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Will Vodafone finally take a creative step forwards?

Do agencies do anything but pitch these days?

Media agencies and their cornucopia of owners (holding companies, operating bosses such as WPP’s GroupM etc) seem to be pitching the whole time, for some accounts, it seems, for years. Which makes you wonder who’s doing the work.

Big creative pitches seem less frequent – or less drawn-out – but they’re exhaustive and, no doubt, exhausting. Good for the likes of us, of course, as it gives us something to write about. They’re probably even more exhausting over Christmas. Why do clients do it? Maybe it’s to do with their financial years and budgeting. Maybe it’s because they can.

Vodafone is one of the biggest accounts in the UK and it’s looking outside Grey, or so it’s been reported. Vodafone’s advertising has been shocking for years, based on the meaningless ‘power to you’ notion. A number of capable agencies have tried and failed to make something of it, possibly because Vodafone seems to have nothing to say. Its service is ropey (it’s not alone in that in the UK) and years of trying to sell extra benefits/features have signally failed to tackle its core lack of appeal.

Three’s advertising from Wieden+Kennedy is the best by a street, O2’s marketing seems on the button (agency is VCCP). So who will be asked to sprinkle some stardust over Vodafone (accepting that the agency can’t actually improve the network). They could recommend changing the name of course, still redolent of Vodafone’s Racal heritage.

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In the fairly recent past Vodafone has been a WPP property. WPP handles its media. The last time it moved, 18 months ago, it was in a closed WPP pitch, eventually moving to Grey from RKCR/Y&R. Y&R had enlisted a Star Wars character, always a sure sign that the agency is at its wit’s end – or witless. Like choosing Simply The Best or The Ride of the Valkyries as the music. You’d think it would have dawned on adland that well-chosen music plays a huge part in adam&eveDDB’s string of winners for John Lewis.

Talking of which, is there any agency out there who can challenge A&E for Vodafone, assuming it wants it? A mobile network is just about the only gap it has on its UK client list. But another such is Mother, our Agency of the Year. Lucky Generals, another AOY contender, is also free – as they say. Who else? Brothers and Sisters has shown its mettle on the big Sky account, 101 could do the job, WCRS remains a big solid agency. The great oil tanker that’s McCann seems to be turning round.

AMV BBDO and Saatchi are, presumably, excluded with BT and EE (now owned by BT) respectively. As is CHI with TalkTalk.

WPP agencies surely won’t be although Grey (which may or may not repitch) has been its stand-out performer. There are question marks over both A&E and Grey as the A&E founders weight their options as their buyout from DDB is concluded while Grey has to contend with the consequences of ‘Grexit,’ the departures of Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson and Natalie Graham to do their own thing.

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WPP’s JWT had a go back in the day and so did BBH. But time’s a great healer.

This could go on forever, so it won’t.

But Vodafone is probably the biggest challenge in British advertising.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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