Procter & Gamble Co. has launched a review for its North American Gillette men's shaving, deodorant and body-wash business, putting up for grabs general and digital advertising work on an iconic brand handled by BBDO or its forebears for more than 80 years.
Omnicom's BBDO and sibling digital shop Proximity will defend the account, said P&G Global Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard. Yet-to-be-determined entries from P&G roster holding companies Publicis Groupe and WPP will contend with independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., to take it from them.
Mr. Pritchard said he expects the review to take six months and encompass sweeping strategic and spec creative pitches from the contestants. It's the first extensive pitch on one of P&G's billion-dollar brands since 2007, when BBDO lost the Oral B business to a lineup of Publicis Groupe shops headed by Publicis Worldwide.
P&G spent $150 million in measured media on Gillette men's shaving and grooming products last year and $75 million through the first six months of this year in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.
The account will likely include standing as "brand agency leader" for Gillette, under which the agency functions as a sort of general contractor overseeing and helping select other marketing-services shops as well, Mr. Pritchard said. It doesn't affect media planning handled by Aegis Group's Carat or media buying handled by Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group.
The review doesn't affect some other BBDO shaving business with P&G, including billion-dollar brand Braun, the Venus women's brand and The Art of Shaving, but it's by far the biggest piece of the business in P&G's biggest market.
P&G executives said the review won't extend outside North America -- for now.
"We're going to start first in North America," Mr. Pritchard said, "because that 's where we really want to improve our advertising. And we'll see where it goes from there. It could eventually extend to global."
Adding to the stakes is that , given the historical schedule of Gillette launching new men's razor systems about once every eight years, the successor to Fusion in the U.S. would be due by late next year or early 2014.
Patrice Louvet, who's been on the job as president-global grooming and shave care since last year, declined to comment on plans for a new system, but said, "We try to be a bit unpredictable, so I don't think the past necessarily forecasts the future on this one." Overall, he said he'd like to increase the pace of Gillette innovation.
For BBDO, which joined the P&G roster in 2005 when the CPG giant acquired Gillette for $63 billion, losing Gillette in the U.S. would be significant financially and historically. BBDO has handled Gillette since it acquired the Clyne Maxon agency in 1966, and Maxon had held the account continuously since 1937 following a four-year hiatus after first winning the business in 1931.
BBDO's work is perhaps best known for "The Best a Man Can Get," a tagline that first appeared in a 1989 Super Bowl ad behind the Atra shave system. That tagline has survived through subsequent launches of the Sensor, Mach 3 and Fusion systems.
But Gillette hasn't always been getting the best marketing a brand can get in North America, Mr. Pritchard and Mr. Louvet conceded.
Mr. Louvet said Gillette lost some share in the U.S. in recent years due to a combination of a slow economy, more value-conscious consumers, some men shaving less and aggressive promotion by rival Energizer Holdings' Schick, particularly directed at the legacy Mach 3 system.
Recent ads and promotions for Mach 3 aimed at trading up users of disposables to the legacy brand -- a historical rarity for Gillette -- have helped the business regain momentum in the U.S., Mr. Louvet said.
"From a global perspective, our Gillette business is actually healthy and growing," he said. "Our shares are up on a past 12-, six- and three-month basis. And even in North America, where our business has seen some softness the past couple of years, we're back to growth now."
Asked to name marketing that worked best for Gillette, he cited efforts from Latin America on Mach 3 Sensitive and India's "Women Against Lazy Stubble" work. He also pointed to the work behind Fusion ProGlide over the past two years in the U.S. and the launch here of the Fusion ProGlide Styler earlier this year.
While happy with results from the recent Summer Olympics program, he said the advertising was "good, but we believe there's an opportunity to be even better and, importantly, to better integrate the product proposition with the overall idea."
One thing that won't change is Gillette's focus on sports, which Mr. Louvet said has deep roots and will be an even bigger focus going forward.
Despite a longtime trend in the industry for incumbents to lose reviews, Mr. Pritchard said BBDO will be given every opportunity to successfully defend the business.
In contrast to BBDO's long history on Gillette is Wieden's relatively recent, offbeat and emotion-laden work on Old Spice and P&G's corporate Olympics efforts. Would P&G be willing to put Wieden on one of its flagship brands and a business that 's likely the most profitable of any in packaged goods?
"Well, we'll see, " Mr. Pritchard said. "They work with us on various businesses, and they obviously have a track record outside the industry particularly with male-oriented products. ... We're really looking for some fresh thinking. Work has been good, but we're looking for great."