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DDB Needham Worldwide is pulling out all the stops to unseat Leo Burnett USA as the lead national agency for McDonald's Corp.

Its planned assault on the estimated $350 million U.S. account comes even as the fast-food chain and Burnett downplayed the significance of McDonald's decision-in the wake of the failed "Campaign 55" effort-to ask both agencies to present new marketing ideas.

DDB Needham, which lost lead status on McDonald's in the early '80s, currently handles only breakfast advertising and promotions in the U.S. The agency was marshaling its forces last week for an all-out battle to regain that role. The Chicago office will lead the effort, but is expected to tap other offices around the globe for assistance. It may even include its joint venture with director Spike Lee.


DDB Needham executives huddled in Chicago to develop an action plan last week, and the agency's creatives are meeting today to discuss strategy.

"We're participating in a head-to-head shoot-out" said a DDB Needham executive. "Is it winner take all? I don't think so." But, said another agency executive with ties to McDonald's, "it is winner takes the lead."

Chicago-based Burnett currently handles roughly 85% of the estimated $350 million spent at the national level, according to industry observers.

McDonald's likes "the notion of having a second resource," said another executive close to the company. If one agency falters, the executive said, the other can step in.

That's exactly what DDB Needham now hopes to do in the wake of several marketing missteps by McDonald's and Burnett.

"We've been through this before," said another DDB Needham executive of the shoot-out. But, he added, the current assessment is "a great opportunity . . . it's a chance to influence the direction where McDonald's goes."


A McDonald's spokeswoman declined to call the presentations a review and said there are no plans to shift assignments between its national agencies. The shops have simply been asked to develop a 1998 domestic strategy and pool of brand-image ads for the fiscal year starting Sept. 1, she said. Presentations will be made at the end of the month.

Brad Ball, McDonald's VP-marketing, did not return calls.

McDonald's has suffered a series of marketing snafus lately, notably the withdrawal of its "Campaign 55" promotion, planned as an 18-month effort but pulled within two months (AA, June 9).

Since ending the campaign, the company has been casting about for a replacement and appeasing local franchisees alienated by the effort. Among its efforts, McDonald's is shifting resources to local promotions and empowering its regional heads to make marketing decisions.

"They've been struggling so much, they need a new national direction," said one agency executive. "Burger King has found its voice. Wendy's has stuck to its guns."


Some observers said McDonald's has been too busy branding promotional tie-ins-with Parker Bros.' Monopoly game and Walt Disney Co. animated films, among others-to build its own brand.

Although "Campaign 55" was said to be the brainchild of Mr. Ball, not Burnett, many in the industry echo the views of the executive who said, "Certainly Burnett has more to lose than DDB has to gain."

Cheryl Berman, Burnett's U.S. chief creative officer, said the agency has been asked for a wide range of ideas and is putting them together in the coming weeks.

"The good thing about this is they're saying these are two great agencies," she said, "and they're asking, `Where would you take this business?"'

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