- A head-to-head contest for Sainsbury's £43 million account is set for the autumn after M&C Saatchi this week broke Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's 20-year hold on the business by landing its television advertising brief.
The crunch will come as supermarket bosses review their decision to make AMV pay the price for the failure of the John Cleese "value to shout about" campaign in a dramatic bid to bounce back from disappointing trading results.
M&C Saatchi's tenure of the business is for a trial period and the agency's work will be scrutinised in October or November, when Sainsbury's will decide whether all of its advertising should be handled by a single agency or whether the dual arrangement could continue.
In the meantime, Sainsbury's decision to bring in M&C Saatchi as predicted exclusively by Campaign in February presents AMV with the huge dilemma of either resigning the remaining business or staying on board in the hope of winning it all back.
This week AMV senior executives were understood to be seeking a meeting with Kevin McCarten, the Sainsbury's marketing director, to win assurances that there will be a level playing field when the company reviews its new arrangement.
AMV is said to acknowledge that the Cleese campaign was ill-judged, but believes that Sainsbury's problems are not due exclusively to its advertising and that the agency should be judged on the basis of two decades of outstanding work.
Sainsbury's is believed to be reluctant to burn its boats with AMV while M&C Saatchi remains untested and before it can be sure that the agency's TV work has long-term potential.
The splitting of the account news of which broke on CampaignLive on Friday culminates the "Trojan horse" strategy of M&C Saatchi since it won the launch of Sainsbury's banking at the end of 1996.
The turning point was M&C Saatchi's appointment last year to carry out an internal staff motivation project.
The agency produced three films which, although not intended for broadcast, were shot by a commercials director and were highly praised by Sainsbury's managers.
The films are said to take a "lifestyle" approach.