Citing problems dealing with Sony's corporate culture, Burnett, which may have been able to win a bigger share of the business, instead took the unexpected step of resigning the prestigious account.
"We tried. We tried very hard. We wanted to make it work," said William T. Lynch, Burnett president-CEO. "Burnett won't shy away from any type of challenge .*.*. But we didn't have a relationship that was conducive to building for the future."
The Park Ridge, N.J.-based marketer's surprise announcement last week to review almost all its $50 million electronics hardware advertising-including $7 million to $10 million in business Burnett didn't handle-made clear Burnett's strong influence in setting Sony's future direction.
The marketer disclosed plans that read like a textbook example of a Burnett integrated advertising campaign. Sony will have a single theme, conveyed in national emotion-tinged ads.
Further, Burnett is producing the three initial spots that hint at the new direction. One breaking in November, featuring helicopters bringing the message of Sony audio to the multitude, represents the most expensive production in Sony's U.S. corporate history. (TV spots will get magazine, newspaper and radio support.)
"We have been working on an innovative strategy to carry us forward," said Marina Hahn, VP-advertising for Sony Electronics. "Burnett worked closely on this strategy."
Yuki Nozoe, senior VP-consumer marketing for the consumer products division for Sony Electronics, went so far as to credit Burnett for some of Sony's recent growth. "We have had them for 31/2 years and they have been instrumental in our success."
Sony also eliminated some potential competition for Burnett. Burkhardt & Christy, New York, the agency for Sony's Recorded Media Group, and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, the shop for Sony's Business & Professional Products Group, were told they would not be retained.
That leaves Winkler McManus, San Francisco, which does advertising for Sony's computer products, and two agencies that do healthcare and semi-conductor ads on Sony's current roster.
While Sony executives said they requested other agencies-including Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York-to pitch the account, Burnett still had the inside track.
Mr. Lynch said the review prompted Burnett to reconsider the relationship.
Insiders note both key executives who hired Burnett are no longer at Sony U.S., and suggest Burnett may have rebelled at being treated as a supplier of advertising rather than an essential part of the product planning process.
Burnett, Chicago, does ads for videogame marketer Nintendo of America. Sony Corp. has announced a plan for its own game, but intends to use a different division to market it. Goodby has potential conflict from work it does for Sega of America.
Burnett last week also picked up more Walt Disney Co. business, becoming the primary creative shop for Disney World, which had done ads in-house.
The U.S. review does not appear to affect a long-running review of Sony's European business. Estimated at up to $120 million, it now is shared among local agencies. Young & Rubicam, BBDO Worldwide and DDB Needham Worldwide are pitching.