Stella and Lowe - the story behind the split

LONDON - InBev has shortlisted Mother and Publicis to pitch for the global Stella Artois business, and is understood to be looking for a third agency to compete for the account.

Stella Artois...looking for a new agency
Stella Artois...looking for a new agency

The end of an era - best Stella Artois print ads by Lowe
The end of an era - best Stella Artois TV ads by Lowe

Briefings with agencies are scheduled for next week, with a pitch expected to take place in a month’s time at the brewer’s European headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, where the company will select campaigns to take into research.

InBev originally asked the incumbent, Lowe, to repitch for the account early last week, when it informed the agency of its decision to call a review, according to sources.

A series of tense discussions followed, culminating in a crisis talk between Lowe’s senior management team on Thursday.

At that meeting, which included Tony Wright, Lowe Worldwide’s chairman, Steve Gatfield, its chief executive, Kevin Allen, its vice-chairman, and Jeremy Hine, the global account director on Stella, the agency decided not to repitch for the account. 

A deteriorating relationship

Sources from inside Lowe suggest its decision to end the partnership was motivated by what had become an increasingly strained relationship with the brewer.

Relations between the two worsened when InBev called a pitch for the launch of a 4 per cent Stella Artois variant in July. It appointed Mother to handle the business two weeks ago, after a pitch against Lowe.

Behind the scenes, the relationship had been deteriorating since the merger between AmBev and Interbrew in 2004, and the subsequent exit of a number of senior marketers.

Further strain was placed ?on the partnership after poor UK sales contributed to a 5.1 per cent drop in worldwide shipments in the second quarter of this year.

Matthew Bull, Lowe’s global creative director, said: Stella was a brand that brought us an enormous amount of joy and satisfaction over many years.

"It was proof of the power of brilliant creative to build brands and sell product. That era has come to an end and there are many reasons for it, but I’d sum it up simply by saying that when it came to our relationship, the magic had gone.

The impact on Lowe London

At the end of July, Michael Roth, the chief executive of Lowe Worldwide’s parent ?Interpublic, announced that the Lowe network was set to return to profitability in 2008.

He attributed much of its turnaround to Lowe London and the agency’s recent new-business success with Unilever (it won the global Magnum account in January).

The agency also works on accounts including Johnson & Johnson, Electrolux, General Motors and Beck’s on a global basis.

However, in the UK, it recently declined to repitch for the Twinings account, and the decision to resign Stella leaves the agency with just two noteworthy domestic accounts: John Lewis and COI.

Lowe London is now the international hub of the Lowe network, and its focus on global business is a cultural turnaround for an agency that just three years ago counted Tesco among its domestic clients, and which, since its launch in the early 80s, has been known for its UK creative strength.

The split with Stella brings to an end one of the most creatively fruitful relationships in advertising history, which began 26 years ago.

The Lowe/Stella partnership has yielded numerous award-winning ads. The my shout print ad was followed by the classic series of Jean de Florette-inspired campaigns using the famous strapline: Reassuringly expensive.