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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

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McGarryBowen/Chicago -- one of just a couple of Chicago ad agencies that can truly be said to be growing in a market where accounts skitter out of town with shocking and depressing regularity -- has hit the jackpot again.

Sources report McGarry, which works on a huge chunk of Kraft business and recently added Advil to the roster, is now prepping some Bud Light spots that could very well wind up debuting on the upcoming Super Bowl. We're told that the work McGarry hopes to sell to Bud Light parent Anheuser-Busch tries to bring a fresh feel and conceptual hook to the way-too-tired and predictable punch line schtick that has prevailed in the Bud Light work since DDB/Chicago first went in that direction many years ago.

And speaking of DDB/Chicago, the McGarry coup once again suggests that DDB is losing even more of its already tenuous grasp on one of its flagship accounts. Whatever has been happening -- for better or for worse in the closed-off bunker that is now DDB -- certainly has not managed to bring fresh spark to an agency that, sadly, seems to be terribly scared of even its own shadow at this late stage in its life.

Meanwhile, we won't know for sure whether the McGarry work will make the Super Bowl until it has gone through the rigorous focus group testing that all A-B advertising is subjected to before being cleared for airing on the big game. But sources say the Anheuser-Busch folks were mighty impressed with the sample work the McGarry crew presented recently.

Separately, on the Advil front, McGarry is also pushing to bring a new feel to a product in the pharmaceutical category via more of a story-driven approach. Let's hope the Advil execs buy into it. The world can always use a few more good -- or even great -- story-driven commercials.

Is DDB/Chicago about to suffer its biggest blow yet? Sources close to developments say the Chicago agency may be about to say goodbye to two of its most important, high-profile and lucrative brands: Bud Light and Budweiser.

Sources say plans may be in the works to move the Bud Light business to DDB's San Francisco office and the Budweiser account to DDB's New York outpost, which would leave the Chicago office with next to no Anheuser-Busch business. Those east and west coast shops could have -- or have access to -- the creative firepower to give the accounts the jolt the Chicago shop hasn't been able to of late. A DDB spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Plus, DDB reportedly has just parted ways with Steve Jackson, a top-level global account person on the Anheuser-Busch business. Jackson had worked on the A-B business at DDB for more than 20 years. Jackson's departure is viewed as another sign that all is not well with DDB's relationship with Anheuser-Busch.

Word of these developments comes just days before Super Bowl Sunday -- which traditionally has been one of DDB/Chicago's biggest days. For years, the agency typically provided multiple Bud Light and Budweiser Super Bowl spots. But for the first time in memory, DDB/Chicago was shut out of the Bud Light Super Bowl line-up altogether because its work did not score high enough in focus group testing.

And there were even problems with the Budweiser work. A DDB/Chicago Clydesdale spot had to be re-edited, and the public had to vote to put the commercial in the Super Bowl, before Anheuser-Busch would add it to the line-up for the game.

Moving the Bud Light account to San Francisco could be part of DDB's and parent Omnicom Group's last-ditch effort to hold on to its lucrative Anheuser-Busch business. That business is no longer as lucrative as it once was, but it still provides significant income for the shop. A-B business that once brought in close to $20 million annually for DDB/Chicago is now worth about $6 million to the agency, sources say.

By all accounts, DDB/Chicago's hold on the A-B business grew considerably more tenuous after the brewery's chief creative officer Bob Lachky exited a year ago. The former DDB executive was in charge of deciding what creative from which agencies the brewery would use, and he always seemed to take care of DDB.

However things play out with Anheuser-Busch, DDB/Chicago still has other major issues to tackle, chief among them a glaring absence of new business even as big chunks continue to exit the shop. And nearly two years after chief creative officer Paul Tilley jumped to his death, DDB/Chicago leader Rick Carpenter has yet to find a new chief creative officer. With each passing day the question looms ever larger: Is it even possible to get one now with the agency in its current state?

