UDV's Cuervo tequilas may land at JWT, Burnett

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Grybauskas Beatrice is losing its traditional advertising responsibilities on Jose Cuervo and Cuervo 1800 tequila brands as U.S. marketer United Distillers & Vintners' North American operation eyes a shift of the estimated $9 million account.

One executive close to the marketer said the brands could move to UDV roster agencies J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, or Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, with a decision by yearend. UDV executives would not comment on any changes.

Grybauskas, which nabbed Cuervo in 1992, will continue to handle interactive advertising and special projects for the brands. The New York shop created the colorful animated Cuervo Critters that are integrated into the bulk of the brand's advertising.

The agency also launched the "Everybody has a Cuervo story" theme, with fictional tales describing good times with Cuervo. It also came up with the "Kick it into Cuervo" tag, as well as the "Cuervo untamed" themeline.

NEW CAMPAIGN

"We're planning to pull together a new campaign on the brand, and we're evaluating whether we may consolidate with our global agencies," said one UDV executive, refusing to comment on specifics of the campaign.

JWT handles J&B Scotch whisky, the Classic Malt scotches, Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray gins, Bailey's Original Irish Cream and Malibu rum. Some in the industry see JWT as the front-runner for the Cuervo brands.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, partially owned by Burnett parent Leo Group, handles creative for Johnnie Walker scotch, while Burnett handles regional marketing in non-English speaking countries and Leo Group's Starcom Worldwide handles media buying.

UDV, the spirits unit of U.K. conglomerate Diageo, is the leading seller of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. Cuervo and 1800 are the best-selling tequilas.

HOT SELLER

Tequila, a $875 million segment, is a hot seller in the U.S. In 1990, 4.6 million total cases of tequila were sold; in 1999, the number is expected to hit 7 million, according to Impact's 1999 Distilled Spirits Study. The Cuervo family's 1998 case sales hit 2.9 million, up 4% from 1997. For 1999, that number is expected to double.

While not confirming Cuervo is making a move, UDV officials said a consolidation would not signify a shift back toward centralization for UDV. The company currently markets on a regional basis, with five U.S. offices deciding individual sales and marketing plans but working with Stamford, Conn., headquarters.

When Diageo was formed via the 1997 merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan, it looked to decentralized marketing and branding responsibilities for all brands.

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