WPP's United Group Eliminated in Final Round of Review

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CHICAGO ( -- Coca-Cola Co. awarded Wieden & Kennedy its hotly contested global advertising assignment over WPP Group's United Group following a presentation yesterday in Atlanta.

Top bosses hear pitch
The two finalists presented their ideas to Neville Isdell, Coke’s chairman-CEO, and Mary Minnick, president of marketing, strategy and innovation. Their decision ends a yearlong quest to find a global advertising platform for the iconic brand.

Coke on Oct. 6 had trimmed a field of six ad agencies to the two finalists after the marketer’s earlier iconic pitch ended without a winning campaign; Ms. Minnick “expanded” the search with six traditional advertising contenders and two nontraditional shops. In addition to United Group, and Wieden, WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather; Publicis Groupe’s Publicis; Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson; and independent Mother had vied for the account. London-based Naked and Santa Monica, Calif.-based Amoeba were invited to create nontraditional work to support the winning platform.

Worldwide ad platform
Executives have been reluctant to put a value on the global assignment as the effort is more valuable from a prestige standpoint than a financial one. However, executives surmised that the winning shop would be paid a multimillion-dollar fee and expenses. Wieden now is expected to produce a global advertising platform similar to what was created for McDonald’s Corp.’s “I’m Lovin’ It” effort, in which regional and local agencies will adapt work for their markets under the global umbrella campaign.

Coke spent an estimated $2.17 billion in advertising in 2004, according to the marketer’s annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 2004, Coke vowed to add $400 million to the marketing budget for 2005.

Coca-Cola Co., several hours after Ad Age first posted the news, confirmed it selected Wieden over United Group for the global advertising assignment.

“Wieden will develop the core idea and the overall integrated platform for Coca-Cola globally,” said Coke spokesman Kelly Brooks. “Wieden was selected on the strength of the idea they presented but also based on how they demonstrated how that idea can work across geographies and media and different audiences.” The agency also will assist other roster shops in adapting the core idea and platform for individual markets and regions.

He wouldn’t confirm details or when the campaign would launch other than to say it would break in 2006.

Wieden's other Coke win
Also earlier this month, Wieden won Coca-Cola’s $150 million-plus North American flagship advertising account from Berlin Cameron & Partners, New York, part of United Group, a recently formed collection of agencies formerly part of the Red Cell network. (The group's full name is the Voluntarily United Group of Creative Agencies.)

The global assignment is an initiative of Ms. Minnick, who is looking for work that gives consumers a reason to believe Coca-Cola is irreplaceable. In May, Ms. Minnick told analysts that Coke’s marketing problems did not stem from a lack of ideas but a "shortage of focus, leading to a bit of an inability to prioritize and make hard choices.”

Dave Luhr, Wieden's chief operating officer, this morning said he had not received word on whether the agency had won the account. “We have not been notified,” he said. He referred calls to Tim O'Kennedy, managing director at Wieden's Amsterdam office. Executives from Berlin Cameron, New York (part of United Group), which participated in the pitch, said they weren’t aware of the decision.

Other Red Cell agencies involved were WM United in Buenos Aires and Sra. Rushmore United in Barcelona, which couldn’t be reached.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo and Lisa Sanders

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