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Colgate Looks Beyond Y&R

The client is frustrated with its lead agency and is talking with another shop about one brand

Illustration: Gluekit

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Young & Rubicam is having a little problem—it can’t seem to come up with a good campaign for a deodorant brand—that reveals a much bigger problem: a loss of faith in the agency from a major global marketer that has employed it for nearly 30 years. 

Colgate-Palmolive has grown disappointed with the work from Y&R, its lead global agency, and has turned to a sister shop for help, Adweek has learned. A source plugged in to Colgate-Palmolive marketing leaders says, “There’s still some degree of loyalty with Y&R, but at the same time, they’re frustrated.” Another source with direct knowledge of the situation says that “there’s a perception that [Y&R executives] are dragging their heels, that they’re not being fast enough.” The first source adds that Colgate historically “has been a client that when they weren’t happy, they made your life miserable.”

Insiders acknowledge that Berlin Cameron United—like Y&R, a WPP agency—has presented ideas on Colgate-Palmolive’s Speed Stick deodorant, as marketing execs with Old Spice-envy seek to reposition an old medicine cabinet mainstay. The outreach suggests at the very least dissatisfaction with the lead shop, which Colgate-Palmolive first hired in 1983 and then gave all of its ad business in 1995, eliminating Foote, Cone & Belding in the process.

A wholesale shift of the business and the $30 million-$40 million in annual revenue it represents for Y&R and fellow WPP shops MEC (media) and VML (digital) appears unlikely, particularly if Colgate-Palmolive keeps its current lead global agency model. There simply aren’t many viable candidates to take over the account—most global shops already work on conflicting brands (see sidebar). Indeed, Colgate-Palmolive wouldn’t have initially hired Y&R back in the 1980s if the shop hadn’t given up a significant amount of Procter & Gamble business. Resignations like that are less likely today. (There is at least one unconflicted big network, however: McCann Erickson, which already works on Colgate’s Sorriso toothpaste in Brazil.)

Of course, the consolidated model doesn’t prevent marketing executives from flirting with smaller shops from time to time. The Berlin Cameron-Speed Stick dialogue is said to be continuing. Berlin Cameron did not return messages, and Colgate declined to address any specific outreach.

In a broader statement, though, the consumer packaged-goods giant says it’s “firmly committed to its relationship with Y&R/WPP, which remains a valued strategic partner and our [lead agency] for our global brands.” Internally, Y&R is taking such language as a vote of confidence. The agency declined to comment.