Now WPP invents Red Fuse to handle Colgate

Hyperactive WPP Sir Martin Sorrell (left) is at it again, it being his cunning plan to lure all the world’s biggest advertisers into bespoke WPP agencies set up just to service them. What CMO could resist it?

The latest global mega-advertiser to succumb is consumer goods giant Colgate-Palmolive which finds itself the centrepiece (presumably the only piece but you never know) of new WPP network Red Fuse Communications.

If SMS were a superstitious man, which clearly he isn’t, he might have baulked a bit at the name Red Fuse. Back in the day, WPP tried to float an agency network called Red Cell which consisted of various odds and sods around the empire (including Britain’s once-luminous HHCL) and one big international account, Alfa Romeo. It didn’t work.

Anyway Red Fuse it is for Colgate which spends $1.26bn globally and is promising to up this not insignificant amount.

WPP’s client-centric agency networks include Team Detroit, which handles Ford and is the template for the others. Recently it has set up similar units for Bank of America, Coors (called Cavalry) and News Corporation and Vodafone in the UK.

Red Fuse is going to be a global operation, starting with offices in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Prague, Kansas City (Colgate HQ), New York and Paris. The business is currently mostly with WPP agencies Y&R, Wunderman, MEC and digital agency VML.

Red Fuse boss is former Colgate account chief Steve Forcione (pictured) who says: “WPP is merging resources from across its premiere networks into one fully dedicated and exclusive team to help Colgate win on the ground.” He goes on:”The many excellent people who work on the account around the world are eager to move to the Red Fuse structure, so they can develop big, innovative campaigns in real time.”

Dunno what real time means, how else can you create ads? Anyway Forcione is obviously keen to dispel the pretty widespread feeling that staff, who are loyal to their own agencies, have to be herded kicking and screaming into these new WPP constructs.

But it must be pretty demoralising; working on just one account (although that’s more common in the US than elsewhere) which does leave you somewhat exposed if, for instance, Colgate decides one day that Red Fuse isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Which it what happened with Dell and the WPP Enfatico agency (another former Y&R account) some years ago.

It also means that if you’re boss of JWT or Ogilvy or Y&R you aren’t anywhere near as important as your predecessors were, even under the early model WPP.

It will also be interesting to see what Procter & Gamble, Colgate’s bigger rival, makes of all this. Most P&G business is with Publicis Groupe-owned agencies but there are bits and bobs at WPP, most notably at Grey.

But Sir Martin has decided this is the way the world is going to go and, so far, it is.

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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.


  1. Avatar

    I’m with you. I ask on AdScam, is someone out there creating ads in un-real time? Also, “Red Fuse” will let CP “Win on the ground.” What the fuck does that mean… Maybe all they had previously was airplanes and now they’ll get tanks. I don’t understand this shit any more. At least, unlike Enfatico, they’ve given up on grandiose claims about “Blowing up silos” and “Knocking down walls.” Maybe they’ll do that after “His Gnomeship” buys them their tanks.
    Cheers/George “AdScam” Parker

  2. Avatar

    great someone has thought of this – god how I hate working in fake time.