"They had strength in planning, account service, creative development," said AB-InBev's top U.S. marketer Paul Chibe less than a year ago, explaining to Ad Age the reason why he hired McGarryBowen to replace longtime agency DDB, Chicago. "To have a long-term relationship, you need all three. ... If you're not [strong] in all three and your creative is not linked to a long-term strategy, it's not going to work."
Therein lies a hint of what went wrong between Anheuser-Busch InBev and the Dentsu-owned agency, which was unceremoniously shooed out by the beermaker after only eight months. Without a review, McGarryBowen was supplanted by Translation Advertising, a roster agency brought aboard in tandem with McGarryBowen that was originally intended to handle work for line extensions such as Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Platinum.
According to people familiar with the matter, the brewer, led by U.S. Marketing VP Mr. Chibe, had pushed McGarryBowen for months to hire a head of planning for the account, but as of this week the agency still had not made the hire. That became one point of contention, as did work that , under AB InBev's stringent testing rules, didn't consistently perform well.
While the account was won and largely handled out of the shop's Chicago office, the agency's co-founder, Chairman and Chief Creative Gordon Bowen, had recently stepped in and was working to smooth things over with Mr. Chibe.
The agency declined to comment to Ad Age on the reasons for the split and demurred when asked to comment on an internal note obtained by Ad Age that Mr. Bowen sent wide to staff at McGarryBowen today. The note, explaining the account loss, was surprisingly cordial.
"As all of you know, given our track record, it is unusual for me to write you a note with disappointing news. Unfortunately, today we have learned that Bud Light has decided to consolidate their business with another roster agency. I am very proud of the work we've done for this American icon, including our much beloved Super Bowl 'Rescue Dog' effort. Many of you have given days, nights and weekends to creating great Bud Light work over the past eight months, and I am deeply grateful for your commitment and continued passion. A special thanks to Chris, Frank and Mike in Chicago and their assembled and dedicated teams for working what seemed to be 24/7, 365 to reignite this brand. I ask that you join me in thanking Bud Light and their parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev for giving us the incredible opportunity to work on one of the greatest beer icons of all time."
Cyclicality is a part of the game in adland, but parting ways with a client after just a matter of months is rare. So what could have gone wrong so fast?
McGarryBowen's first TV ad as an official roster agency ran in February during the Super Bowl and it was generally well received. The aforementioned "Rescue Dog" spot, as it's called, featured a scrawny pooch named "Weego," which played off of Bud Light's "Here we go" tagline. The spot got extensive airplay. Yet that turned out to be the only TV ad the agency produced for the brewer, as other work apparently did not satisfy its strict ad-testing process. And as the summer wore on, AB InBev was forced to resurrect older work that had been produced prior to McGarryBowen coming on board.