VERIZON AD REVIEW DOWN TO TWO CONTENDERS

Arnold and McCann Vie for $400 Million Account

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Verizon Wireless is down to two contenders in the review for its estimated $400 million review following creative presentations, executives familiar with the situation said.

The two agencies remaining in the contest

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are Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson, New York. Final creative presentations in the review were held late last week and early this week.

JWT cut
WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York, was eliminated.

Pile & Co., Boston, is the consulting company handling the review.

A Verizon Wireless spokeswoman declined to discuss the review, promising only to reveal the name of a winner. A decision on the review is expected by the end of the month, she said.

Verizon Wireless, the leading cell phone carrier with 5 million customers, has built its network on a marketing strategy touting the quality of its network connections, as personified by the nerdy "Test Man" character who continually asks "Can you hear me now?" With most competing networks providing comparable service, however, Verizon Wireless is said to be concerned about a strategy to evolve the campaign.

Cingular, AT&T Wireless
At the same time, two competitors, Cingular and AT&T Wireless, are in the process of merging, which would make the combined company the largest wireless provider.

Those concerns led to discussions with Interpublic late last year about the future of the account. Instead of handing it to Interpublic's designated agency, McCann-Erickson, Verizon Wireless called for the review, but gave McCann assignments in the interim. The agency's most recent work for the marketer was a takeoff of the TV show The Apprentice showing Donald Trump firing a contestant who didn't have Verizon Wireless service.

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