Pepsi shocked: Lubars in, Sann out as BBDO shatters spot-centric image

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BBDO ousted its longtime and traditional creative leader, replaced him with a younger innovator best known for nontraditional ideas, and in the process surprised one of its biggest and most important clients. It was a shakeup for the future, but sent shockwaves in the present.

Having simultaneously bristled and reveled in its reputation as king of the 30-second spot, BBDO Worldwide last week punted Ted Sann, a multi-award winning TV ad man, in favor of Fallon Worldwide's president, David Lubars, a savvy business person and change agent adept at nontraditional marketing. It was an unexpected exit for Mr. Sann, former vice chairman and chief creative officer for North America, who was responsible for blockbuster Super Bowl ads for clients such as PepsiCo, FedEx Corp., Visa USA and the Gillette Co.

The shake-up was orchestrated by BBDO Worldwide's president-CEO, Andrew Robertson, and announced just 10 days after he assumed CEO duties from Alan Rosenshine.

It is seen by many as symbolic of the shift from TV-centric advertising toward a more idea-lead marketing mix, but Mr. Robertson was quick to kill any idea that this is an either-or situation. "It's about `building on and adding to,' not `instead of,' " he said. "David is recognized for brilliant creative TV, print, out of home. In addition, he's already done new and bold and innovative things that go beyond all of those consumer context points."

In that respect it looks like a savvy move, but Mr. Sann's exit stunned Madison Avenue and appeared to catch one of the agency's most important client's PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co., off guard. PepsiCo initially told The New York Times that it was "shocked at the news."

Celebrities

Mr. Sann oversaw star-studded ads with pop stars Britney Spears, Beyonce, model Cindy Crawford, former presidential hopeful Bob Dole, actor Michael J. Fox and basketball's Shaquille O'Neal.

"Ted has worked on some of the best ad campaigns in our history, and we'll miss him as a creative force and as a friend. These are big shoes to fill. Nonetheless, for the past 40 years, BBDO has always given us their best, and we know this legacy will continue," a Pepsi spokesman said. Though Mr. Sann's abrupt exit rankled Pepsi, few expect that Pepsi would take any action against its long-term partner. Mr. Sann, who was with the agency since 1970 and won 10 Gold Lions, declined to comment.

"BBDO is going through a renaissance and it's a great time for them to inject a new creative philosophy and perspective," said Catherine Bension, president of search consultant Select Resources International.

Creative shift

At Fallon, Mr. Lubars not only produced award-winning creative but also demonstrated dexterity with myriad media. His title, a new one, will be chairman and chief creative officer of North America.

As president of Fallon Worldwide and executive creative director of Fallon North America in Minneapolis, Mr. Lubars, 45, took a strong global leadership role, oversaw the celebrated BMW short-films project and is credited with shifting the compensation model to better reward the agency for successful ideas. His departure is a blow for the Publicis Groupe agency where he was considered heir apparent to founder and president-executive creative director Pat Fallon. This is Mr. Lubars' second stint at Omnicom Group's BBDO; he joined its Los Angeles office in 1993 and led it until 1998.

The shake-up is the biggest move yet by Mr. Robertson, 43, who promoted John Osborn, 38, to head New York and Denny Haley, 53, to lead Minneapolis. He tapped Chemistri's business development guru Joe Garcia, 40, to run BBDO Detroit, and Chemistri's Gary Topolewski, 47, as Detroit's co-chief creative officer.

"It's the next generation of BBDO," another consultant said. "It's the youth movement."

contributing: jim arndorfer, alice z. cuneo, kate macarthur

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