Wieden seeks a new 'it' with Amazon.com

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With three simple words-Just Do It-Dan Wieden helped pen Nike's financial fortune. But for his newest client, Amazon.com, the agency president's script won't be as easy, particularly since the "it" in this case is the p-word, the Holy Grail of e-commerce: profit.

Amazon.com last week hired Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., for its estimated $50 million account following a six-month review that eventually pitted the independent shop against Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett, USA Chicago. Wieden's hiring was reported first on AdAge.com.

At the time of the review, which did not include incumbent True North Communications' FCB Worldwide, San Francisco, Amazon.com cited a need for a global partner to come up with a worldwide branding strategy to develop its growing business in Europe and, less so, in Asia. During early rounds of the pitch, both Wieden and Burnett apparently offered Amazon.com what were described as "anthems" touting the dawn of the retail revolution. Amazon later asked both shops to return with more developed creative.

"What they really need is someone to tell them how to make money," said Kurt Barnard, president, Barnard's Retail Trend Report. CEO Jeff Bezos has promised Wall Street a profitable Amazon.com by year's end. Meanwhile, Amazon.com's core retail product, online book sales, has begun to show signs of declining growth as consumer spending overall also drops.

Amazon.com declined to comment on the agency selection or any aspect of this article. "There is no one I can put you in touch with," said spokesman Bill Curry. "We are in the process of selecting and beginning work with a new agency and we care not to share [information] with the competition," he said.

Wieden executives declined to comment.

But for Wieden, some described the Amazon.com win as "culturally the right fit" between two companies headed by enigmatic founders in organizations some describe as "personality cults" built on the Pacific Northwest's independent spirit.

The win is Wieden's second over Burnett in a pitch for a Northwest signature account, having won (and later parted with) Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., in 1994. It is also the second big win in a month for Wieden, which picked up the estimated $60 million Powerade account from Coca-Cola Co.

Amazon.com financial filings show it spent $130 million on advertising globally in 2000, down from $141 million in 1999. But that includes spending beyond the traditional media advertising Wieden is expected to field.

Amazon.com spent $19.4 million on U.S. measured media in 2000, down from $36.9 million in 1999, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR; it based its pitch on a budget anticipated to be in the range of $50 million. Some marketing executives questioned the billing potential, given Wall Street pressures on Amazon expenses.

Trend consultant Mr. Barnard sees a world divided into two camps, those believing Amazon.com is about to turn the corner and find the pot of gold, and those thinking Amazon.com should finally throw in the towel. "I myself am in the latter half," he said.

Other analysts say profitability will depend on the interpretation of "profitability" by Wall Street.

Creativity alone won't be the quick fix. In fact, FCB's "Sweatermen," a men's chorus singing in the 1960s Mitch Miller style, won numerous awards, including Advertising Age's Best, even as the stock has sunk amid investor skepticism.

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