Six Big Accounts to Watch Amid the Publicis Groupe Merger Fallout

The Pieces of Business Most Vulnerable Due to the Deal -- And Rivals Are Already Circling

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Since undertaking a big rebranding at T-Mobile in March, CEO John Legere has continuously, hilariously and profanely mocked AT&T and its popular "It's Not Complicated" ads. Thing is, it is kind of complicated now, thanks to the Publicis Omnicom merger. That rival campaign Mr. Legere ridiculed will be housed under his own holding company's umbrella.

Though a number of big clients, including General Motors, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Toyota Motor, L'Oréal and Sprint shrugged off concerns about the deal, it's hard to ignore the potential for sticky situations. Competitors like WPP, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Havas are already circling to try and pick off accounts that suddenly seem vulnerable.

Consider that the joint Publicis Omnicom will now house one of the fiercest rivalries in corporate history—Coca-Cola and Pepsi. While both companies declined to comment, it's certain they are monitoring developments closely.

Credit: Bloomberg News

"The definition of conflict for generations of advertising to come will be determined between two cities: Purchase, N.Y., and Atlanta, Ga.," said Michael Kassan, chairman-CEO of MediaLink. "The rest of them mentioned as potential conflicts have, in the main, cohabitated before. Red and Blue have never cohabitated."

The merged holding company will need to devise special firewalls that satisfy the beverage companies' requirements or they could look elsewhere. More on that and five other accounts we'll be watching below.


Coca-Cola has a number of relationships with Publicis shops, while PepsiCo has a longstanding relationship with Omnicom. Although Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group is Coca-Cola's biggest media partner, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann also has a significant chunk of the business, handling planning and buying for Coca-Cola brands in 55 markets around the world. Likewise, WPP has made inroads with Coca-Cola's media business in Asia, recently winning some duties in Vietnam.


The merger puts McDonald's U.S. creative, handled by Omnicom's DDB, and Wendy's creative, overseen by Publicis' Kaplan Thaler, under the same umbrella. Publicis' Leo Burnett has long handled kids' marketing for McDonald's, but some industry watchers say that general-market creative for both under the same parent company may not last long. Both marketers say it's business as usual post-merger. But rumors swirled last year that Wendy's may put its account into review following the arrival of Chief Marketing Officer Craig Bahner and news that WPP's VML had picked up digital from Kaplan Thaler, so it wouldn't be shocking if Wendy's staged a review. And if the Golden Arches viewed the Wendy's creative as a conflict, Publicis Omnicom would commit to McDonald's— it's a much larger account.


Among car companies, the most vulnerable account is Chevrolet's truck business at Publicis' Leo Burnett. The most likely scenario for an agency shift: a slam-dunk move into Silverado's former agency, Commonwealth, owned by Interpublic's McCann Worldgroup. Chevy is McCann's biggest global account, with the agency handling campaigns in 140 countries. But in a defeat for McCann, GM split off advertising for the 2014 Silverado launch and handed it to Leo Burnett, which a Chevy spokeswoman said continues to work on the brand. But McCann has been working feverishly to reunite Chevy trucks with Camaro, Corvette and other car brands at Commonwealth. And, this summer, it was McCann that won the rights to a 3.5 minute ad for Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby.


Thanks to the merger, Anheuser-Busch InBev and competitor MillerCoors will have major creative accounts within the same holding company. Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi is the lead agency for Miller Lite, while Omnicom's BBDO handles Bud Light. A-B InBev has said the merger isn't cause for concern. But it's Miller Lite that's worth paying attention to. Saatchi took over the brand early last year after an agency shakeup that saw Interpublic's DraftFCB axed and Publicis' Digitas hanging onto digital. But the brand has failed to emerge from a long-running slump, potentially leading to pressure for more changes. WPP's Cavalry, the MillerCoors-dedicated shop that has Coors brands, could easily make a play.


Together for more than five decades, Publicis' Leo Burnett and Allstate have endured many ups and downs. But can one of the longest-running relationships in adland survive if State Farm—which uses Omnicom's DDB—is in the same holding company? Insurance is a data-driven and highly competitive category, so anything that creates potential conflicts must be taken seriously. A State Farm spokeswoman would say only that the company is "looking forward to learning more." Allstate did not respond by press time.


The conflict between AT&T and T-Mobile is particularly interesting because of how aggressively T-Mobile has been trying to convert AT&T's customers in recent months. AT&T is handled by Omnicom's BBDO, while T-Mobile is handled by Publicis' Riney in San Francisco—which recently unveiled ads starring comedian Bill Hader—and Publicis Seattle. —

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