Ad Agencies And Their Holding Companies Fail At Their Own Branding

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

I read with great dismay and sadness about MDC merging KBS into an unknown (at least in the U.S.) Swedish agency (Forsman & Bodenfors) and obliterating the Kirschenbaum Bond name.  Without getting into the history of Kirschenbaum and its recent problems, all agencies go through up and down cycles, sometimes those phases go on for years.  But that is no reason to destroy the equity which has been built into the agency brand, especially one that is essentially positive.  The evidence is that once that brand name disappears, the new agency rarely fully recovers.  As a result, when it comes to mergers in advertising, one plus one often equals far less than two.

As every good marketer knows, building a brand name takes years, often decades.  Destroying the brand can take only a stroke of a pen. Changing or obliterating names can be confusing and dangerous for the brand.

One of my favorite stories is how Omnicom screwed up both Chiat/Day and TBWA. Omnicom merged TBWA into Chiat in 1995 and ultimately changed the name to TBWA, eliminating the Chiat moniker.  Yet, even today, especially in Los Angeles, Chiat’s headquarters, TBWA is still known as Chiat/Day. (TBWA was a stronger name in Europe and is rightfully called that in those markets).

Batton, Barton, Durstine & Osborn modernized and became BBD&O and eventually BBDO, which makes total sense. Ditto when Doyle Dane Bernbach was bought by Omnicom, it was changed to DDB/Needham (to accommodate the merger of Needham Harper Steers – but Needham was ultimately dropped); DDB was the stronger brand. Other agency brands are still confused by their own name changes.  JWT is still called Thompson or J. Walter or even J. Walter Thompson; I think I understand why that name was changed, but I could make a good case for having left it alone.  Ogilvy, which started as Ogilvy, Mather and Benson, and subsequently changed to Ogilvy & Mather, became just Ogilvy, but to this day is still often called O&M, even by its own employees (checks still are marked Ogilvy & Mather). Y&R is still Young & Rubicam, even if the full name is not verbalized. Changing a name does not change a culture.

When the founding principals of well-known ad agencies retire, merge or die, unless they made strong succession plans, the agencies often diminish or disappear and rarely recover if they are merged.  Saatchi & Saatchi, at least in the U.S., never achieved its potential when Compton was merged with Dancer and their name was changed to Saatchi & Saatchi.  Saatchi was on of  Briton’s more creative agencies and the two merged into it were heavily package goods agencies, more known for their ability to create effective strategy; for complicated reasons, Saatchi, at lease here in the U.S. never achieved the creative reputation of its London parent.  The merger never took into account the cultures of the two American agencies and the strength of their client relationships.  In the case of this three way merger, one plus one plus one ended up equaling about one and a half.

IPG merged Bozell and Kenyon & Eckhardt and then the two of them into FCB, which was subsequently merged  with Draft.  Now, what remains is a mere shadow of the original agencies.

In a mistaken effort to keep contemporary, merged agencies often drop the names of the founders, which may be unnecessary.  JWT is a perfect example of that.

So much of advertising is driven by creative personalities.  When it comes time to sell or merge the new agency people want their names to dominate, but that often destroys the equity which was achieved by the original agencies.  IPG was smart to leave the Deutsch name alone, even though Donny Deutsch long ago moved on. When IPG merged Lowe into Deutsch, aside from being a cultural disaster, they still kept the Deutsch name dominant. The people who ran Deutsch figured out how to keep their culture, despite often rancorous disagreements with the parent company (and occasionally, Lowe, which subsequently and smartly separated itself).

Kirschenbaum & Bond now joins a long line of wonderful creative agencies which simply disappeared after being merged and submerged – Ally & Gargano, Scali, McCabe & Sloves, Wells, Rich, Greene, Lintas, Ammirati & Puris are all examples of great brand names which disappeared out of the hubris of holding companies.

More often than not, putting these agencies together, without any regard to their individual cultures and differences actually ended up killing the brands, costing the holding companies millions of dollars in the long run.

What a waste.

Guest Post by PAUL GUMBINNER President of The Gumbinner Company, executive recruiters for the advertising industry.

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