The secret’s of adland’s oldest accounts

Some of the biggest accounts have stayed with the same shop for more than 50 years - nothing breeds success like success. Michele Martin investigates the secret ingredients that keep these high-spending clients loyal to their advertising agencies for decades

Some of the biggest accounts have stayed with the same shop for more

than 50 years - nothing breeds success like success. Michele Martin

investigates the secret ingredients that keep these high-spending

clients loyal to their advertising agencies for decades

Adland’s longest-held accounts have a secret. They may look like Mount

Rushmore from the outside, but they quake quite regularly. Take Foote

Cone Belding. After winning the Daily Mail account in 1970, it told Lord

Rothermere in no uncertain terms that his new-look tabloid would sink

without trace if he targeted it at women. Only after a stand-up row in

the street did the agency come up with the famous ‘Every woman needs her

Daily Mail’ to keep the business. FCB will be celebrating its 25-year

hold on the account this year.

Then there was Collett Dickenson Pearce and Gallaher. After stubbornly

rejecting the client’s ideas for a campaign featuring cut silk for its

new brand, Silk Cut, the agency lost the brand to Saatchi and Saatchi in

the late 70s. However, it remains a key roster agency, despite more ups

and downs than virtually any other agency in London.

Working out why a client stays with an agency for decades can be

baffling. They row. They split up temporarily, have affairs, then get

back together again. Remember Gallaher’s short-lived tryst with J.

Walter Thompson in 1993, when CDP failed to crack Hamlet’s move from TV

to posters? Or when Shell ‘moved in’ with the sexy young newcomer,

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, in 1990, after decades with Ogilvy and Mather?

Neither stayed long. JWT’s work never ran and Shell moved back to O&M

three years later.

Such behaviour often provokes marriage analogies among those canvassed

for opinions. And, just as with love affairs, most long-standing clients

and agencies do try to make things work before calling it a day and

splitting the CD collection up.

Often this momentum is fuelled by obvious things such as familiarity and

shared history. At least ten top London accounts have been in place

since the 30s, with Lintas becoming the in-house ad agency for Lever

Bros as far back as 1898 and JWT taking on Kraft in 1926. Experience

also counts. After decades working with a client, an agency usually

understands a brand’s special qualities. Indeed, it was often

responsible for creating those brand qualities in the first place. As

Castrol’s marketing controller, John Ward-Zinsky, says: ‘The visual

icons from the advertising are the brand.’

But what other secret ingredients make up the perfect cocktail of

philanthropic client and contented agency? One overwhelming factor seems

to be that the brands that stay with an agency for many years tend to be


JWT, for instance, has held the Kraft cheese business for 70 years and

the flagship brand, Philadelphia, is currently the processed-cheese

market leader, with 58 per cent share, according to Datamonitor. Mars

Bar has been at D’Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles since 1932 and claims to

be the UK’s number one countline brand, although some sources give Kit

Kat a slight lead. Castrol, which has been with Bates Dorland since

1922, says it leads the retail engine-oil market with a 35 per cent

share. Meanwhile Shell, which has been with O&M since 1946 and is now a

global client, is the largest retail oil company in the world.

Whether the chicken or the egg came first with these is hard to say, but

both agencies and clients are adamant that any account, no matter how

deeply entrenched, will eventually move without proven advertising


Ward-Zinsky - who has been on the other side of the fence as an account

director at JWT - says: ‘Dorlands’ advertising has been a major factor

in our staying market leader. If it hadn’t, we’d certainly have been

formally reviewing the relationship on a much more regular basis and are

more likely to have parted company before now.’ And Gerald Wright,

managing director and then chairman and chief executive of Lintas from

1974 to 1989, says: ‘Somebody outside would say ‘of course, the

historical links with Lever have been influential’. But we’d say we are

still a Birds Eye agency because our advertising has consistently


It also helps to have the kind of client that believes in stability of

suppliers. Mars, usually a highly secretive company, is more than happy

to open up about its relationship with agencies. Angus Porter, marketing

director of Mars Confectionery UK, says of DMB&B: ‘It might sound trite,

but it is more than an agency, it is a partner. The strategy we have is

jointly owned.

‘We go as far as relying on the agency to maintain our corporate

history. It’s vital that we don’t lose the learning of the past or

forget mistakes we have made and DMB&B maintains a broader perspective

on that. It even helps us train new marketing managers by providing a

continuity that balances our policy of moving people around a lot


Gallaher is also very loyal to its agencies. It insisted on paying CDP a

year’s full commission when it stripped it of Silk Cut because,

according to John Ritchie, a former account director on the business:

‘Gallaher is an incredibly gentlemanly client.’

It is company philosophies such as these that seem to overshadow the

importance of any one person and may explain why the belief that

accounts stay put because of account barons - long-standing staff who

have an all-knowing hold on a piece of business - looks increasingly


Barons do exist, of course. Even creatives have their place - David

Abbott brought Volvo with him from French Gold Abbott to Abbott Mead

Vickers BBDO and FCB’s deputy creative director, Brian Watson, has

worked on the Daily Mail’s ads for 25 years. A former Mail editor, Sir

David English, says: ‘He could come and work here as a journalist


But these individuals are only part of the puzzle. Even if Alan Shearer

transferred to a Third Division club, he could not do it all on his own.

The real strength of an agency lies in its teamwork and a smart agency

will be training staff in a brand’s culture all the time.

