Did Wayne Rooney rumpus play a part in £35m Coke Zero exit to Ogilvy Paris?

Coca-Cola executives in Atlanta were none too amused when England footballer Wayne Rooney, the star of its Coca-Cola Zero advertising in the UK, was revealed enjoying the attention of Manchester hookers when wife Colleen was pregnant.

An almighty row ensued and London-based Coke executives had to fight to persuade them not to drop Rooney immediately (he was currently filming the third series of Coke Zero-backed Sky1 show Street Striker).

But now London agency VCCP (best-known for its Meerkats campaign) has been rudely dumped from the Coke Zero European business which has moved to Ogilvy Paris. Coke says Ogilvy (which handles the account in the US and South America) has been “asked to explore global creative work for Coca-Cola Zero.”

Bet it doesn’t involve a certain footballer.

The above intelligence comes from my chum Stuart Smith who’s on a hot run of scoops at the moment. Here’s his story:

Ogilvy wins $300m global Coke Zero account…
…Something that has come as a bit of a shock to VCCP, which handles the £35m business in Europe, and McCann Erickson, responsible for South-Asia, who didn’t even know they were in a competition.

Why has Coca-Cola been so reluctant to disclose the fact that there has been a pitch at all, let alone that Ogilvy & Mather, which already handles the US business, has won it? It’s a mystery.

Two years ago, Coke instituted, at considerable expense, a European review which ended with VCCP triumphing over Wieden & Kennedy and (a curious one this, given Latin Americans’ aversion to the ‘toxic’ aspartame infusing the brew) Argentinian agency Santo. It was part of a global consolidation of agencies aimed at delivering stringent “marketing efficiencies”. At the time, Coke CEO Muhtar Kent noted: “Agency numbers have gone down by more than half, and I think we have driven a lot of efficiencies in our market research costs, in our marketing over the past 12 months.

Evidently not quite enough of them, judging from Coke’s recent conduct. The current “secret” review appears to be aimed at developing a single, global, advertising concept. I have not idea at this stage what that might be. Apply to Ogilvy Paris, which will be handling the global campaign.

Huge though the win is, Ogilvy should remember that today’s favourite may be tomorrow’s casualty. In its agency relationships, Coke is beginning to resemble a gangster playing Russian roulette. Who will be the last agency standing?

So has VCCP paid the penalty for its choice and support for the toxic Wayne?

It certainly can’t have helped its cause. Of course the ostensible reason for the switch is Coke’s desire for a global campaign for Zero so it makes sense to allocate this to main agency Ogilvy although maybe the choice of Paris ahead of an American agency is surprising.

As for poor old McCanns, the Coke Zero agency in South Asia, it doesn’t seem very loved by anyone at the moment.

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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.