PERSPECTIVE: Lowe never matched the success of WCRS on Orange - but why?

Two years ago I wrote this column about the departure of the Orange account from WCRS to Lowe. WCRS created a brilliant valedictory ad for the same issue with "hello on the left-hand page and "goodbye on the right, and copy saying that Orange was worth zero when it appointed WCRS in 1994 and £28 billion when it left in 2000.

I doubt if Lowe will be moved to create an ad to mark its resignation of the account this week, not least because Orange, although bolstered by acquisitions, is worth about 25 per cent less than it was in 2000. For while Lowe has proved itself capable many times over of memorable advertising, it has never matched the heights of Stella Artois, Heineken or Olympus for Orange.

And even if it had been asked to repitch by Orange's incoming marketing director, Jeremy Dale, Lowe would have faced the "damned if you do, damned if you don't syndrome. Do you throw out all the work you've previously done, thereby admitting you were wrong all along, or do you stick to your guns and pretend that everything will turn out right in the end, thus allowing the client to infer that he was stupid to call a review in the first place?

In theory, it must be better to try to gee up the teams working on the business and negotiate a period within which you try to rebuild the relationship. Which is precisely what Lowe's chief executive, Chris Thomas, did with his request for a 100- day stay of execution.

Unfortunately, like all theories, it can come unstuck in practice. But the reasons concern more than creative failure or politics at Lowe - crucial though these were - and arguably have something to do with Orange as well.

Consider the evidence. Orange went global following its purchase by the German conglomerate Mannesmann in 1999. But Mannesmann itself was acquired in 2000 by Vodafone, which had to sell Orange to gain regulatory clearance for the Mannesmann deal. Vodafone found a buyer for Orange in France Telecom, which owns 86 per cent of Orange after an IPO last year. In other words, from being a minnow in the shark pool of British telecoms, Orange turned into a serious global player for which advertising, inevitably, became less of a passion and more of a necessity.

And while it is true that all four original members of the Lowe pitch team have now left the agency or moved to other jobs, the team that set the gold standard for the original ads has also been disbanded. That is, Robin Wight of WCRS, Doug Hamilton of Wolff Olins, Hans Snook of Orange and the launch marketing team at Orange. And so, when all is said and done, an agency with no telecoms experience took on an account with scant depth of experience at senior client level. Dealing with a relatively junior marketing team, it failed to produce memorable or confident work and resigned, having found the task insurmountable.