JWT’s managing director, Stephen Carter, says: ‘There have been enough

people here for a while to know what makes a great ad for Nestle or

Kellogg’s or Kraft. You get a sense of received, intuitive wisdom of

what’s right for a brand.’ While Julian Sandy, Dorlands’ board account

director on Castrol, adds: ‘It will never be a case of the agency or

client wanting to make their mark on the brand, everyone’s very

respectful. We’ve been very careful to pass on the lessons from

generation to generation.’

Knowing when to pass on that baton also requires skill. Carter adds:

‘You have to respect what you learned from the past, but you can’t rely

on that. You have to change people at the right time. It’s a really

tricky balance to get right.’

This agency attitude towards keeping staff fresh seems to mirror the

current client vogue for moving people around, particularly

internationally, with corporations like Shell and Mars relocating staff

every two to four years. And such companies often appreciate a similar

philosophy at their agencies. Andrew Blazye, Shell’s global brand

development manager, says: ‘It’s an idea that is increasingly mirrored

within O&M where people move around within the network. And that’s a

real strength.’

This co-operation between agencies and clients has one overwhelming

bonus - the levels of trust it fosters in both parties. In this light,

the rumblings on accounts are part of an accepted method of working, as

a client gives an experienced agency room to experiment and possibly

make mistakes. As Ward-Zinsky points out: ‘We would allow Dorlands a

couple more mistakes than we would someone else because it understands

the market, the brand and us very well. That gives it licence to take


When those mistakes do go over the limit, however, the rows can become

legendary. John Salmon, president of CDP, says: ‘Every so often we’d go

down and show Gallaher a bunch of ideas and it would say: ‘Is that the

best you can do?’ It would think we were drying up so we’d have to put

on a mammoth effort. Crises are cyclical, they come every few years.’

Wright recalls of one Lever client: ‘He would sometimes pick up a pile

of layouts, drop them on the floor, and say ‘I think you should take

these away.’ But I’d just growl back at him. He was the greatest client

I’ve ever worked for.’

The growling, shouting and alternative strategies do not necessarily

spell disaster for an agency. In fact, they can prove that the

relationship is robust and trusting. But what happens when the shouting

gets too loud and the alternatives bomb one too many times?

English says: ‘Of course, it is difficult if you’ve got a lot invested

in an agency, but it doesn’t make changing your arrangements impossible,

although you do perhaps give your existing agency a few more chances to

get it right.’ Gallaher’s marketing manager for cigars and tobaccos,

Mike Ashdown, agrees: ‘Obviously it makes it harder to move business if

you have a long relationship with an agency. But we will do it where

there’s clear evidence for change.’

So if you do happen to hear the odd rumble coming from advertising’s

longest-standing accounts, it might be worth checking how bad the quake

actually is - but don’t hold your breath. As Wright says: ‘Clients don’t

like changing agencies because it’s expensive and time-wasting. They

prefer stability.’ Better the devil you know - especially if he knows

you, too.

Daily Mail

Whether perusing while practising yoga (1972) or reading in the bath

(1975) FCB defined a new generation of women with its assertion that

‘Every woman needs her Daily Mail’. The campaign, originally backing the

paper’s tabloid relaunch in 1971, helped to carve out a whole new

readership for the title and remains one of the classic newspaper

campaigns of all time. Even celebrity appearances by Michael Caine and

Nigel Dempster in 1992 flogging their stories haven’t lowered the tone

too much


Few themes have been as consistent as ‘Happiness is a cigar called

Hamlet’, introduced two years after CDP first worked with Gallaher in

1962. Whether it was the music teacher consoling himself about a tone

deaf student (1965) or a businessman embarrassed in his undies in a

launderette (1966), the cigar was always star in these ads, which proved

clouds do have silver linings. Later classics such as ‘photo booth’

(1986) demonstrated that the campaign worked best on TV or in the cinema

- posters, in the wake of Britain’s broadcast tobacco ad ban in 1991,

were never as good


If there is a reason for Mars’s advertising, it is to remind advertisers

that a good idea goes on forever. Mars began pushing itself as a

‘nourishing’ snack in 1936, soon after DMB&B won the account in 1932.

After a quick pit-stop for celebrity endorsement by Bob Monkhouse in

1955, it went back to basics in 1959 with the famous claim: ‘A Mars a

day helps you work, rest and play.’ Later ads reflected Mars’s

increasing forays into sports sponsorship of events including the London

Marathon (1986)


After winning Kraft cheese in 1926, J WT wasted no time in educating the

housewives of Britain about the ‘special mellowing’ of cheddar (1928) -

and little changed for the next 30 years, bar the odd recipe tip (1954).

Then, just as cheese advertising seemed too dull for words, up popped a

saviour in the shape of the comedienne, Dora Bryan. Advertising the

newly launched Philadelphia with the claim ‘I’m silly for Philly’

(1962), dippy Dora paved the way for the current duo who arrived in 1987

and are still going strong


Advertising’s top ten longest-held accounts


Client                         Agency (current name)     Arrival

SmithKline Beecham             O&M                       1896

Lever Bros                     APL                       1898

Brooke Bond Foods              BMP DDB                   1914

Castrol                        Dorlands                  1922

Kraft                          JWT                       1926

Woolwich                       O&M                       1926

Lever Bros                     JWT                       1927

Nestle                         JWT                       1931

Mars Bar                       DMB&B                     1932

British Aerospace              BMP DDB                   1938

Kellogg’s                      JWT                       1938



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