Does W+K’s McDonald’s win herald the end for bespoke holding company agencies?

Wieden+Kennedy has been celebrating what is arguably the creative account win of the year, McDonald’s in the US from Omnicom/DDB’s bespoke agency We Are Unlimited.

An internal memo secured by Adweek says: “It’s been a nine-month journey that was originally scoped as a brand project but mid-process ballooned into a competitive pitch for the U.S. business. Not only is it a huge coup for N.Y. given the size of the account, but it’s a huge vote for the power of creativity.

And also this: Three years ago, McDonald’s awarded its U.S. business to an Omnicom/DDB bespoke agency called “We Are Unlimited (WAU)” one of those “best of breed” solutions that holding companies cobble together to convince clients of its brilliance.

The promise of WAU was that Google and Facebook would be a part of their team and data would be at the core of everything they did. In other words, to paraphrase the old Thomas Dolby song, “They blinded them with science!” But in the end, WAU forgot the power of creativity (or arguably didn’t have much to offer). And three years later, they’ve been relegated to an operational role and WKNY will take the lead. There’s a lesson in that for all of us: it’s never either/or, it’s and/and. Insight, intelligence and great creativity win the day.

Well, WKNY brought all three and impressed the hell out of McDonald’s.

A touch triumphal perhaps and W+K will doubtless have its knuckles rapped by McDonald’s. But it’s an interesting and relevant point all the same. W+K in the US has profited mightily from the seemingly sudden desire by clients to get a creative agency back on board, in preference to the brave new models advertisers and holding companies tried and mostly failed to create. W+K also recently won Coca-Cola on an old-fashioned agency of record (AOR) basis too, which seems to have brought a bonanza to W+K London as well.

There are always issues with such big moves however: for W+K it’s KFC, one of McDonald’s big rivals which also resides at the agency. KFC is run out of W+K’s Portland HQ while McDonald’s is slated for New York and that seems to be OK for now but it’s tricky. W+K’s New York office, finally motoring after some false starts, seems to be the driver behind these recent wins.

It’s also seemingly Ford’s favourite agency at the moment even though the creative account is supposed to have moved to Omnicom’s BBDO. It will be interesting to see who’s in charge on Ford’s UK account.

It remains to be seen what happens to We Are Unlimited. Such bespoke agencies inevitably seem to bring trouble in their wake. The client changes or just gets tired of the same old media-driven menu.

Update

Business Insider reckons WAU is to be folded into DDB Chicago. That’s one down then..

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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. My own experience – on the agency side – was that these bespoke agencies were more a solution to the problem of getting marketing service group companies to work together than a client benefit. MSG companies were always suspicious of collaboration, always thinking that one of their sneaky fellow agencies would try to grab a bigger slice of the budget, and revenues and bonuses would be lost. The solution was to knock down the silos by creating the bespoke agency.
    Yes the client was told they were a bringing together under one roof the best agency talent but of course that was rarely the case. If you were the best, why would you want to move away from your great agency and go and work for a hybrid? You wouldn’t and so it was usually the average that were drafted into these teams.
    And W&K are right when they point the finger at data-driven solutions. Data as the point of positioning is useful as it is all rather neutral and doesn’t undermine the solution offered by the individual agencies. If the hybrid claims it is creativity driven for example then it begs the question why not get the creative agency to run the account.
    Data is fine as a support and, indeed, as an important sign-post to the creative solution or idea. But then so are raw talent, intuition, nuance, ambiguity, luck and all those things that lead to great creativity but which cannot be bottled.
    So congratulations to W&K. (And yes they probably too are a little hacked-off that this memo escaped – naughty employees.)