Close-up: Live Issue/Unilever’s Advertising Shake-up - Agencies jostle for power as Unilever axes brands/But it could paradoxically mean more work for local shops, Lisa Campbell says

It isn’t hard to see why agencies fight tooth and nail for a slice of Unilever business. Products from the mighty conglomerate are used in 95 per cent of UK households. The amount of Brooke Bond tea sold every day could fill six Olympic swimming pools, while the 50 million sticks of Peperami sold every year would stretch from London to Sydney. This is big business with a capital B.

It isn’t hard to see why agencies fight tooth and nail for a slice

of Unilever business. Products from the mighty conglomerate are used in

95 per cent of UK households. The amount of Brooke Bond tea sold every

day could fill six Olympic swimming pools, while the 50 million sticks

of Peperami sold every year would stretch from London to Sydney. This is

big business with a capital B.



For years, global networks such as McCann-Erickson, J. Walter Thompson,

Lowe Lintas & Partners and Ogilvy & Mather have sat on the roster, safe

in the knowledge that global alignments make their place pretty much

secure and guaranteed. Until recently, that is, as a recent European

pitch for Van den Bergh Foods affirms (Campaign, 21 January).



The contest between JWT and Lowe Lintas for the pounds 60 million

European food brands - which saw JWT emerge victorious - is seen by some

as the first in a series of pitches across all of Unilever’s categories.

But the scale of future pitches and who will triumph is as yet

unknown.



The changes are partly the result of last year’s radical announcement by

Niall Fitzgerald, the Unilever chairman.



Fitzgerald admitted that energy and resources were dissipated on too

many brands - about 1,600 - making the business slower and less

competitive.



As a result, around 75 per cent of brands are being axed or, at the very

least, left without marketing support, and as Unilever focuses on a

handful of ’master-brands’, it is looking to streamline its agency

arrangements around them.



Some believe the pitches will be nothing more than ’a few bits and

pieces changing hands’. The food review could be seen as a simple

clean-up operation, with several non-roster agencies such as Young &

Rubicam in Scandinavia being removed. However, pounds 60 million amounts

to more than a ’clean-up’ and various knock-on effects in other European

food categories are predicted - mayonnaise being one example.



Others believe future pitches will be on a massive scale. Laundry, in

particular, appears ripe for review.



Unilever has a twin brand strategy across Europe for its fabric

conditioners, with Comfort, handled by O&M, appearing in some markets

including the UK, and Snuggle, handled by Lowe Lintas, featuring

elsewhere. Sources suggest the brands may be aligned under a single

brand name and handled by one agency.



Birds Eye Walls also appears poised to review. A spokeswoman refused to

confirm which agencies are working on which brands, claiming: ’This is

being looked at. We haven’t decided what changes we’re going to make

yet.’



According to insiders, before its merger with the Lowe Group, Ammirati

Puris Lintas was viewed negatively by Birds Eye, with McCann being the

favoured agency. However, its merger with Lowe Howard-Spink brings new

opportunities for the food giant.



And yet Lowe’s attempt to marry its creativity - the food pitch was led

by an all-Lowe creative team - with APL’s strategic insight obviously

didn’t impress Van den Bergh.



But an interesting dichotomy is emerging. At the same time as global

agencies fight it out within the consolidation process, local agencies

are gaining an increasing foothold on the roster, as this week’s news

about HHCL & Partners indicates.



Having been appointed to handle an NPD project for Sure deodorant, HHCL

has since managed to get its teeth into Sure for Men - an account

previously held by APL. There is every indication that this will start

to happen more often, particularly within the Elida Faberge and Van den

Bergh Foods divisions, which are known as the most autonomous divisions

within the group.



Although the shift from relying on ’club agencies’ towards local

agencies is not new, there is no doubt that the pattern has been

accelerating of late. ’Fitzgerald is encouraging marketing directors to

seek out the best local talent for their markets and not feel their

hands are tied by big agency networks,’ one source says.



And because Unilever, like Procter & Gamble, is putting more emphasis on

quality creative work, agencies such as Mother, HHCL and Bartle Bogle

Hegarty are being given more assignments and, therefore, giving the big

players a run for their money.



’Who wins and loses ultimately depends on which brands are decreed

local,’ a senior agency source says. ’Birds Eye was historically global

but is now treated as a local brand. The fact that specific UK

advertising has proved successful means that kind of thing will

continue. Global brands will become more closely defined to each market

using local agencies.’



Mother’s work for Batchelors Supernoodles has not only been strong

creatively, but also strategically, showing an insight into the target

audience and the brand positioning - something which Fitzgerald is at

pains to improve.



’Our business will live or die on the intimacy of our consumer

understanding,’ he stated last year.



HHCL has produced some lively work in the traditionally dull frozen food

sector for Birds Eye Ready Meals, while BBH’s Lynx work is not only a

major hit in the UK but is running in other parts of the world too.



Yet while these agencies may be getting stronger locally, their size and

set-up prevents them from being a threat when it comes to global

assignments.



The commitment to club agencies which can create monolithic power brands

remains, but the future will see more jostling for jobs between

them.



Unilever’s existing UK agency relationships

Client            Brand                        Agency

Lever Brothers    Persil                       J.Walter Thompson

                  Surf                         Lowe Lintas

                  Comfort                      Ogilvy & Mather

                  Homecare (Jiff

                  & Domestos)                  Lowe Lintas

Elida Faberge     Impulse, Physio

                  Sport, Dove                  Ogilvy & Mather

                  Sure, Brut

                  Aquatonic                    Lowe Lintas

                  Vaseline                     McCann-Erickson

                  Lynx, Salon Selectives       Bartle Bogle Hegarty

                  Organics, Timotei            J. Walter Thompson

                  Sure for Men                 HHCL & Partners

Van den Bergh     Flora, Batchelors

Foods             Cup-a-Soup, Peperami         Lowe Lintas

                  Oxo, Chicken Tonight,

                  Colman’s, Brooke Bond D      J. Walter Thompson

                  Batchelors Supernoodles,

                  Batchelors Pasta ’n’ Sauce   Mother

                  Ragu, Five Brothers,

                  Delight, Elmlea              Ogilvy & Mather

                  PG Tips, Brooke Bond

                  Single Estate                BMP DDB

                  Olivio, Stork                Bartle Bogle Hegarty

                  I Can’t Believe It’s

                  Not Butter!                  McCann-Erickson

                  Brooke Bond Scottish Blend   The Bridge

Birds Eye Walls   Potato waffles,

                  ice-cream, fish              Lowe Lintas

                  Burgers, poultry, herbs,

                  peas, Viennetta, Solero,

                  Cornetto                     McCann-Erickson

                  Birds Eye Ready Meals,

                  Ciabazza                     HHCL & Partners

Unipath           Clear Blue, Persona          Ogilvy & Mather



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