IPG Is Lead Partner; WPP Gets U.S. Creative

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BOSTON ( -- Coca-Cola Co. is expected to formally name WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell as the North American agency for its flagship Coca-Cola Classic.

The move would be a blue-chip endorsement for the smaller New York shop and come at the expense of Interpublic Group of Cos. and its McCann-Erickson Worldwide, although Interpublic likely will continue as Coca-Cola's lead partner in much of the rest of the world.

Coca-Cola could take steps to formally delineate its agency relationships within weeks. Berlin Cameron took the lead role on Coca-Cola's new $250 million "Real" campaign, although it has not been named to a formal role on the brand, and the marketer in the past has downplayed its relationship with the agency. Getting the U.S. account could raise the agency's profile and give it the go-ahead to staff up to handle future work for Coke.

Berlin Cameron referred calls to Coca-Cola.

Interpublic holds on
Interpublic likely will hold onto media and international work for the brand, which spends about $900 million worldwide on advertising. The continued role is important to Interpublic, a longtime partner of Coca-Cola. The agency company is dealing with a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into a restatement of its financial results and accounting issues that have driven its stock down and put pressure on its top executives.

Coca-Cola's president and chief operating officer, Steven J. Heyer, widely regarded as a marketing innovator, has shown a willingness to embrace ideas from agencies outside its traditional global network partners. In London, for example, independent hot shop Mother has been quietly asked to contribute work on Coca-Cola Classic. Esther Lee, brought in last fall by Mr. Heyer as chief creative officer, also has impressed agencies with her openness to new ideas.

Berlin Cameron is already formally on the Coke roster through Dasani, Mello Yello and Nestea. The agency spearheaded the "Real" strategy with Coke and has already produced some 20 ads.

Cuts 1,000 jobs
Separately, Coca-Cola last week said it would cut 1,000 jobs, about 8% of its work force, as it seeks to streamline operations in its North American units. It is expected to invest the savings from that move into marketing. Coke and Interpublic did not immediately return calls.

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Kate MacArthur contributed to this report.

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