Light House.jpgMore on Anheuser-Busch's 2010 Super Bowl advertising strategy. A-B marketing honcho Keith Levy confirmed Tuesday that DDB/Chicago, the longtime lead Bud Light agency on the A-B roster, will have no Bud Light spots in the big game this year. All of the Bud Light work comes from Cannonball/St. Louis, as first revealed here on Monday.

A Michelob Ultra ad featuring Lance Armstrong comes from Palm Havas/Chicago and a spot for a new A-B brand Select 55 was done by Momentum in St. Louis. DDB/Chicago did just barely manage to stay in A-B's Super Bowl ad mix with two Budweiser spots out of the total of nine spots A-B will air during the game.

Levy said DDB lost out on Bud Light for the simple reason that the work it submitted did not test well in focus groups used to determine which commercials would fill the five minutes of air time A-B has reserved this year during the Super Bowl, up from four-and-a-half minutes a year ago. Levy emphasized that all decisions regarding which work would run during the 2010 Super Bowl were based on how well the work fared during the focus group research -- something A-B has traditionally relied on to ensure its commercials score well in USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter competition.

The research results also explain, per Levy, why Super Bowl viewers will see no iconic Clydesdale horses or dalmatian dogs in this year's A-B Super Bowl work. Levy said at least one spot with the Clydesdales was tested, but it did not do as well as other work that was more comedic and less iconic. Indeed, Levy said viewers will notice an emphasis on lighthearted work this year because he believes -- given the tough times the country has experienced recently -- that viewers want to laugh more while they are building an emotional connection with A-B brands.

A-B's first spot out of the gate after the kickoff to start the Super Bowl is expected to be "Light House," about a cool dude and his house made of Bud Light cans. Another Bud Light spot is about an asteroid that could cause catastrophic destruction. Yet another Bud Light spot will remind viewers of the popular TV show "Lost."

One of DDB's Budweiser brand spots shows how some industrious people help a stranded Budweiser truck make it into town. Levy said Lance Armstrong will be used extensively to promote Michelob Ultra in the months to come.

Picture 1.jpgLate this afternoon, Anheuser-Busch released a tentative line-up of its 2010 Super Bowl advertising to the media, and there are a few surprises mixed in among the nine spots.

First, and perhaps most surprisingly, at least one source is reporting that DDB/Chicago, long linked at the hip with A-B's best-selling Bud Light brand, is not responsible for any of the five Bud Light spots tentatively slated to air during the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. On Monday, an A-B spokesman would not discuss which agency did which commercials, but Cannonball in St. Louis is believed to have done most if not all of the Bud Light work, which carries a new tag line "Here we go." The idea seems to be to connect Bud Light with fun times, not exactly a new theme for the brand. The "drinkability" theme, pushed hard in several recent Bud Light campaigns, is not being promoted in this 2010 Super Bowl line-up.

Also missing in action in the two Budweiser brand commercials, believed to be the handiwork of DDB, are the iconic Clydesdales and the dalmatian dog that have been featured in recent years -- often in heartwarming vignettes intended to provide an alternative to the frat house humor in the Bud Light work. There are dogs in the two Budweiser commercials, but not a dalmatian.

Certainly, the Bud Light work expected to appear on the Super Bowl still feels like it is aimed at the frat house, but the commercials have a different rhythm and a softer kind of humor overall than was apparent in the early and best Bud Light work from DDB/Chicago when the format was still fresh and before the material descended to the level of farting horses and crotch-biting dogs.

Will any of the work in this A-B line-up prove good enough to top the Ad Meter competition? The answer to that depends on how stiff the competition is this year. Some of the advertisers that previously have been contenders in the Ad Meter competition are sitting on the sidelines this year. And in recent years, a lot of the Super Bowl of Advertising work has been little better than that seen during an evening of typical prime time programming. Which is another way of saying "not very good."

