Crunch time for Walkers crisps

Gary Lineker is a big fish in British crisps. But he's small fry overseas. By Meg Carter
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The Independent Culture
It was a different Gazza who captured the attention of an ever- excitable advertising industry last week. Gary Lineker, the star of Walkers crisps' popular "No More Mr Nice Guy" advertising campaign, was at the centre of the shock pounds 11m transfer of Walkers' advertising account from the London agency BMP DDB to rival AMV BBDO.

"Just what do you have to do to keep hold of an advertising account nowadays?" industry stalwarts muttered in despair. For BMP, which won the Walkers business four years ago, had been widely praised for the Lineker ads that kicked off in January 1995. So successful seemed the relationship that BMP subsequently won Walkers' sister brands Quakers and Doritos (ironically, from AMV) without a pitch.

BMP's Walkers campaign has become an advertising classic. Remember the one when Gary steals a bag of crisps from a small boy? And the one where he makes Paul Gascoigne cry; the Swedish movie spoof with Ulrika Jonsson; the double-entendre-packed Spice Girls commercial; the World Cup ad featuring the Brazilian football ace Romario - naked? "The global forces of PepsiCo have, in all likelihood, put an end to such gems," the industry magazine Campaign lamented last week.

Today, as BMP licks its wounds, it is clear that the London agency has fallen foul of a creeping trend.

Walkers - whose owner, Frito-Lay, is a division of the multinational giant PepsiCo - is but one piece in an international chess game. For the past 11 months, PepsiCo has been globally realigning its $200m world- wide advertising business. In plain English this means moving all advertising into a single, world-wide advertising agency network - in this case AMV's parent, BBDO, based in New York.

"Exactly the same thing happened to us with Nike," says Paul Simons, chief executive of TBWA Simons Palmer. The sports brand recently dropped the UK agency in favour of Wieden & Kennedy, its agency in the US which opened a London office two months ago. "The irony is that the last work we did for them [the `Park Life' commercial featuring top football stars in a Sunday league knockabout] has won every award going this year."

Mr Simons commiserates with BMP but believes the agency is the victim of a growing trend. "It's down to where the centre of gravity within a company exists," he explains. As clients grow bigger and, increasingly, multinational, advertising agencies are having to follow suit. What happens in the "lead" territory can have a dramatic knock-on effect in local markets elsewhere.

Which was just the case with DMB&B, which won the UK advertising account for Budweiser but lost it when the American owners of the brand switched to the rival agency DDB. As a result, DDB's UK agency BMP DDB was forced to resign the Scottish Courage account because of a conflict of interest. Neither DMB&B nor BMP DDB was happy with the outcome.

"You can create great work that builds brands and sales and still lose the business - for political reasons, human relationships or bigger moves like this which you can do nothing about," says DMB&B's marketing director, Nigel Marsh.

The globalisation of international brands is a driving force. It may not make much sense to the consumer, but someone somewhere can sleep more peacefully knowing they've saved the company millions of pounds by putting all advertising through a single agency. Or by not having to print different packaging for different countries - as dedicated consumers of Mars-owned Snickers (ne Marathon) and Starbursts (ne Opal Fruits) know only too well.

"Global companies now see brands as their key assets and chief executive officers see themselves as brand managers," BMP's UK managing director, Michael Bray, said last week. "The top people used to be involved in production and buying factories but now they want direct control of brands."

AMV is expected to continue Lineker's popular Walkers campaign. Frito- Lay bosses are understood to still want to use the "No More Mr Nice Guy" idea. And this despite their initial reservations - the company reportedly had cold feet at first and instructed BMP to film two alternative endings: one where Lineker stole the crisps, the other where he gave them back.

A creative shift in strategy, however, may still occur. Why? Frito-Lay's flat potato crisps are known as Walkers only in the UK; they have local brand names in other countries. An ominous signal came with the recent decision to replace the product's local branding in Spain with its US brand name, Lay's.

Observers are sceptical. Global rebranding leads to global advertising campaigns. All too often others attempt to develop single creative strategies appropriate for all territories. It can be a lowest common denominator approach - as typified by the stomach-churning delights of the Wrigley's chewing-gum campaign.

There are exceptions. Coca-Cola, for one, has a tightly controlled global marketing strategy but a host of locally produced ads. And Unilever has adopted a similar approach across a number of its brands. Even so, creeping globalisation is a trend viewed with mistrust by many adland creatives, who warn that it may well have an adverse affect on the ads we see.

For the time being, there's no news of any plan to axe the Walkers brand in the UK. Which is why AMV can confidently say there's little chance of Walkers' advertising ever being produced in the US. Even so, the brand - which, thanks to Lineker, was named brand of the year at the ITV marketing awards in 1996 - may yet find its days are numbered.