By Published on .

Brad ball, senior VP- USA marketing at McDonald's Corp., says it's unhealthy to change advertising agencies just for the sake of it.

So why did McDonald's hand over its lead agency role to DDB Needham Worldwide from Leo Burnett USA in July?

The marketer needed to "chart a new strategic direction," for the brand, explains Mr. Ball, rather than to simply create new ads. "In our case it was to look for a way to get ourselves back on track."

The fact that even McDonald's-the most influential player in fast food-found it necessary to reassess its agency relationship demonstrates just how pitched the battle has become, putting agency loyalty to the test like never before.


Although McDonald's move of $300 million in business was certainly the largest shift, it was only one of many high-profile fast-food accounts that changed hands this year, along with Taco Bell, Domino's Pizza, International Dairy Queen and Boston Market.

Indeed, Dennis Lombardi, exec VP of restaurant consultancy Technomic Inc., says restaurants should view their agencies as they would any supplier.

"Why should it be any different than loyalty to my meat purveyor? You produce for me at the best value I can get, or I renegotiate and go elsewhere," he says. "I don't think that restaurant chains should feel an undue loyalty to an agency."


When times are tough for a brand, an agency often takes the hit, says Charlie Rath, the 61-year-old exec VP marketing at Wendy's International, somewhat of an anomaly given its unwavering commitment to Bates Worldwide, New York, which has been the chain's agency for the last decade.

"It's easy to blame an agency and go on because who is to challenge it," he says. "I can say from personal experience that it usually seems to be somebody's ego at work, particularly on the client side, who can't bear the responsibility for things not working out great. I don't believe in that."

With an ad budget dwarfed by its bigger rivals, Wendy's also isn't about to stray from its positioning as a quality player that strives to remain on the sidelines of price wars.


And, after more than 500 ads, founder Dave Thomas is a campaign fixture that's here to stay for the marketer.

"There isn't any reason today to think or suspect that it [the Dave campaign] is in any way waning in its power or presence. All the scores that everybody measures in this business are the best they have ever been," Mr. Rath says of the campaign, which was launched in 1989.

Another fast-feeder seeming to at last have found its stride-and its agency partner-is Burger King Corp. Until a few years ago, the marketer was known as the worst offender in agency switching, having changed its account seven times in 20 years, while launching 18 different campaigns. Then, in 1994, it landed and took root at Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York.

"We have been very fortunate with Ammirati as our general marketing partner," says a BK spokeswoman. "They really have been an integral part of our business and have worked very closely with us."

Under the leadership of James Watkins, who took over the top marketing spot last May from Paul Clayton, who was promoted to president of Burger King North America, the company is sticking to its strategy of spotlighting its basic menu with food-focused ads set to popular music from the '70 and '80s.

Also clearly helping BK were McDonald's stumbles that prompted its agency review-including the lackluster performance of the Arch Deluxe line, and last spring's ill-fated Campaign 55, a discount offer that apparently confused consumers.


Mr. Ball points out that McDonald's showed a measure of agency loyalty by beginning, and ultimately ending, its search from among agencies already doing business with the company. DDB Needham held the creative account in the 1970s, and other work since then.

That said, "Had we not been as convinced or persuaded with what we saw, we would have gone outside," he adds.

McDonald's marketing arsenal will meet its spending match in the new Tricon Global Restaurants, the company bundling KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, spun off

Most Popular
In this article: