CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AA - The move to M&C is part of the plan to exploit the AA's brand name

Farewell to the henpecked husband who'd rather listen to his dad's

advice than log on to the AA website. So long to the AA patrolman who

finds a broken engine easier to mend than his heart.

The AA is moving on to broader and more rewarding communication highways

which are a far cry from its cosy car club roots set down almost a

century ago.

Centrica, its giant service company parent, has much more ambitious

plans to exploit the AA brand as a precursor to milking the

cross-selling opportunities created by the AA's 11 million-strong

membership database.

Hence last week's decision to move the AA's £10 million creative

account to M&C Saatchi, ending its seven-year association with HHCL &

Partners and dropping its famous sobriquet as "the fourth emergency

service". The switch to M&C Saatchi comes almost two years after the

agency split with the AA's rival, the RAC.

Clare Salmon, the AA's director for customer and brand management, says

the line can no longer encompass the breadth of the AA's 150-plus

product portfolio ranging from motor and household insurance to

publishing and the 129 AA-branded car repair outlets bought from


In part, the move has been fuelled by diminishing returns from the AA's

traditional roadside services. Despite rising membership numbers,

profits per breakdown have been falling because of the price war sparked

off by rival offerings from Direct Line.

"We are not abandoning it," Salmon says. "But it has become a tough

market. We'd prefer it to be a springboard for other services."

Can the plan work? "The AA brand is incredibly strong, people love it

and it's elastic enough to stretch into new areas," an industry source

says. The only question is if the relationship between the AA and its

parent is cohesive enough to guarantee success.

An internal reorganisation within the AA following the Centrica takeover

in 1999 is said to have caused much trauma and turmoil. "The AA was a

bit slow and fuddy-duddy, in the nicest possible way," an adman with

experience on the account says. "We thought things would change when

Centrica took over, given its shit-hot reputation. But the reverse has

been true."

The emergence of an almost entirely new team at the AA produced a

momentum for change that HHCL seemed powerless to stop. Salmon, a former

senior marketer at Prudential and Avis, put the account up for pitch.

"We had a new brief and we thought we'd take the opportunity to look

around," she says.

Salmon won't say much about the new work due to appear in the first half

of this year. But she admits M&C Saatchi scored a direct hit with its

creative idea which she believes can be extended into the direct

marketing work being produced by ehsrealtime and Rapier.

Nick Hurrell, M&C Saatchi's joint chief executive, says: "It was a very

difficult brief because we've had to come up with an idea covering a

huge range of products."

"Our aim is to communicate a coherent message to AA customers," Salmon

adds. Will those customers also be lured into having their power

supplied by British Gas and their banking services by Goldfish, both

Centrica subsidiaries? "We may later want to talk about other brands in

the portfolio."


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