The air was hardly perfume sweet around Ogilvy & Mather's Canary Wharf HQ last week, following its loss of the pounds 25 million pan-European Impulse account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty. O&M had held the account for five years but Unilever decided to look elsewhere to drive sales of a brand that is trying to hold its own in a tough marketplace.
BBH has been producing some award-winning work for the Lynx body spray brand, also owned by Lever Faberge, and Lever wants it to repeat its success with Impulse. However, there may be more to the account switch than just BBH's excellence on Lynx.
O&M won the Impulse account in 1996 and, at times, produced some strong advertising for the brand. It inherited one of the most famous branding campaigns around from Ammirati Puris Lintas. 'Men can't help acting on Impulse' had been successful but Lever Faberge wanted to update the campaign for a younger but more sophisticated audience.
A Lever spokesman says: ''Men can't help acting on Impulse' launched the brand (in 1979). This creative route was exploited throughout the 80s. Impulse communication has since moved away to 'Act on Impulse', reflecting the evolution of mindset of our target audience.'
O&M's work on Impulse reached its zenith during 1999 when it created three films for the brand including 'art school' - which depicted a nude male model getting an erection - and 'chance encounter', which was the first mainstream UK commercial to feature a gay couple. The third ad featured a young woman attracting both a father and son.
The work won Unilever's own coveted Gold award, held annually for the best creative produced on its brands globally. However, since then the nature of the job has changed with shorter, more tactical ads following the 1999 executions.
Patrick Collister, the former creative director at O&M and founder of Creative Matters, says: 'There was some great work coming out of Ogilvy, but it lost the brand team. Growing Unilever business was once a priority for Ogilvy in London, but doesn't seem to be now.'
Ogilvy's team on Impulse started to unravel last year. Richard Pinder, the managing director who had built a strong relationship with Unilever, left the agency after internal problems. Michelle O'Neill, the planner who worked on Impulse, also left, as did the creative team of Justin Hooper and Christian Cotterill. O'Neill was the key ingredient according to some, particularly as the client was looking for an increasingly strategic approach.
One source close to Ogilvy says: 'There was a crisis over the product role. Kids understood deodorant but didn't really understand the role of a body spray. The client needed heavy strategic help but the agency kept coming back with ads rather than this insight.'
Unilever clearly needs strategic input on the brand, something BBH is particularly strong on. Impulse's market share began to dip by 1998. In 1997, it had a UK market share of 21.5 per cent and by 1998 it had dropped to 21 per cent. Lever declined to provide more recent sales or market share figures.
Lever Faberge has attempted to address this by extending the brand with a range of new product launches. There are now nine separate Impulse products and Lever has just relaunched the range with different packaging.
In 1999, it was identified as one of Unilever's 'A' brands: a selection of brands that would benefit from increased marketing spend. This year, Lever will increase the ad budget behind Impulse from pounds 4 million to pounds 10 million.
However, sources close to Unilever say Impulse only just made it on to this list of key brands. Of 12 Home and Personal Care products selected, Impulse was number 12 - well behind products including Lynx and Dove.
BBH's role will be to help Impulse's target audience of young women understand the brand again. It is something it has already achieved with Lynx. One agency source says: 'It should be possible to take a strong understanding of the brand and extend it with some good advertising.'
The challenge for O&M may lie in improving relations with Unilever.
Observers suggest its hold on Comfort and Physio Sport may be fragile. One source says: 'Impulse is the classic Ogilvy brand. In the early days, David Ogilvy turned O&M into a serious global agency with work for Dove, so Unilever's regard for the agency is strong. But O&M's new London management team seems to be out of kilter with the rest of the network.'
Paul Simons, O&M's UK managing director, was unavailable for comment as Campaign went to press.
Lever, meanwhile, will need all of BBH's know-how. The body spray category is becoming increasingly competitive because of own-label products and deodorant launches such as Procter & Gamble's Secret. BBH will have its work cut out to reproduce the Lynx effect on Impulse.