Alberto-Culver to Begin Review for Global Creative, Media Duties

Company Parts Ways With Wieden & Kennedy as It Seeks New Partners to Accommodate Larger Portfolio

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Alberto-Culver Co. is launching its first global creative and media review in a decade, but one key player won't be involved: Wieden & Kennedy, New York, which joined the company's roster with much fanfare a little over a year ago, has parted ways with the Melrose, Ill.-based package-goods player.

The decision to launch the reviews follows a series of beauty acquisitions and global brand expansion by Alberto-Culver in recent years, most recently the December purchase of the U.K.-based Simple Health & Beauty business, which is focused on natural beauty products.

Alberto-Culver also acquired the Noxzema skin-care brand from Procter & Gamble Co. a year earlier and the Nexxus hair-care brand in 2006, and it has been expanding the Tresemme brand into a growing number of Western European markets.

"As our momentum accelerates behind the global expansion of Tresemme and the acquisition of three marquee beauty brands [in recent years], our organization's strategic partnership needs have changed," said David Kroll, VP-marketing, U.S. for Alberto, in an e-mail. "As such, we are extending a competitive bid for our global media and advertising agencies to accommodate the creative needs of this larger beauty portfolio and to expand our media touch points with a dramatically different media landscape from 10 years ago."

An amicable end
He said Alberto has "amicably concluded our relationship with W&K, New York," which was awarded Noxzema brands in December 2008 and St. Ives later in 2009. "Our partnership with Wieden helped deepen our skin-care consumer insights and understanding, which you'll see take shape in new digital work across St. Ives and Noxzema and in the production of fresh television work on St. Ives."

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Other incumbents include Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis, on Tresemme and Nexxus, and Aegis Group's Carat on media in the U.S.

Carat's win late last year of communications-planning duties on P&G's Gillette male-grooming business in North America, which includes hair care and body wash, puts it in close proximity, if not outright conflict, with Alberto's hair-care and skin-care businesses, which are focused on women.

Wieden also handles work for P&G's Old Spice deodorant and grooming products, but out of the Portland, Ore., office. Putting Alberto-Culver in the New York office eliminated conflict issues on both sides. But people familiar with the matter cited "cultural differences" between the client and agency for the split.

In December 2008, Alberto-Culver moved ad duties from Leo Burnett, Chicago, to independent Wieden after a pitch that included Interpublic's Martin Agency and Omnicom Group's GSD&M Idea City "based on their demonstration of strong capabilities strategically and creatively, as well as their spirit of partnership," the company said at the time.

Between January and October of 2009, Alberto-Culver spent more than $95 million on U.S. measured media, according to Kantar Media, with $30 million each going to Nexxus and Tresemme hair care, and with spending on St. Ives and Noxzema at just less then $10 million.

Wieden, package goods a tough combo
The restage of St. Ives, which Wieden worked on, has gone well so far by all accounts from Alberto-Culver, which said the brand has "strong double-digit" organic-sales growth in the third quarter (the company has yet to report results for the just-concluded quarter).

Noxzema has yet to get a restage that originally was expected to begin last year, and Alberto-Culver has expressed a certain degree of buyer's remorse in the form of a lawsuit filed last year against Procter & Gamble Co. seeking a reduction in the $81 million price it paid for the brand. A-C cited production problems with product produced by P&G prior to the sale but placed in commerce after it took ownership of Noxzema, including cleanser with liquid separated from solids that looked like "cottage cheese."

Realistically, Wieden and package-goods marketers can make for a tough combination based in part on the agency's policies about its creative work.

Most CPG marketers rely on copy testing to validate ad concepts before production; Wieden as policy refuses to work that way.

In the case of P&G's Old Spice, the two sides reached an accommodation in which they agreed to pre-test finished work prior to it going to market, but not test concepts under development. While P&G marketers and Wieden have touted the turnaround of the brand since they began their collaboration in 2006, Wieden has yet to land other major permanent assignments with P&G.

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