GE favors Y&R for insurance biz spinoff

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To help establish a separate brand identity for its life and mortgage insurance business, General Electric Co. is looking beyond longtime shop BBDO Worldwide to work with Young & Rubicam companies, including brand consultancy Landor.

The soon-to-be-spun-off company, which is acquiring the assets and liabilities of GE Financial Assurance Holdings, is named Genworth Financial, thanks to Landor, which also created its motto, "Built on GE Heritage." Genworth plans to spend $35 million over two years to establish its identity with investors and consumers.

An executive at Young & Rubicam, part of WPP Group, acknowledged the company is working with Genworth, but would not elaborate. A second executive said WPP Group is establishing a unit, Klamath Communications, to service Genworth, in part because its Y&R Advertising works for a rival, Met Life. The win is a victory for Young & Rubicam Chairman-CEO Ann Fudge, who sits on GE's board.

Officials at Young & Rubicam and GE declined to comment, as did a Genworth spokesman, who cited the company's quiet period prior to its initial public offering. GE registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in January to sell 30% of Genworth to the public this year, with an eye toward eventually taking the entire company public.

In its SEC filing, the company said its marketing strategy is "to establish our new Genworth brand expeditiously while we continue to use the GE brand name and logo with customers. Our first phase will emphasize the relationship between Genworth and the GE brand with continued references to GE and the GE brand in selective marketing materials. ... During 2004 and 2005, we also intend to promote the Genworth brand through various communications, such as advertising, promotions, print media, the Internet, public relations efforts and special events for distributors and consumers." It has the right to use the GE brand name and logo for up to five years.

The nearly $100 billion company is a leader in long-term care insurance and income annuities, but has other retirement income and investment products and a mortgage-insurance business. It will compete with Met Life, as well as AIG and Prudential.

Young & Rubicam has connections to GE through Ms. Fudge, as well as Michael Patti, Y&R Advertising's worldwide creative director, who before joining the agency a year ago was at BBDO and worked on the GE account. Neither executive was available for comment.

For Landor, the project marks a return to a longtime client relationship. Landor was a major architect, along with BBDO, of GE's advertising and positioning in the 1980s. Landor and GE split in 2001.

GE hired Omnicom Group branding and consulting firm Wolff-Olins in 2002 to work alongside BBDO. Wolff-Olins, now GE's global branding agency, is helping to reposition GE worldwide as a company specializing in technology and services, not just manufacturing.

That Wolff-Olins was not hired for the Genworth assignment is not surprising, said Peter Harleman, former Landor vice chairman and current CEO of branding consultant BlueMint Associates: "It is not unusual, with a spinoff, that the spun off entity wants to have a different company than its parent."

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