DDB cuts across media, boundaries

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When DDB Worldwide transformed Hong Kong's tollbooths and bus stop shelters into fake Exxon Mobil gas stations, they looked so real that a few drivers tried to pump gas as they pulled up to pay their tolls.

That eye-catching branding display was a small but integral piece in the global marketing services practice DDB has spent the last two years building for Exxon Mobil and sees as a future model for other global clients.

"We don't really think of DDB as an advertising agency," says Stew McHie, global brand manager of Exxon Mobil Fuels Marketing Co.

He says he does see the DDB network as bringing together many different world-class competencies within parent Omnicom Group-managing and integrating them seamlessly, and thinking creatively about his business.

Mr. McHie and Paul Price, DDB worldwide account director, were dining one evening at Manhattan restaurant Fresco when they ran into DDB President-CEO Ken Kaess with Andrea Ragnetti, who is Royal Philips Electronics' chief marketing officer.

Pointing to Mr. McHie, Mr. Kaess told his Philips client, "This guy is where you want to be two years from now."

Coincidentally, Mr. Ragnetti broke the news to Mr. Kaess that he was moving the other half of his global account, Philips' $300 million domestic appliances and lighting business, to DDB from Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Worldwide. Added to the $300 million consumer electronics business DDB kept, Philips ranked as the ad industry's biggest account win of 2003.

DDB won more than $1 billion in new business in a difficult year, kept a high creative profile and continued to manage a smooth transition from longtime leader Keith Reinhard to Mr. Kaess. Those are all key reasons DDB is Advertising Age's Global Agency Network for 2003.


But the most decisive factor is DDB's relentless quest to broaden its role beyond traditional media.

In Argentina, for instance, DDB backed a restless regional creative director in a branded entertainment venture called Fire Advertainment. Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes is masterminding Philips Electronic Circus, where touring circus acts like lion taming mingle live action with wild animals on Philips plasma screens. Other fledgling efforts abound, like Leapfrog Ideaworks think tank in Canada.

"And there are other examples we'll test in different markets," says Mr. Reinhard, DDB's chairman. "At one time we had 14 different models in interactive, from Bearded Lady in Switzerland to BMP Interactive in the U.K., which allowed us to put best practice together [to form] Tribal DDB."

Unlike some networks whose aging leaders are reluctant to transfer power, Mr. Reinhard began preparing Mr. Kaess, now 49, more than a decade ago. Thus, Mr. Kaess was named DDB's worldwide president in 1999 and CEO in 2001.

"Each year I've stepped back further from operating issues," says Mr. Reinhard, who is 68 going on 17. He blades in Central Park and delights in computer avatars. "It's still hard to get people to think truly outside the TV box."

That's why DDB's Demand Consulting unit developed a new product, Morton's Hot Salt spicy flavoring and sold it to the marketer for a fee. Available now at Wal-Mart, Morton's Hot Salt is rolling out elsewhere.

Targeting another fast-growing field, DDB Healthcare was formed in Europe in 2003 from a combination of DDB and Omnicom healthcare agencies, and is expected to come to the U.S. this year. More so than in many other networks, individual DDB agencies work closely together. The Sao Paulo, London and San Francisco offices recently kicked in their wireless experience to help Vancouver win a telecommunications account. To further bond the network, this month all local agency names, from BMP DDB in London to DM9 DDB in Sao Paulo, will take the single DDB moniker.

In one of the year's coups, DDB's Heye & Partner agency won a multinetwork contest to create McDonald's Corp.'s first global ads. The notorious "I'm lovin' it" campaign, kicked off by Justin Timberlake, emerged from the previously obscure office in Unterhaching, Germany.


"As a global advertising partner, they are demonstrating that a great idea can come from anywhere and be nurtured everywhere," says Larry Light, McDonald's exec VP-global chief marketing officer.

A highlight of 2003 in the U.S. came in March when Lee Garfinkel joined the network as chairman-chief creative officer of DDB, New York, though his work so far has been less high profile than his hiring. "The perception of what Lee has accomplished has lagged the reality," Mr. Kaess says.

DDB's creative work for Anheuser-Busch Cos. spans multiple campaigns from Chicago, New York, Toronto and London. The agency's celebrated "Real Men of Genius" U.S. radio campaigns for A-B, re-created as TV spots in the U.K., have crossed back into the U.S. as a TV effort. Says Bob Lachky, VP-brand management and director, global brand creative, at Anheuser-Busch Cos.-"This is the most talk value we've had since "Whassup?!"

In the next cross-border move, Mr. Lachky says to watch for DDB to adapt for the U.S. the popular Bud Light Institute created by DDB, Toronto. The fictional Institute claims to have invented things like Tupperware just to distract women so men can drink beer.

contributing: kate macarthur