Ford Pulls Plug On WPP's Amplify

Takes entertainment in-house

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% In a blow to WPP Group, its longtime client Ford Motor Co. has quietly moved strategic entertainment planning across all its brands in-house and hired a Ford-family member as a consultant to be its "face" in Hollywood, a spokeswoman for the automaker confirmed.

The account, which included product placement and branded content development, had been handled by WPP's Amplify, Los Angeles. It was formed just a few months ago to mainly handle the Ford business via a merger of two WPP units—J. Walter Thompson USA's Brand Entertainment Group in Detroit and Hill & Knowlton's Showcase.

Brand Entertainment Group had been handling many of Ford's TV deals while Showcase had had the Ford account for at least a decade. JWT handles the Ford Division ad account in the U.S.


Execs from two competitors, who requested anonymity, said Amplify and its predecessors weren't that effective. Just a year ago, Ford said it was looking for more integrated and broader solutions for its entertainment deals (Advertising Age June 16, 2003).

The Ford spokeswoman denied reports from executives close to the situation that Amplify would be shuttered in July. "The scope of the work is going to change," she said. Amplify, an arm of JWT, will still manage Ford's Hollywood vehicle fleet and logistics for product placement but "Ford will be the face in Hollywood now" for strategic planning and content creation because "it's hard for an agency to represent all the brands and the power of our portfolio."

Ford's range of vehicles includes Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Mazda, in which it holds a controlling stake. The marketer's main point people internally for entertainment will remain Miles Romero, brand media integration manager, and his boss, Mark Kaline, global media manager.


The automaker hired Al Uzielli, the great great grandson of Henry Ford and cousin of Ford Chairman Bill Clay Ford Jr., as the consultant to be its Hollywood "face" for entertainment matters, the spokeswoman confirmed. Uzielli has been a film producer in Hollywood for about a decade and owns La Dolce Vida restaurant in Beverly Hills, a hangout for stars, directors and other Hollywood types. Uzielli was in London and unavailable for comment at presstime.

Meanwhile, Rob Donnell, exec director and chief of Amplify, was let go from JWT—where he had worked for 17 years—as a result of the client's move in-house. He declined to comment beyond saying that branded entertainment "is an exciting new field and I'm pretty sure there's a lot of new opportunities out there."

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% When JWT announced the formation of Amplify in early April, it claimed that its predecessor, Brand Entertainment Group, had orchestrated a slew of successful branded entertainment deals, including: Revolution Studios' "Are We There Yet" film starring Ice Cube with the Lincoln Navigator; product integration into Fox's "American Idol" and "24"; ABC's "Alias"; Discovery Channel documentaries' on the Ford GT super sports car in May and "First in Flight" century celebration of the Wright Brothers last September.

But one of Ford's most high-profile Hollywood deals was problematic, an industry observer stated. Wolfgang Reitzle, a former top BMW exec, was hired by Ford in 1999 as global chairman of Jaguar and Volvo. Reitzle proceeded to ink the global, multi-million dollar link with MGM's James Bond movie "Die Another Day." "He wrote virtually a blank check so every car in the movie was a Ford, then left, leaving everyone [at Ford] scrambling around to pay for it," according to an executive in the know. The actors in the film refused to appear in Ford's TV commercials tied to the movie. Ostensibly, Reitzle didn't negotiate that into the deal. Ford maintains the deal was a success.

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