnostically what is the best means of distribution. 

So, if AI develops as it will do, we will be increasingly using those techniques to develop content, to amass the data first or third party data using our clients and the signals that we get from the platforms and the software companies. 

To give you a concrete example,Kristin Lemkau, who is the CMO of JP Morgan said recently that AI generated copy for financial product advertising was better than human produced copy - so I got a few panicked calls from our friends in creative! So, the answer is that we will use any and every technique in order to produce better content for programmatic.

2. What is S4Capital’s typical working relationship with legal departments? Would you want to see an improvement within the advertising and marketing industries with regard to the current state of collaboration between branding, marketing and legal?

That’s a good question. The answer is that unfortunately legal and procurement tend to be regarded by agencies as impediments, not accelerators or facilitators. So legal as part of the procurement process is seen as a block rather than as an enabler.  I think that is sad. There are deeper issues here and often legal are only trying to do the right thing. 

Trust between traditional agencies and clients is at a low ebb - that is why our new era, new age digital model is totally transparent. There is also suspicion about what happens in the digital ecosystem - what rake offs, kick backs go on. So there is a suspicion and the procurement and legal departments are there to make sure that the clients don’t feel as though they have been taken to the cleaners. So, I am not saying that the attitude is wrong but we have to figure out a better way, because speed and agility is absolutely critical.

3. When launching a new product or service onto the market one of the hardest decisions for a company is to pick the right brand candidate and select the perfect name that will convey and reflect the quality and value of their products and/or services - as well as being able to stand legally unopposed. What advice would you give to startups who are at the brandstorming stage to help them to choose good brand candidates?

Well when we did S4 I’d left WPP - I am a 4th generation immigrant, my grandparents, my parents, me and my children - hence S4C - 4 generations. My father changed his name to Sorrell - he read a book called Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping in 1924 and liked the book so much he thought that it would be a good name. So he changed his name at that time as it was foreign sounding - so it has always been emotionally a very important thing. I actually wanted to call the business the name my father had before he changed it, but my family revolted against the idea of doing that and so we just called it S4. That story would say make sure that the brand is authentic. 

I actually think for a startup you should do a similar thing - you should do what is emotionally important to you. We called it S4Capital because, although we were not an investment company, we were funding expansion. Our business is purely digital and we have that Holy Trinity of faster, better, cheaper, and we are unitary - so if you could come up with a brand name that could express that!  We also have MightyHive and MediaMonks and we should call it Mighty Monks and get on with it! The advice I would give is to do intuitively what you think is the right thing. So I think that would be my advice - to choose something that emotionally is important to you.

4. Brand creation can occasionally lead to disagreement between marketing and legal teams. The idea of a legally good trademark is different from that of the marketing structure. In your opinion is it a necessary step to check the potential strength of a brand with a trademark attorney in advance of finally deciding on a particular brand name and launching the product or service?

Yes is the answer to that - very simple - you don’t want to run into any legal problems.You have a function!

5. Brand protection is an on-going challenge in today’s fast-paced, global, digital marketplace. What steps do you recommend that businesses take to ensure that their valuable intangible business assets - their brands - are continually monitored against potential infringements from third parties and protected against the risk of brand dilution?

It is essential. There are some interesting digital applications where you can tag products, or you can monitor them or you can monitor others that we have been shown - that is not in our business - but we have recommended them to clients. So in answer to your question should you trademark - yes - and you should be absolutely vigilant about these grey markets, or black markets and counterfeits. You should pursue people to the ends of the earth. It is a really interesting and essential technology.

6. What are the action points for building and sustaining valuable brands and where do you see IP management in this process?

Well IP management again is critical. Protecting it is not easy. Patents and trademarks expire. It becomes quite difficult. It is absolutely critical to monitor it effectively. Coming back to the issue of legal departments maybe they should be spending their time more focused on that rather than the minutiae of contract negotiation. Protection of IP is critical.

7. Any challenges with regard to IP portfolios during M&A processes?

The issue lies in protecting whatever you are buying, or whatever you are merging with, in an effective way. I would not say that these are challenges, they are issues that have to be taken carefully into account - to monitor the IP that is there and make sure that the rights adhere to you. There have been cases where people have not bought what they thought they were buying.

8. Finally, can you share with us what your motivation was in May 2018 when you founded S4Capital

I wanted two things. I wanted to demonstrate that you could create a new era, new age disruptive model and secondly, from a personal point of view, I did not want to retire and I didn’t fancy doing portfolio stuff. I did not want a non-executive role on a board, which can be a very thankless task. 

I am interested in private equity, but effectively S4 management has a 15% carry and I have a very significant interest in the company. I put £53 million into the company and we have done very well so far. Our market cap is now $1.1 billion in one year so I think basically there is a mission here, which is to develop a new era, new age disruptive model. The other part of it, which I touched on this morning in my interview with Charlie Warzel (New York Times), is that we want to be disruptive and we want to prove a new model in this 24/7 always on world. The iterative model is much more effective that a temporal fixed model. It has to be much more agile!

Faster, better, cheaper brand protection

Word Watch is an AI-powered watch tool, which protects your trademarks and slogans against new infringing and opposable marks. It allows you to keep an eye on new names that are similar to any word you choose and shows you the marks that are relevant to you ranked in order of threat.

For each trademark name or word watched, you pay just one fee and your mark is protected - in the countries of your choice - for a whole year. It couldn’t be easier. 

Make sure your trademark stays yours!


Fast and Flexible Trademark Monitoring Tool