Vodafone taps Bartle Bogle, yokes it to Wieden and JWT

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The world's largest mobile-phone network, looking to establish a global advertising message but execute it locally to consumers, is pairing two creative agencies with an international network for distribution.

Vodafone, which spends more than $400 million on advertising, added Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, to its roster.

The agency will work alongside independent Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam, the agency that has shaped creative work centrally for Vodafone since 2001. WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson network will adapt the messages locally and implement them around the world.

Centralized creative and local delivery is essential for a company active in so many diverse markets at different stages of development, said David Wheldon, Vodafone's global director of marketing-brand communications.

"There is an awful lot to do locally, but it needs to be shaped creatively in order to build one strong brand," said Mr. Wheldon, a former Coca-Cola Co. executive who joined Vodafone in January after running WPP's Team Vodafone.

Vodafone operates in 26 countries. In the U.S., Vodafone owns 45% of Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Verizon Communications, but does not use the Vodafone name, prompting analysts to speculate that the U.K.-based marketer may seek a U.S. acquisition to introduce the brand here.

Mr. Wheldon said he picked Bartle Bogle because it is one of a handful of agencies that combines a high level of creativity with the ability to "take a global view."

"This is a small club," he said. "There are very few agencies that fit both bills and now I believe we have the two- BBH and Wieden. We don't need another network because we have JWT and we don't need a local hotshop either."

strong heritage

Bartle Bogle brings a heritage in strong mobile-phone advertising. The agency created the widely admired campaign "Who would you like to have a One2One with?' for British mobile brand One2One in the late 1990s.

Wieden, appointed in May 2001, is credited with improving the quality and consistency of Vodafone's creative work. Its initial "How are You?" themed ads helped give a ubiquitous but staid brand a younger, more fashionable image. The agency also introduced David Beckham as an appealing brand icon.

But the departures of some key creatives on the Vodafone account are said to have affected the relationship, and Wieden is believed to be disappointed by Vodafone's decision to add a third agency.

spurring speculation

Bartle Bogle's appointment is spurring speculation that it will aim for lead-agency status on the Vodafone account. One obstacle could be its relationship with mobile-handset maker Sony Ericsson, although the agency claims the accounts do not clash. Meanwhile, WPP is understood to be angling for a wider role on Vodafone, not content with its remit as distribution specialist. All three agencies declined to comment.

Mr. Wheldon said Wieden's position is not under threat.

He won't say yet whether Bartle Bogle will work on one specific Vodafone project or collaborate with the other agencies. But he said the three agencies will not be asked to pitch against each other for future assignments. "It's too disruptive," he said. "It's soul-destroying for agencies when they get on a roster and then have to pitch for every bit of business."

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