Voss Names Addiction Agency of Record After Open-Call Pitch

New York-Based Agency to Help Bottled-Water Brand Communicate New Positioning

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Voss' open call for an agency partner uncovered the "gem" it was hoping for.

Addiction, New York, has won agency-of-record duties for the premium bottled-water brand. In August, Voss, which has international headquarters in Oslo, Norway, announced via email that it was on the hunt for a small- to medium-size New York-based shop. It specified experience in related categories, including beverages, entertainment and culture, luxury and imported goods.

Mike Huddleston, president of Addiction, said the agency threw its hat in the ring after reading about the review in Advertising Age. Addiction is part of Addiction Worldwide and counts Remington and A&E Television Networks as clients. "I thought it was an interesting approach," he said of the open call. "It showed me that they were being very thorough and that they were at an evolutionary stage for the brand."

Indeed, it was an unconventional way to conduct a review and one that was rife with potential pitfalls. Zappos got heat in 2009 for taking a similar approach and not spending enough time reviewing each of the submissions received.

Ken Gilbert, the consultant handling the Voss pitch, admitted that the process turned out to be more time consuming than he had expected. He says he was careful to spend ample time with each submission. "Having been an ad guy and done pitches myself, I was very conscious of giving [the agencies] the amount of time I would have liked to receive," he said.

Still, Mr. Gilbert said it was a great way to discover new talent, adding that he'd take the same approach again. "It was a quick and efficient way to get a look at some agencies that I wouldn't otherwise get a look at," he said. "Source material for small agencies isn't easy [to come by]."

After Ad Age published its article, Mr. Gilbert said he received about 50 submissions. Of those about 35 were "on the mark." Initially, Mr. Gilbert faced critics when the review was announced publicly. He responded, commenting on AdAge.com that he had already met with half a dozen shops when he decided to open it up to the masses.

"For the record, this is not a cattle call," he wrote at the time. "I have already met with six agencies chosen through research and references from people whose opinion I quite respect. While some of these credential reviews have been satisfying, this was in the spirit of making sure that there isn't a gem out there Voss should consider."

The stakes were high, Mr. Gilbert said, explaining that Addiction will be a true strategic partner, as Voss does not have -- and does not plan to hire -- a senior marketer. Instead, Voss CEO Jack Belsito will manage the relationship.

"There are a lot of small companies that really should have ad agencies instead of a mid-level marketing manager with a small budget whose ideas get beat to death by the sales people," he said. Mr. Gilbert added that he believes it's challenging for a lone creative in a small company to champion and develop creative ideas.

Addiction's first work for the brand is expected in the coming months. It will focus on communicating a new positioning, "Look Deeper," for the brand, which is known by many simply for its sleek bottle.

"Our strategy will be to encourage everyone to explore the deeper side of Voss," said Mr. Huddleston, referring to the Voss Foundation, which is committed to providing access to clean drinking water to areas in sub-Saharan Africa. "There's more here than meets the eye."

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