WPP Doubles Down on Amazon Investment by Acquiring Specialty Shop Marketplace Ignition

Martin Sorrell looks to co-opt retail giant

Marketplace Ignition founder Eric Heller (l.) and Possible global svp of commerce Frank Kochenash
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

In a March 2017 earnings call for the world’s largest ad agency holding company, CEO Martin Sorrell answered the classic “what worries you when you go to bed at night?” question with one word: Amazon.

Sorrell acted on those fears by way of WPP network Possible, which announced today that it has acquired consultancy Marketplace Ignition for an undisclosed sum. The organization, which was founded by Amazon retail veteran Eric Heller and currently employs around 35 across offices in both Atlanta and Amazon’s hometown of Seattle, specializes in one thing: helping businesses and their agency partners better navigate one of the world’s largest ecommerce platforms.

It’s a bit more complex than it sounds.

“Three quarters of every advertising dollar goes to Google or Facebook, but Amazon is the third horse,” said Possible president of the Americas Jason Burby, citing predictions that Jeff Bezos’ company could reach $20 billion in annual ad revenue by 2020 and the fact that two-thirds of American households currently subscribe to Amazon Prime. “Brands are overwhelmed.”

In other words, a business looking to sell almost anything to American consumers can no longer ignore Amazon.

During the same earnings call, GroupM futures director Adam Smith said WPP had set up a separate agency in Seattle to “cater to Amazon.” That agency is Possible, one of the first shops to be certified as an Amazon partner. The Seattle office hired svp of commerce Frank Kochenash just over a year ago to lead its ecommerce practice.

“Winning on Amazon requires a brand and its agency partners to do different things than what they’ve done historically for 50 years,” Kochenash said. “If you sell anything from baby carriers to popcorn but don’t show up in Amazon searches, I’d go so far as to say your brand it not credible in that category.”

Possible’s statement identifies Marketplace Ignition as the largest consultancy dedicated to helping brands optimize Amazon, and Kochenash said its services range from product data points and images to SEO key words and other “things that a brand agency or marketers would usually let a sales team handle.”

But Amazon’s effects on the retail game have been even more dramatic than its disruption of Sorrell’s sleep cycle. “It’s a marriage of merchandise and marketing,” Kochensash said, noting that the acquisition equips Possible with new capabilities like supply-chain consulting.

“Amazon is like Walmart plus Facebook,” Burby added. “As brands, agencies and marketers struggle with that, we want to be the group that can help all the way from awareness to the click, the buy and the eventual delivery by drone on your doorstep.”

Specifics of the deal were not disclosed, and industry analysts estimated the price paid for the consultancy could be anywhere from $10 million to $40 million. Heller will continue leading the Marketplace Ignition division of Possible and report to Kochenash. WPP plans to present its new, Amazon-specific capabilities to media clients in the coming months.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.