MARS SUMMONS ITS AGENCIES FOR 'QUALITY REVIEW': FOOD GIANT WILL HEAR AD STRATEGIES, BUT ONE ROSTER SHOP MAY GET BOOT

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Mars Inc. is conducting a "quality review" of its advertising that could result in a realignment on its $850 million global account.

The marketer's three primary shops -- BBDO Worldwide, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and Grey Advertising -- have been summoned to a September meeting with Mars' regional presidents. The assignment: to present global ad strategies for the brands they handle. Each will have a day to make the presentation.

Mars' smaller shops, which include Merkley Newman Harty and UniWorld Group in the U.S. and M&C Saatchi in the U.K., will present on the fourth day.

'NOT A FORMAL REVIEW'

Although a Mars spokesman said the plan is to "look over the advertising output . . . it's not a formal review," executives close to the company suspect the process could result in a winnowing of the roster from three shops to two.

"This isn't just an exercise," said one executive close to Mars. "There are definitely vulnerable agencies."

But an executive involved in the review said the purpose is to shake up its shops in a more literal sense.

"No matter how good the work is, [Mars] wants to take it to the next level. It's unfortunate, but the agencies need to be kept on their toes."

He described as "fairly remote" the chance of shop shifts because "the group [of regional presidents] with a few exceptions don't have much to do with advertising. If [M&M/Mars Exec VP-Marketing Bob] Gamgort and [Kal-Kan VP-Marketing John] Curtiss were involved, that might be different," he said.

UNEVEN AGENCY PERFORMANCE

None of the agencies involved would comment. But those close to the review maintain all three primary shops have exhibited uneven performance.

"Is D'Arcy good everywhere in the world? Is BBDO or Grey? It's not that clear-cut," said another executive with ties to Mars.

Other agency observers said DMB&B's Uncle Ben's rice and U.S. candy creative -- Milky Way, Skittles and Twix -- is largely fine, but several pointed to Whiskas as its Achilles' heel.

"Whiskas has been losing 9 share points a year," said an executive close to Mars who asked not to be identified. "There's not a lot to defend."

DMB&B strongly disputes that assessment.

PROS AND CONS

BBDO is doing arguably the best creative work of the three in the U.S., but detractors said its M&M's work is showing signs of wear-out and that Snickers' growth is starting to wane.

And although Grey's Pedigree work is well-received, its comparatively few confectionery brands -- Starburst, Dove chocolates -- may make it vulnerable to change, observers said.

The creative review comes amid reports of an impending media consolidation of Mars shops in the U.K. this summer. The business currently is shared by London-based Zenith Media, MacManus Group's MediaVest, Grey's MediaCom and New PHD (planning).

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