BBH must be wondering what exactly it’s doing wrong

Christmas is a time for ghost stories and nightmares as well as festive jollity and there’s more of the former than the latter at BBH just now.

the-man-who-walked-around-the-worldDiageo’s Johnnie Walker (left) is reviewing its global account (despite sales almost doubling during BBH’s 15-year tenure) and Unilever’s Axe is inviting on and off-roster agencies to pitch for a new Axe product (BBH began working on the UK’s Lynx version of Axe 19 years ago).

15 and 19 years are both long tenures and clients are entitled to look around, it’s their money after all. But you sometimes wonder why they do it – unless it’s to give themselves something to do.

We don’t know who’s lining up for the new Axe product (if such it be) although Unilever says BBH will remain lead agency. The lucky newbie may have different ideas.

Adweek says Johnnie Walker has lined up Anomaly, BBDO, Ogilvy and Wieden+Kennedy (doesn’t W+K handle Southern Comfort?)

JW brand director Guy Escolme says the relationship with BBH, most notably the ‘Keep Walking’ campaign, has been “hugely successful” but that “the time is right to invite selected agencies, including BBH, to look at how we take the brand forward into the future.”

So that means another exhaustive and exhausting repitch for BBH, hard on the heels of the protracted BA review, which it won.

BBH has been sailing serenely through the waters of adland for most of its 32 years in business. But sometimes these things happen. The agency is now wholly-owned by Publicis Groupe, which has led to founders Sir John Hegarty and Sir Nigel Bogle taking a step back (although it’s not obvious from my observations in and around Kingly Street). Other veterans have also departed including chairman Simon Sherwood and global CEO Gwyn Jones. The new brooms are not so well known, apart from Neogama’s Alexandre Gama who’s now the CCO.

The Publicis Groupe ownership may also be at the back (or front) of Axe owner Unilever’s mind. Rival Procter & Gamble is one of Publicis Groupe’s most important accounts, which didn’t matter so much when PG owned only 49 per cent of BBH.

Well, clients have their ways and they’re changing. Diageo’s global design head Jeremy Lindley said at a conference recently that the key to successful client agency relationships these days was ‘co-creation,’ which provoked some amusing and pertinent observations from my friend George Parker in Adscam. (George also has much to say on the Johnnie Walker business). Mr Lindley, whose last job was at Tesco, has never worked in advertising as far as I can see. I can’t see John Hegarty being too keen on ‘co-creation.’

It’s a rum business all round. But no doubt BBH will come through it.

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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.

One comment

  1. Considering the importance of Unilever for WPP, I’m sure that Sir Martin Sorrell sees an opportunity to get a new piece of business and throw another punch to already battered Maurice Levy. Publicis is not doing well these days: Omnicom merger failure, BBH now has two reviews, ZenithOptimedia lost EUR 500 million business of O2 to Havas Media, newly acquired Sapient Corp. (paid USD 3.7 billion in cash) had a weak third quarter… Damn, it looks that things are not looking up yet.

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