Editorial: Wal-Mart account is a big test for Draft/FCB offering

The Chicago Sun-Times is not alone in having to eat its words after Draft/FCB's spectacular capture of Wal-Mart's £320 million US account. Back in June, the paper declared that the Interpublic-inspired marriage of its Draft and FCB operations "will go down as one of the darkest moments in the history of an increasingly troubled ad industry".

Why? Because Draft was once the lowly tail "wagging the mangy mutt that is now the general consumer ad business", it complained. Four months and an enormous slice of humble pie later, the merged agency's Wal-Mart triumph is hailed by the paper as "one of the most stunning developments in Chicago advertising annals".

Both statements are hyperbolical. The coming-together of Draft and FCB was never going to be quite the disaster the Sun-Times' "Cassandra" page predicted.

Not only will this win assuage some of the worry at the embattled IPG, but it will also mark an early defining moment for the new Draft/FCB entity. However, it will be a monumental task to tame the Wal-Mart monster. Not least because the agency must absorb such a massive chunk of business so soon after the wedding.

Sadly, the Sun-Times' sneering at Draft as the direct marketing poor relation, which has somehow risen to power by default, is symptomatic of what the below-the-line sector has had to face for years. But in Wal-Mart, Draft - and its new FCB soulmate - has an almost perfect opportunity to fling such patronising talk back from whence it came.

The retail leviathan has demanding requirements. It does not necessarily want to increase the 138 million customers coming through its US stores every week (although it does have to stand its ground against go-getting competitors such as Target). It does, however, need to encourage its customers to shop not just for low-margin items such as groceries and hardware, but big-ticket products such as furnishings and electronic goods.

Wal-Mart's demands promise to test every part of the Draft/FCB offering. By rising to this challenge, it could provide the most compelling evidence yet that above the line and below the line can work in true harmony.

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