The contest for Capital One’s $170 mil. business

The Scoop

This review was prompted not by the client’s dissatisfaction with its advertising or its agency relationship, but by the demise of the incumbent. In September, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles became a casualty of the acquisition of its parent, Bcom3, by Paris-based Publicis Groupe. Cap One chose Bob Wolf Partners/ TPG in Los Angeles to manage the process. Wolf and Cap One’s evp of brand, Bill McDonald, have known each other since the 1980s, when Wolf worked at what was then Chiat New York, and McDonald was at Pizza Hut, a client. McDonald’s lieutenants, Mike Butler and Pat McMartin—vp of national brand planning, and director of brand advertising and strategy, respectively—are also key decision-makers. The brief states that the agencies must “imbue the brand with value beyond its name recognition.” The shop’s culture and how it meshes with that of Cap One is important to McDonald. Final presentations take place April 1 and 2 in Britain, and April 8 and 9 in the U.S. There will be no more cuts in the review. The client expects to name the winning agency in both markets by April 9.

The Contenders

Element 79 Partners and AMV BBDO Chicago and London

Just over a year old, Element 79 Partners is considered the dark horse, largely because of its newness and lack of category experience. Its partner, however, is AMV BBDO, one of the strongest U.K. shops, and that boosts the odds. Element 79, dominated by PepsiCo’s $300 million Quaker business, is using creative teams from Gatorade for its presentation, which will be led by CEO Brian Williams and chief creative Dennis Ryan. The team is not expected to stray too far in terms of strategy from D’Arcy’s “What’s in your wallet?” work.

The Kaplan Thaler Group and Publicis New York and London

Principal Kaplan Thaler is said to have established a good rapport with the client since inheriting Cap One in January, when Publicis sibling D’Arcy was dismantled. The shop’s wacky campaign for Aflac made the Aflac duck an icon, and its buzz- generating—as well as sales-boosting—campaign for Clairol Herbal Essences shampoos could be a perfect match with the tastes of Cap One, sources said. Publicis London’s team, led by CEO Derrick Morris, has extensive experience in the category with MasterCard, Fidelity and UBS Warburg.

McCann-Erickson Worldwide New York and London

The “dream team” that won MasterCard and helped create the 5-year-old “Priceless” campaign is leading this one, too—global chief creative officer Jonathan Cranin and global chief strategy officer Eric Einhorn. McCann also has the benefit of knowing its pitch partner intimately. Together they won Microsoft in 1999, and jointly run that and other global accounts, including General Motors and Nestlé. Fresh off its $15 million Nikon win, McCann New York is also pitching Novartis’ Lotrel brand.

Faulds London

This independent London shop, which acquired Malcolm Moore Deakin Hutson last summer, is pitching the U.K. portion only. The agency’s Edinburgh, Scotland, headquarters has a strong creative reputation for its work on Royal Bank of Scotland. That got them in, along with the impressive reel of its London acquisition and chemistry checks. Dennis Chester, chairman and managing director of Faulds London, will lead the pitch with Graham Deakin, a principal in Malcolm before Faulds acquired it.

The Market Situation

Established in 1995, Capital One debuted the “What’s in your wallet?” campaign in 1999. The ads use Visigoths and scary monsters as metaphors for the terror of credit card debt. This client loves big, bold special-effects advertising with high production values. As a credit card issuer, it serves both Mastercard and Visa, which have the most card holders—264 million and 259 million, respectively. (Cap One has issued cards to 50 million consumers.) The client tries to differentiate itself from competitors such as Discover and AmEx via profiles of customers in its database; these are matched to specific offerings for its credit card and other products. The company wants the new campaign to promote other financial services, including home-equity and auto loans, by building on the equity of its credit card brand. Cap One said it may split the account between nonpartner agencies in the U.S. and British markets, but expects partner shops to present a single, “seamless” effort. The client already has a presence in Britain, but like most U.S. companies that want to grow globally, considers the U.K. market a gateway to the rest of Europe, as well as the Middle East and Africa.