Publicis Groupe Wins Walmart-Owned Asda's $145M U.K. Business

Creative and Media Duties Handed Over Without a Pitch

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Asda Credit: VCCP
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Publicis Groupe may be losing Walmart's $900 million U.S. media business, but, in a surprise move, the French communications giant has won both media and creative duties for Asda -- Walmart's U.K. supermarket -- without a pitch.

Blue 449, which is part of ZenithOptimedia, will handle Asda's $145 million media account, replacing Dentsu Aegis Group's Carat, which held the business for more than two decades.

Another Publicis Groupe agency, Saatchi & Saatchi London -- whose New York office has handled Walmart's creative in the U.S. for two years -- will take the Asda creative account from VCCP after three years on the business.

Andy Murray, who became Asda's chief customer office in February this year, is a former Saatchi & Saatchi employee, and founded the agency's shopper marketing arm, Saatchi & Saatchi X. Mr. Murray was previously senior VP-creative and customer experience at Walmart, and has also worked at Procter & Gamble.

Saatchi & Saatchi New York's work for Walmart helped the agency win the Creativity Innovators Comeback Agency award this year. The "Greenlight a Vet" campaign encouraged citizens to celebrate vets by adorning their homes with green lights.

Asda -- Britain's third largest supermarket -- is in the middle of implementing "Project Renewal" in the U.K., which includes an extensive revamp of many stores, an overhaul of its product ranges and value proposition, and a commitment to investing $765 million in lowering prices.

Andy Murray
Andy Murray

Mr. Murray said in a statement, "We've made a big commitment within Project Renewal to our brand and we are making changes at pace that will differentiate Asda with our customers both in stores and online. I'm excited about this new partnership with Saatchi & Saatchi and Zenith, and I look forward to the leadership, creativity, and effectiveness this new team will bring to our business."

Asda has a long history with Publicis Groupe. Rick Bendel, who was global chief marketing officer at Walmart from 2009 to 2013, joined Asda as CMO in 2006 after 15 years at Publicis Worldwide, where he was made global chief operating officer in 2002. Publicis London held the Asda account for 17 years, losing it to sister agency Fallon in 2007. Saatchi & Saatchi then took on the business in 2009, when Fallon struggled to keep up with the volume of work, but lost to VCCP (which was sold by its holding company, Chime Communications, to Providence Private Equity and WPP in October last year), in a 2013 pitch.

Robert Senior, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide CEO, said in a statement, "We are delighted to be re-establishing our long standing partnership with Asda, bringing a fully integrated Publicis Groupe offer led by a joint Saatchi & Saatchi and Zenith team. This is a crucial time for U.K. retail and we relish the opportunity to support Asda in driving a reappraisal of its brand by customers using the latest creative techniques and cutting edge technology."

Adrian Coleman, founder and group CEO of VCCP, said in a statement, "As you can imagine, we are hugely disappointed with the news but understand that global realigments happen. We have enjoyed our time spent working on Asda and are very proud of the work we have produced. We wish them every success for the future."