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
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
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
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
The commitment to club agencies which can create monolithic power brands
remains, but the future will see more jostling for jobs between
Unilever’s existing UK agency relationships
Client Brand Agency
Lever Brothers Persil J.Walter Thompson
Surf Lowe Lintas
Comfort Ogilvy & Mather
& Domestos) Lowe Lintas
Elida Faberge Impulse, Physio
Sport, Dove Ogilvy & Mather
Aquatonic Lowe Lintas
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 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,
Birds Eye Ready Meals,
Ciabazza HHCL & Partners
Unipath Clear Blue, Persona Ogilvy & Mather