Sorrell on Google’s Power, China’s Threat and “Frightening” Tech

Sorrell on stageGoogle and China were in WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell’s sights this morning when he was interviewed on stage at the IAB Engage event in London.

Talking to IAB UK chairman Richard Eyre, Sorrell described Google as a “friendlier frenemy or a friendlier fro” than formerly, but said there was still a residual concern among both agencies and clients about Google’s power.

He also revealed that WPP Group companies were on track to spend more than $3bn dollars with Google in 2014, having spent more than $2bn in the first nine months of the year, and said the big growth was coming from mobile search and video advertising.

On China, Sorrell pointed to the growing power of companies such as Alibaba and Tencent. “Amazon and Google are the two big gorillas of the world, but of the other elephants, the biggest is Alibaba” he said. “Watch out, the Chinese are coming, and it’s not just the traditional companies like Huawei or Alibaba…there are others behind them, powerful companies on the world stage. Don’t underestimate their ability and dedication to moving the model outside China.”

Sorrell also gave a personal perspective on the rate of technological change and the difficulty of keeping track of it all. He told delegates: “The tech side is frightening. I’m not an engineer…so we are fumbling around in the dark…It pays to be paranoid; you have to be paranoid in this area because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Sorrell was followed on stage by Eileen Naughton Google, recently installed as Googles MD for UK and Ireland operations. She started slowly with a load of stats around smartphone ownership, talking about the smartphone being a Swiss army knife/supercomputer/more powerful than the computer that put the first man on the moon – none of which could have come as a surprise to anyone in the room – but then warmed to her performance with an entertaining presentation, the highlight of which was a slide showing a “cellphone/no cellphone” pavement lane division in the US.

IAB Engage runs for the rest of the day, concluding with IAB COO Jon Mew interviewing ex-Baywatch star David Hasselhoff live on stage – no we don’t know why either but the IAB’s last session celebrity interviews are always good value, as anyone who saw Brian Blessed’s interview, sorry monologue last year will confirm.

You can follow the event on Twitter at #iabengage