The creative "test" is said to be indicative of Mars' frustration with Grey, whose parent, Grey Global Group, is on the block and more anxious than ever to hold on to the business.
Nitro, an independent shop, handles the bulk of Mars' business in Asia.
Although a spokesman for Masterfoods USA said that Grey continues to handle Twix globally (along with Starburst, Cookies &, Dove and Milky Way brands), Masterfoods chose to "pursue a creative approach for Twix outside of the current relationship with Grey." The move lends credence to rumors that Grey's relationship with Mars is tenuous at best.
A Grey spokeswoman referred calls to Mars. Grey referred calls to the client.
Executives close to the situation note that Mars is "very frustrated" with Grey and express doubt that the agency can retain its status as one of Mars' three global agencies for long. Mars also uses Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, and TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., for its global brand assignments.
Mars spent $415 million in measured media in the U.S. in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. The five brands that Grey handles received $51 million in spending, $18 million of that on Twix.
Mars has had a 12-year relationship with Shanghai-based Nitro founder Chris Clarke, who knowledgeable executives say is currently setting up a New York office, presumably to handle the Mars business.