MillerHighLife_TeaserAd_screengrab01.jpgChicago-based MillerCoors is back to poking fun at its archrival Anheuser-Busch in a new spot set to air in 37 markets during the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. The Super Bowl spot is being heralded in a new teaser ad that features the popular, down-to-earth Miller High Life delivery man, who is attacking the big muckety-muck companies that roll out those Super Bowl spots -- referred to as "30 seconds of nonsense."

The Miller High Life delivery man and a co-worker decide Miller High Life should run a spot during the Super Bowl that pays tribute to the little guy. So that is what viewers will see in select major markets during the upcoming Super Bowl. Among the little guys being honored in the Miller High Life spot is Chicago's Tim Herron, who opened Tim's Baseball Card Shop in 2004 in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Saatchi & Saatchi/New York created both the teaser and the Super Bowl spot. MillerCoors cannot air its little guy spot nationally because A-B has exclusive national rights in the beer category for the Super Bowl telecast.

Are there enough old-timers left at DDB/Chicago to get the job done? That was our first -- and most pressing thought -- when we heard that Anheuser-Busch is looking to produce more emotion-driven television advertising to try and boost flagging sales of its iconic Budweiser beer brand. Emotion-driven? Those middle-aged guys left in A-B's marketing department clearly don't talk much to the whippersnappers entrusted with creating most of the ads we see on TV today. These youngsters know how to crack a joke all right. At least a joke that smacks of snarky frat-house humor. But emotion-driven advertising? Come on guys! That requires a firm grasp of one skill that we're afraid is in dangerously short supply among the vast majority of young professionals in the advertising industry today. We're talking, of course, about storytelling -- crafting a gripping tale that engages the emotions in 60 seconds. Maybe less. It's not easy. The copy, visuals, music -- all have to coalesce just so to create a commerical with real emotional heft. This is what DDB/Chicago, A-B's lead agency on Budweiser, is now being asked to do. This would be the same DDB that for years has been driving its Bud Light punch line ad formula into the ground -- producing too many TV spots that were too often too dumb and unfunny. Now, suddenly, the agency is being asked to go all emotional. It's a tall order.

Lachky, Bob.jpgThe other shoe just dropped.

In a move that is sure to reverberate in the worst way throughout the offices of beleaguered DBB/Chicago, Bob Lachky said today that he is leaving his post as chief creative officer at Anheuser-Busch at the end of February, bringing to an end a 20-year stint at America's most prominent brewery. In an interview Tuesday, Lachky said he is still mulling what he wants to do next, but his job of overseeing creative development of advertising for A-B's portfolio of beer brands will not be filled. Instead, that job will be shared by several people in A-B's revamped marketing department, including Vice President, Marketing Keith Levy; Vice President, Trademark Brands Gregg Billmeyer, and Vice President Import, Craft & Specialty Group Andy Goeler.

Lachky's exit comes just a week after the 2009 Super Bowl, where for the first time in a while, none of the seven commercials A-B telecast during the game won USA Today's much-referenced Ad Meter popularity contest. Six of the seven spots that A-B debuted during the game were created by DDB, where Lachky was an account executive for six years before jumping to A-B.

With Lachky's A-B job now being decentralized, it remains to be seen how DDB's relationship with A-B will play out. Because of Lachky's previous ties to DDB, many observers have long maintained he heavily favored the Chicago shop, even though much of its creative for Budweiser and Bud Light hasn't been especially fresh or attention-grabbing the past several years. And the agency failed to make A-B's hugely expensive online venture a must-visit destination.

With A-B now under InBev's control, the Belgium-based brewing giant may decide it wants to shake up the St. Louis brewery's agency roster, which also includes Cannonball in St. Louis, LatinWorks in Austin, Tex., and Euro RSCG in Chicago. The exit of Lachky paves the way for that possible eventuality. But on Tuesday, Lachky and others at the brewery insisted DDB is still the lead agency and would continue in that role for the foreseeable future. If DDB were to hold on to some or all of its A-B business, InBev, which is known for running a tight ship, could also try to get more work out of the agency for less money.

