Swatch is looking for a global agency to handle the creative work on its pounds 17 million global account as the Swiss watch brand faces intensified competition in a crowded market.
Two Asian, one US and two European agencies are believed to have pitched for the work. Bartle Bogle Hegarty claims it has withdrawn from the pitch because of its policy of not showing speculative creative work.
The appointment will mark a significant change for Swatch, which is owned by the watch giant SMH and which has always developed its creative work in-house.
Swatch is understood to be looking for an umbrella campaign to over-arch promotional work on its sub-brands.
The agency search comes at a time when Swatch - which pioneered the idea of affordable Swiss watches - faces increasing pressure from names such as Casio, Nike and Gucci.
Swatch is focusing much of its marketing attention on its Irony range of metal watches, aimed at teenagers to thirty-somethings. The collection augments its Beat watch for streetwise teenagers and the Skin range of wafer-thin watches targeted at women.
Swatch has built its brand primarily through sponsorship. Critics claim that its advertising has been largely anonymous because it has difficulty forging long-term agency relationships.
'Swatch people think of themselves as the hippest, coolest people in the marketing field and are always wanting to do something truly exceptional when they launch a new product,' said a senior agency executive who has previously worked on Swatch business.
'The problem is that Swatch always wants off-the-wall advertising which makes it hard for an agency which is more interested in a long-term strategy.'
BBH, which was thought to be in pole position to capture the business, is understood to have withdrawn when it realised it would have to produce creative work before it could be assigned the account.
Gwyn Jones, the BBH managing director, said: 'For reasons to do with our founding principles, we found it difficult to proceed with the pitch.'