Lintas to fight for Burger King account

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Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York, will try to defend its hold on the $400 million account of Burger King Corp., after the U.S.' No. 2 fast-feeder called for a review Sept. 12. Lowe Lintas was put on four months termination notice, after weeks of denials by Burger King that a review was planned. The incumbent was notified Sept. 11, said Stephan Bomhard, senior VP-marketing, North America, at Burger King.

Mr. Bomhard acknowledged the agency relationship has been in jeopardy for some time and the recent naming of Mikel Durham as North American president made the timing of the decision logical. "Given the frequency of change, the work wasn't cutting through as much as we'd hoped for,'' Mr. Bomhard said. "This clearly has been in making for a while, and the business performance and our new management team have put it to a point where we wanted to review our agency relationships.''

"Over the past six years they have developed the best understanding of our business; it's up to Lowe Lintas to turn that [knowledge] into their advantage,'' Mr. Bomhard said, adding that the agency's work was "in the right direction but that business results were not in line with expectations.''

Despite the turbulent relationship that Lowe Lintas has had with Miami-based Burger King, the agency was invited to participate in the review and plans to defend its hold the Burger King business, which it has held since 1993. "Given the nature of Burger King's business and the challenges it is facing as a corporation, we understand new management's obligation to entertain new points of view relative to its advertising and marketing,'' Lee Garfinkel, chairman, chief creative officer and CEO of Lowe Lintas & Partners, U.S., said in a statement. "We embrace this opportunity to look at the account from a fresh perspective and add to the already notable legacy of work we have produced for the client over the past six years with the same high level of creativity and professionalism we have always demonstrated.''

No agency consultant has been chosen yet, Mr. Bomhard said, declining to identify potential advisers or a short list of agencies to participate in the review. Contending agencies will be asked to go back to the basics, listening to consumers for what they want. "We want to see fresh executions on the table to reinvigorate our brand with a customer-focused approach,'' Mr. Bomhard said.

Whether Burger King franchisees will be involved in the process hasn't been decided yet, Mr. Bomhard said. "We are discussing and working with how they would be involved in the review process.''

On the franchisee side, "I've made it crystal clear that we will have the same level of participation as they will,'' said Steve Lewis, president of Burger King's National Franchise Association, which represents 1,300 franchisees who own some 7,600 U.S. units. Mr. Lewis said he believes a new agency won't solve the troubled brand's problems and called the review "nothing more than a smokescreen to obscure the fact that [Burger King parent] Diageo and Burger King Corp. have failed miserably to support, protect and expand the Burger King brand.''

"Our once-respected brand is adrift and in need of major changes,'' Mr. Lewis said. "That's why the NFA is committed to only a strategy that can restore dignity to the brand . . . with complete decoupling of Burger King from Diageo.''

When asked whether his expectations of the agency might be too high, Mr. Bomhard disagreed, saying the advertising has been able to push sales in the past.

Not so, Mr. Lewis contended. "The key thing here is we not put the cart before the horse,'' he said. "We must have a strategy before we talk to any agency so we can give them a clear and concise direction.''

Other Burger King agencies are unaffected by the review. Those shops include UniWorld Group, New York, which for 17 years has handled Burger King's advertising to the African-American market, and Bromley Communications, San Antonio, for 11 years creating BK advertising aimed at Hispanics. Lowe Lintas' other offices that handle the chain's international advertising in the U.K., Canada and Australia also will be unaffected by the review, as is D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, which handles media.

Copyright September 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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