The Portland, Ore.-based shop will be the Internet site's first agency of record, handling AltaVista's inaugural brand effort that will include TV, print, radio, outdoor and online advertising.
Spending for the campaign, which breaks in the U.S. in late fall and internationally shortly thereafter, ultimately could reach $100 million annually.
Wieden is opening an office in Palo Alto, Calif., specifically to handle the AltaVista account; Wieden staffers in Portland and Palo Alto will manage creative work, which President Dan Wieden will head. The agency's New York office will handle media buying, while the Amsterdam, London and Tokyo offices will manage the campaign outside the U.S.
AltaVista (www.altavista.com) picked Wieden over two other agencies because of its "unique set of skills, one of which is expertise in understanding technology and bringing the personality of a technology company to life," said Charles Rashall, AltaVista VP-sales and marketing. "We believe [Wieden] is really legendary at getting at the heart and soul of a brand."
DDB Worldwide, Los Angeles, was the only other agency presenting in the final round; a third finalist made no presentation.
Mr. Rashall said CMGI, a Web holding company that's buying AltaVista from Compaq Computer Corp., supports the choice of Wieden. AltaVista was started by Digital Equipment Corp. which Compaq bought last year. Ailing Compaq now is selling the Web venture as part of a restructuring.
AltaVista's advertising will coincide with its fall launch of an upgraded and redesigned network, including enhanced search, shopping and local-community capabilities.
"We are confident that as people learn about the experience and brand personality of AltaVista, it will be a place people will want to call home on the Web," Mr. Rashall said of the message the ad campaign will attempt to convey.
"We've done virtually no advertising thus far, and yet we are one of the top 10 Web sites," he added. "Just imagine the potential when we engage the world with our tremendous offering and unique, exuberant personality. We have a [management] team in place, the foundation of our product in place and now is the appropriate time to tell our story."
AltaVista is Wieden's latest Web win: The agency last month snared e-businesses Stamps.com and Evineyard, and earlier won the online part of e-brokerage Suretrade, owned by Fleet Financial Co.
The big AltaVista win is a significant boost to Wieden, which has lost some of its signature business during recent years, starting with the 1997 move of nearly half its cornerstone Nike account to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.
Wieden saw its 1998 billings drop $75 million, to $800 million. Then in June, the agency lost $100 million when Microsoft Corp. consolidated its U.S. account at McCann-Erickson/A&L, San Francisco.
Last week, Wieden lost some $60 million in Miller Brewing Co. business when its Miller Genuine Draft work was moved to J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago (see story on Page 3). It retained the brewer's Miller High Life account, however, estimated at $15 million.
With a reorganized management, and a new-business team in place in Portland, Wieden has picked up smaller clients rarely found on its agency roster before, such as Round Table Pizza, a small West Coast chain. The agency also has attempted to parlay its sports expertise with new clients such as the Indy Racing League and PowerBar.
Its New York office won the $15 million Jordan Brand account from Nike, and late last year Portland landed the $50 million Diet Coke account from client Coca-Cola Co., having previously done project work. Wieden also handles global sports