10 bigggest stories of 2003

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1 Coke Classic to Anoint Berlin

Coca-Cola and Berlin Cameron & Partners/Red Cell repeatedly denied their dalliance was more than a flirtation. But by February it was the real thing: Interpublic's McCann-Erickson, New York, was cuckolded. While McCann continues to handle creative in 60 countries, the WPP agency is Coke's bridegroom in the U.S. And by year's end, Universal McCann suffered another indignity as Coca-Cola handed its $350 million media account to yet another suitor, Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest.

2 GM blasts Publicis for poaching

Call it "Rittergate." General Motors was so steamed at Publicis Groupe for hiring former truck executive Kurt Ritter to work on rival Toyota that ad chief C.J. Fraleigh lashed out in public, calling the move "unacceptable." He hinted there may be redress on the $350 million account-"We have to do what's best for us." But the episode came to an end when Ritter resigned to start his own marketing consultancy, whose only client was Toyota.

3 Mad dash: Upfront hits $9.3 B

Who would have believed Mel Karmazin was conservative when he predicted upfront prices would climb 12% to 15%? But Viacom's savvy salesman was dead-on as the broadcast upfront reached 15% price hikes. But after paying top dollar, marketers were upset at ratings under-delivery and the networks losing all those young men. And then there was the lackluster fall season: Yes, Mel, everybody still loves Raymond, but where do we go from here?

4 IPG Regroups after Shakeup

The shoe finally dropped at Interpublic when John Dooner was ousted as chairman Feb. 27 following a string of disappointing financial results and a restatement of $181.3 million. He was replaced by Vice Chairman David Bell, who then had to lead Interpublic past accounting improprieties that led to the restatement. Dooner was demoted to chairman-CEO of McCann Erickson WorldGroup. Now it's up to Bell to shore up finances and morale at Interpublic.

5 Pfizer examines shop overhead

Always a potent issue, compensation conflict reared its ugly head when Viagra marketer Pfizer enlisted Beekman Associates to gather information on agencies' overhead. An indignant Deutsch, which lost $120 million in Pfizer accounts, including Zyrtec and Zoloft, complained that Pfizer overstepped its bounds. The ensuing industry debate led to the Four A's taking a rare hard-line stance with chief Burtch Drake denouncing "disreputable" compensation consultants.

6 McD's challenge: Win love back

There was no love lost between Leo Burnett Co. and DDB Needham, as the latter's German affiliate won a bitter contest for McDonald's global tagline. The "I'm Lovin' It" ads, with a hip-hop bent and Justin Timberlake soundtrack, have drawn a mixed franchisee reaction. McDonald's continue to sing the strategy's praises, but menu changes, including salads and McGriddle breakfast sandwiches, have been so far credited with boosting sales.

7 WPP nears final hurdle

Publicis Groupe pulled key client Allied Domecq from Cordiant, forcing the holding company to put itself on the block. On May 1, Cordiant brokered a deal, giving the group untilJuly 15 to sell off assets. WPP bought Cordiant in June for $447 million, and Martin Sorrell had to fight investment firm ActiveValue, which threatened to sink the deal with its 23.9% stake. One casualty: Bates, which became the third legendary ad name to vanish in seven months, following D'Arcy and Bozell.

8War of 'Rosie' raises questions

"I don't think we have adopted any practices that, frankly, aren't widespread in the industry," Dan Brewster, president of Gruner & Jahr president said, damning the magazine industry for dishonest circulation numbers. The issue exploded in October, during the trial over the failed joint venture between Rosie O'Donnell and G&J, when a top company executive admitted under oath that Rosie had overestimated newsstand count.

9 Miller Loses 'Catfight'

In February, the brewer was so sympatico with its silicone sirens in "Catfight" that it planned another installment with Pamela Anderson. The ads from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, were wildly popular with young men, but sales, er, fell flat. Miller traded the ads in June for a campaign from Young & Rubicam, Chicago, that includes the well-received "Dominos." Lite at year's end was surging well abreast of the Coors Light twins.

10 calif., here we come-again

What are the odds that 11 agencies are still bidding for the California Lottery's $100 million account? Two years ago, a review resulted in victory for DDB. Incumbent Grey protested; a second review was won by FCB. This time DDB protested and McCann-Erickson was chosen. In April, the Lottery issued an RFP with the bizarre clause that the winning agency would be responsible for any lawsuits resulting from the review, a clause that was later dropped. Hey, you gotta be in it to win it.

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