O2/Virgin Media merger would herald heavyweight shoot-out between top UK agencies

Nigel Bogle of BBH fame famously observed that no agency was more than three phone calls from disaster (these days it’s probably emails) and, as if they didn’t have enough on their plates, VCCP and adam&eveDDB, two of the UK’s most consistently successful agencies, will be perturbed by merger talks between O2 and Virgin Media.

O2 is owned by Spain’s Telefonica, which is forever wondering what to do with it, while Virgin Media (nothing to do with Richard Branson these days) is part of John Malone’s Liberty Global. Liberty also owns a ten per cent stake in ITV.

A merger would create an all-platform telecoms giant, better able to compete with BT and Sky, now owned by Comcast and suffering mightily as sports are suspended.

Covid-19 means that competition authorities are much more likely to wave through such deals as their main priority becomes keeping businesses in business.

For the agencies though it would most likely be winner takes all, with the possibility of a third contender as others tried to muscle in.

VCCP has performed notably well for O2; the ads haven’t hit the heights since ‘Be more dog’ (above) back in 2013 but its marketing – based on the O2 music arena in south London and voiced by the ever-reliable Sean Bean – works. A&E is still finding its feet with Virgin although you can bet it will get there soon – given the chance.

The merger may never happen of course but with a 5G auction about to empty the pockets of cash-strapped mobile companies the odds are it will. Hopefully the agency shoot-out will not be conducted on Zoom.

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About Stephen Foster

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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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