PERSPECTIVE: BBH brings Limbo on board to try to crack retail briefs

Until a couple of years ago, Campaign had a long history of treating the direct marketing industry disgracefully. We sniggered about shelf-wobblers, junk mail and pedestrian creative standards. When we could be bothered to acknowledge their existence, we referred to its famous exponents in sneering tones. We bemoaned the diversion of once-plump advertising budgets into direct marketing and sales promotion. Why, only five years ago we devoted a whole column to the theory that the search for marketing tools other than advertising was solely driven by the need to cut costs.

Until a couple of years ago, Campaign had a long history of

treating the direct marketing industry disgracefully. We sniggered about

shelf-wobblers, junk mail and pedestrian creative standards. When we

could be bothered to acknowledge their existence, we referred to its

famous exponents in sneering tones. We bemoaned the diversion of

once-plump advertising budgets into direct marketing and sales

promotion. Why, only five years ago we devoted a whole column to the

theory that the search for marketing tools other than advertising was

solely driven by the need to cut costs.



Still, direct marketing agencies are a resourceful lot, and they’ve

extracted their lucrative revenge in various ways. By having more

information at their fingertips than ad agencies. By perfecting the

marriage of hard



data (prospect and customer transactions over time segmented by a host

of variables) with soft data (teasing out motivations and

attitudes).



By singing the client mantra of return on investment and

accountability.



But most of all by making a fortune from a sector that continues to be a

higher-yield business than advertising.



All this explains why last week’s news that Bartle Bogle Hegarty is to

close its ten-year-old direct marketing operation, Limbo, to bring the

staff and some clients in-house to form a new division of the agency

makes good, if somewhat belated, sense. Limbo has a sparkling creative

reputation but has not been a serious new-business contender for some

time. It has been kept at arm’s length from BBH for too long, despite

having shared clients such as Audi and Swinton. It has skills which the

main agency lacks - specifically, a proven understanding of businesses

where the customer interfaces with the business at the point of sale. In

turn, being closer to BBH should encourage the new outfit, which has yet

to be named, to develop more fee, rather than project-based,

relationships - leading to greater financial stability.



The big question is whether with the requisite abilities now under one

roof rather than merely in the same group, BBH will be able to crack and

pitch for serious retail accounts (Selfridges and Wallis

notwithstanding).



After all, competitors have always argued, and with some reason given

its history with Asda and W. H. Smith, that BBH lacks the ability to do

the kind of ’top to bottom’ dirty work that retail clients require.



I’ll bet some old-school types will mutter that the move signals an end

to BBH’s almost maniacal single-mindedness about creating effective and

award-winning advertising, but - and you could take NatWest as a prime

and painful example here - that’s tantamount to ignoring what many major

clients want these days. Tantamount to suicide, in other words, for any

company that makes its living in the service business.



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