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Leo Burnett co. for 30 years molded a distinct brand image for United Airlines as it grew to be one of the world's largest air carriers. Burnett nurtured the brand; it is said to have created a musical theme at one point and then saved it until the agency felt United could use it successfully.

While the needs of advertisers certainly change, it's worth pausing to consider why United, and a string of other big advertisers, have decided two agencies-or more-are better than one to bring the best creative ideas to bear on their brands. And we mean single brands, not multiple brands.

Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer Sergio Zyman, who in some ways started this latest trend for multi agency creative stables, sees agencies simply as creative vendors. But advertisers take on a difficult task in weighing highly creative work presented from several sources while trying to maintain a focused brand image in the marketplace.

At least some agencies seem aware of the pitfalls. In a story in this issue on the multi agency trend, one executive told Advertising Age: "Most advertisers will end up scattered if they try it."

While other agency executives are more confident about the workability of these new arrangements, it appears to us that success is more likely when the agency is partnered with the client-in a solid, long-term advertising relationship-and not with an agency competitor. So before this split-creative idea really takes off, advertisers should survey the competitive results of the branding being performed by these existing multi-agency campaigns. Consider the diverse Arch Deluxe drives vs. Wendy's single "Dave" and varied AT&T signals vs. MCI or Sprint. Or compare it to the effectiveness of the work done throughout the industry's history by agencies whose very being is in the brands they have created over time.

In this fast-moving business, the client-agency relationship has constantly evolved. Changes that work survive. Whether brands benefit from this change is questionable.

Two recent reports that on the surface seem unrelated point to a disturbing trend for the publishing business when viewed together. The first is Procter & Gamble's decision to expand a test that gives Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising control over title selection when making magazine buys. The second is retailer Dayton Hudson Corp.'s plan to shift money out of some regional and city magazines to support its launch of a custom-published title.

Both moves essentially devalue editorial products and treat magazines as commodities. P&G often sets trends, and its decision to give its buying agency the power to overrule planning agencies if it can get a better price from another magazine doesn't bode well for publishers. Since editorial excellence can't be quantitatively measured, it's not considered in the decision.

Dayton Hudson is the latest marketer to experiment with custom publishing. The appeal: Custom magazines give sponsors control over the editorial environments in which their ads appear while blocking out competing messages. But custom magazines lack the editorial credibility of independent magazines and therefore lack passionate readers. In most cases, they're simply catalogs.

With the nation's largest advertiser emphasizing price first in magazine buys, and a leading retailer pulling support from some independent editorial products, it seems readers-reduced in these scenarios to eyeballs for ads-are the real losers.

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