But even as DDB's relationship with A-B is taking a potentially disturbing turn, much more remains unsettled within DDB, where a year after the suicide of creative leader Paul Tilley, agency leader Rick Carpenter has yet to name a new chief creative officer. Sources say the funds needed to cover the salary of a new creative honcho have been tied up in payments to Tilley's widow over the past year.

Lachky's departure also comes just a month after the abrupt retirement of another powerful A-B marketing executive Tony Ponturo. As recently as last fall, trade publication Advertising Age indicated Anheuser-Busch's top marketing executives had been resigned by InBev and were paid bonuses to continue on with the company. But obviously, things have changed at A-B.

How much grimmer can it get? Unconfirmed reports have reached us that DDB/Chicago laid off more employees on Friday. The actual number axed was impossible to come by, but one reliable source said it was at least "a handful of creatives." If that proves to be the case, these creatives would be exiting from a DDB department that has been without a leader since Paul Tilley jumped from a hotel window and committed suicide nearly a year ago. DDB is not alone in shedding staff, of course. A number of agencies that have reported slumps in client spending are cutting staff too. Leo Burnett/Chicago just cut at least 75 people across several departments. The problem in Chicago has been made worse by the absence of major new business wins at most local agencies. And all eyes are now focused on DDB/Chicago, in particular, to see whether Anheuser-Busch InBev will start to make any changes in its agency roster soon. DDB has been the lead agency on the Budweiser and Bud Light brands for many years.

It may be the creepiest thing in the 2009 Super Bowl of Advertising. We didn't catch the full import of the moment initially, but the eerie irony of the visual gag at the end of the Bud Light spot called "Meeting" can't be ignored.

We're talking about the moment when the young executive and his chair are seen crashing through an office window and hurtling to the ground. The spot was created by DDB/Chicago, which for the past year has been operating in the shadow of the tragic suicide of Paul Tilley, the agency's managing director of creative. Tilley jumped to his death in February of last year from a hotel window near the DDB offices in downtown Chicago.

Who knows if the DDB creatives who came up with "Meeting" were consciously or subconsciously channeling the horrific details of Tilley's suicide. But there the spot is, for all to ponder, and seen in a certain light, it's no joke. Given its prominent position in the post-kickoff ad slot, "Meeting," by the way, was not a huge hit with ad critics or the public.

While we're on the subject of Tilley's death, sources suggested last week that one reason DDB may have been so slow in naming a new chief creative officer could have something to do with payments the agency has reportedly been making to Tilley's widow. There were rumblings those might be coming to an end soon and that the agency would then have funds freed up to pay a new chief creative officer.

Whatever the case, DDB needs to move quickly. With Anheuser-Busch having come up short in USA Today's Ad Meter rankings this year and with the brewery now fully under new ownership, it's possible changes in A-B's ad agency roster could be in the offing. For years, A-B has been one of DDB's largest and most lucrative clients. It's a huge chunk of business the beleaguered shop cannot afford to lose.

Let history note that the King of Beers was finally dethroned during the 2009 Super Bowl of Advertising. Yes, for the first time in quite a while, Anheuser-Busch didn't win USA Today's absurd Ad Meter contest that determines which of the Super Bowl ads was most favored by a small group of anonymous people sequestered in a room.

We certainly weren't surprised A-B got beat. The brewery's ads have been losing a lot of their punch the past couple of years. But by the same token, we weren't exactly overjoyed to find that an inanely scuzzy Doritos spot beat out all other competition in the Ad Meter ratings.

The winning Doritos commercial is one of those efforts that makes you realize -- whether you want to or not -- where our mass culture is headed and why advertising should only be handled by professionals who presumably have some respect for the brands with which they are entrusted. The winning Doritos spot, as most people know by now, was created by amateurs who seem to have a thing for playing with crystal balls and hurling them at people's genitals.

That such an effort made it on to the Super Bowl was infuriating enough. That the commercial was raved about in some circles should have any self-respecting professionals left in advertising screaming bloody-murder at the top of their lungs. But we doubt anyone has the guts for that.



About the blogger

Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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