CLM/ BBDO traces its roots to the Dupuy Compton ad agency in Paris, which hired Allen Chevalier, Jean-Loup Le Forestier and Philippe Michel in the late 1960s and gave them free rein over much of its account and creative activity. Using an "anything goes" style that fit the era, the trio produced audacious campaigns that shook up the Paris ad scene and pushed Dupuy Compton into the upper echelon of French agencies.
On the strength of their success, creative director Mr. Michel and client directors Messrs. Chevalier and Le Forestier demanded in 1972 that Dupuy Compton give them a share of the business. When the French and British owners of the agency balked, the three looked elsewhere, eventually accepting an offer from U.S.-based BBDO to open a new French agency under its name.
Opens in October 1972
CLM/BBDO opened in October 1972 with little fanfare. By year-end, the agency's future seemed secure, after executives convinced former clients of Team France, including Audi, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. and appliance marketer Bosch, to give the new creative shop a try. It also offered Mr. Michel—a one-time Maoist and hippy—a pulpit for preaching a new vision of advertising; ultimately he rose to become the father of the French advertising family.
For CLM/BBDO, 1973 was a golden year. The agency won a number of major accounts, including former Dupuy Compton clients Levi Strauss & Co. and footwear retailer Eram, and it turned out its first ads for what would become an anchor client, Nestlé's Vittel mineral water. The "Drink-eliminate" ads launched that year, as well as the "Drink-urinate" ads produced in 1974, created an uproar in traditional France, but the simultaneous jump in Vittel sales established CLM/BBDO as an effective agency. The agency created a similar buzz around Levi's, turning the American jeans into an essential item of clothing for any self-respecting hippy.
The Vittel and Levi's campaigns were CLM/BBDO at its best: strong, creative ideas aimed at shocking or irritating some sectors of the public with an intentionally provocative tone that won widespread recognition—and increased market share—for the brands. They also set the tone for things to come.
Over the next two decades, CLM launched a number of campaigns that became textbook examples of how to create lasting brand identity and customer relations. But the cult of personality developing around Mr. Michel, who wielded control over the agency, led to the departure of Mr. Chevalier in 1981.
Under Mr. Michel, the agency went on to develop some of France's first official political ads (for President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's failed re-election bid in 1981) and to engineer one of the agency's biggest coups to date, a nationwide teaser campaign for outdoor ad company Avenir that held France spellbound for the better part of a week.
The first installment of the outdoor ad effort featured a beautiful bikini-clad model named Myriam who promised to take off her top in a coming ad. In the second installment, a now-topless Myriam promised to take off her bikini bottom in two days. When she did so in the final, eagerly awaited installment, CLM/BBDO launched the memorable tagline: "Avenir, an outdoor company that keeps its promises." The nationwide campaign using the outdoor company's own billboards showed that a marketer could reach all of France using a single medium.
The mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s marked a notably creative period at CLM/BBDO, by now alternatively revered and detested by the rest of France's ad community for its flair for winning accounts and awards and for turning out fresh approaches to product advertising. Mr. Le Forestier left in 1984 to take a job as general manager of Grey Worldwide, just as CLM/BBDO launched its first ads for Apple Computer. The ads moved computer advertising away from the performance-and-technology-driven spots of the early 1980s and put people at the center of the high-tech revolution.
In recognition of his contributions to the group's international network, Mr. Michel was appointed to the board of BBDO Worldwide in 1990. CLM/BBDO won the account for French oil company Total that year, holding onto it for the next decade as Total went through several rebrandings linked to a mergers-and-acquisition crusade that saw it swallow up Belgian oil company Fina and French rival Elf Aquitaine.
By 1993, CLM/BBDO had become France's No. 5 agency, with more than $62 million in gross income and a roster of blue-chip clients. But when Mr. Michel suddenly died on July 24, 1993, at the age of 53, the agency was plunged into chaos just as it prepared to move to new headquarters—a modern facility, shaped like a cruise liner, on the banks of the Seine River.
Alain Poiree, who had served since 1988 as managing director of CLM/BBDO as well as its La Compagnie marketing services division, initially replaced Mr. Michel. At one time a creative staff member at CLM/BBDO, Benoit Devarrieux left the vice presidency of McCann-Erickson, Paris, to replace his former boss as creative guru. The new management team had several notable successes, including a 1994 pitch to handle the government's privatization of automaker Renault and a series of ads for the state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais.
Gross income continued to rise, topping $70 million by 1995, and CLM/BBDO maintained its No. 5 ranking among French agencies. A malaise set in, however, with the departure of several longtime clients, including Eram, Kookai and E. Leclerc.
In 1996, Mr. Poiree was replaced by Christophe Lambert, president of the local ad agency Opera/RLC. Mr. Lambert brought Anne de Maupeou with him from Opera, appointing her CLM/BBDO's first creative director, a previously unofficial post that had always been held by Mr. Michel. The duo saw immediate results, winning back Kookai and launching an award-winning "Save Men" campaign for the ready-to-wear account.
In 1998, Mr. Lambert convinced U.S. executives at BBDO and PepsiCo to let CLM/BBDO oversee the soft-drink marketer's account outside the U.S. CLM/BBDO was put in charge of managing creative work in more than 100 countries, dramatically increasing its billings and revenue. The agency's success continued in 1999, when it won a European account for Federal Express Corp. and a national budget for top French mail-order retailer 3 Suissess.
In 2000, CLM/BBDO captured the high-profile $60 million account for utility Electricité de France and consolidated its hold on PepsiCo's remaining drink business outside the U.S. Gross income rose to nearly $90 million, ranking CLM/BBDO No. 6 among French agencies. In 2001, CLM/BBDO lost the mobile telephone business of France Telecom's Itineris brand but then won the estimated $40 million consolidated global advertising account for oil giant TotalFinaElf.