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Coca-Cola Co. is quietly hearing pitches from at least three of its roster agencies for its flagship Coca-Cola Classic brand-one of the biggest and most glamorous accounts in advertising.

McCann-Erickson Worldwide and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, both New York, and Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, are all said to have presented creative work to top Coca-Cola executives in recent weeks.

All three agencies referred calls to Coca-Cola.


A Coca-Cola spokesman insisted "there is not a review in motion." However, he said the company continues to "look at ideas from around the world from a variety of agencies."

Coca-Cola has an unusually long roster of agencies, with 24 shops working on creative assignments; the company's global marketing budget is $1.6 billion.

"We want to continue to utilize the best possible creative resources around the world," the spokesman said.

Coca-Cola Classic currently is handled by Edge Creative, Santa Monica, Calif., the agency spun off from talent shop Creative Artists Agency specifically to handle the Coca-Cola account. New work from the shop is slated to break this spring, the Coca-Cola spokesman said. Edge Creative didn't return phone calls by press time.

McCann lost the account to CAA in 1993; agency Chairman John Dooner is leading an international team to win back the business.

One executive close to Coca-Cola said McCann's proposal replaces the long-running "Always" theme.

"They're in need of a new look and they're using several agency resources to look at new ideas," an executive close to the situation said.


The timing is fortuitous for McCann, observers said. That's because Coca-Cola has a new global chief marketing officer, Charles Frenette, who is said to hold McCann in high regard. Mr. Frenette replaced Sergio Zyman last spring.

McCann currently handles some international creative work for the beverage marketer, and recently made a Coca-Cola Classic commercial for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It also is the lead agency for media buying.

DMB&B handles media planning and special assignments, including Nascar-theme commercials and the summer Coca-Cola Card promotion. Burnett has creative responsibilities for Surge, Fruitopia and Minute Maid.

Speculation about a possible creative account shift bubbled up after the marketer in late December switched lead agencies for its second-largest brand, Diet Coke. Longtime shop Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, lost the account to Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.


Coincidentally, the process comes as archrival Pepsi-Cola Co. readies a new campaign for its flagship Pepsi brand (AA, Jan. 11).

"There's no doubt that Pepsi's rethinking everything and that's probably a contributor to Coke rethinking things as well," said Jennifer Solomon, a beverage analyst with Salomon Bros.

Coke Classic topped media spending for all U.S. soft-drink brands through the first nine months of last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Coca-Cola backed Coke Classic with $93.3 million, a 2.7% rise from the same period a year ago.

The "Always" campaign was launched in 1993, and speculation has surfaced over the past year that it would be canned by the new marketing leadership in Atlanta. But last summer Coca-Cola launched 11 new "Always" spots from Edge Creative, and executives said they were happy with the campaign.

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