It's been a wild few months in the world of savoury and dressings advertising. The Christmas 'holiday' saw agencies slaving toward January pitches sparked by Unilever's acquisition of the American Bestfoods group last October. Five of the world's leading networks were competing for some pounds 200 million worth of billings, no less.
Now we have the results. So who's up and who, borrowing a phrase from Anne Robinson, is Unilever's weakest link?
Up Lowe Lintas, which wins the global dressings account (for Hellmann's/Calve) and with it a new vote of confidence in the merged agency.
Up J. Walter Thompson, which wins the lion's share of the savoury brands business, under the Knorr banner, the rest going to DDB. JWT did not pitch for the dressings business because it handles Kraft in the US.
Up DDB, the Bestfoods network, which loses Hellmann's in the UK to Lowe but picks up more, and higher spending, brands internationally, effectively becoming a fifth club agency for Unilever.
Weakest link Ogilvy & Mather, which was aligned to Unilever's previous culinary category and now finds itself off the foods roster. Concern may now be turning to panic at O&M regarding its relationship with Unilever - last week Lever Faberge fired O&M from the European Impulse business.
Weakest link BBDO, the other Bestfoods network, which loses its Knorr business in several territories but may have less to lament than O&M.
As BBDO works with the Campbell's Soup Company in the US, it is well placed to take on the Oxo brand which Unilever has sold to Campbell's, along with Batchelors.
Interestingly, JWT and DDB have been asked to work together on the future strategic direction for Knorr, globally. The agencies are keeping schtum, but this seems weird. How do agencies jointly develop a brand positioning?
Joint agency arrangements can make sense where agencies have wildly varying geographic strengths - witness Guinness's recent appointment of BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi - but the reasons for a joint appointment in this case seem to fall down as soon as the likely motives for it are examined. Murky thoughts of Unilever's internal politics spring to mind.
Relative to its arch rival, Procter & Gamble, Unilever now has in place exemplary agency arrangements. A club system, spread across the three top competitive holding companies in the business, which acknowledges the fact that even the biggest networks are not equally strong everywhere, coupled with the occasional wild-card agency which keeps club agencies on their toes and gives local managers a degree of (albeit carefully orchestrated) autonomy.
Now if they could just do something about Ian Wright's 'acting' in those Chicken Tonight ads ...