Bcom3's fast food fellowship

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Now that soft drink gladiators Pepsi-Cola Co. and Coca-Cola Co. have dragged their agencies into the cola wars, will the burger wars follow suit? A fast-food family affair among Burger King Corp., McDonald's Corp. and Bcom3 Group will serve as an interesting case study of how broadly or narrowly companies define whether a conflict exists-and whether rival brands can peacefully coexist in agency holding companies.

Burger King is set to break Thanksgiving Day a $30 million TV effort for its "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" film tie-in, leading with two general-market spots from Bcom3's Kaplan Thaler Group, New York.

Kaplan Thaler is sibling agency to Leo Burnett USA, the kids' marketing agency for McDonald's Corp. Bcom3 also is parent to D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, which handles field marketing for Burger King and, up until recently, media for the Golden Arches' king rival.

Burger conflicts have flamed up before. In 1994, McDonald's, which had franchisee work at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, okayed Interpublic's purchase of then-Burger King shop Ammirati & Puris. But when Burger King ran a particularly aggressive campaign, McDonald's abruptly fired McCann over conflict concerns.

The possibility of a Bcom3 conflict first emerged when D'Arcy joined with Burnett in 1999 to create the holding company. At the time, McDonald's pooh-poohed the issue, as did the agency, in part because the accounts were housed in separate agencies. That was well before PepsiCo this fall pulled its account from Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago, after Interpublic, long affiliated with Coca-Cola Co., acquired its parent, True North Communications.

Kaplan Thaler has created TV campaigns for Burger King in the past, producing the bulk of its work before the agency was purchased in 1999 by D'Arcy. It also did one spot in Nov. 2000-for Burger King's BK Cravers line-that reportedly ran only twice. However, the agency's upcoming campaign for Burger King's tie-in with New Line Cinema's "Lord of the Rings" makes dismissing the conflict more of a challenge. Not only does the work run much more broadly on national media, it also will be supported with heavy media buys.

Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO of the agency, has close ties to Burger King Chief Marketing Officer Chris Clouser that date back to the late 1980s. At the time, Mr. Clouser was VP-corporate relations and advertising at Bell Atlantic Corp. while Ms. Kaplan Thaler worked on the account at J. Walter Thompson, New York.

Complicating matters is the fate of Burger King's adult advertising business now that the Diageo unit has split with Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. A Burger King spokeswoman last week said the chain was not conducting a review for the business and is instead working with its existing agencies, which include Kaplan Thaler, McCaffrey Ratner Gottlieb & Lane, New York, and field agency D'Arcy. "We have a lot of strong agencies on board and we are using those agencies in a collaborative fashion. ... We are not hearing pitches," she said.

Kaplan Thaler referred calls to Burger King; a spokesman for Bcom3 said there was no conflict.

But the decision may lie more with McDonald's. Marlena Peleo-Lazar, McDonald's VP-advertising, said she was unaware that Kaplan Thaler was doing the Burger King spots and therefore unable to comment specifically. When asked about the company's general point of view, however, she said, "If a company is working on a direct competitor, it would be a problem. That's always been the case."

Additional spots for the "Lord of the Rings" effort were produced by Interpublic's Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, and Bcom3-backed Bromley Group, San Antonio.

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