Golf Balls Bound Into Play

The Dunlop/Slazenger Group of the Americas has put the advertising account for its Dunlop, Slazenger and Maxfli golf balls and related products into review.

The Greenville, S.C., sporting goods maker has invited Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy, Charlotte, N.C.; Austin Kelley, Match and WestWayne, all Atlanta; Chernoff/Silver & Associates, Columbia, S.C.; Leslie Advertising, Greenville, S.C., and GSD&M, Austin, Texas, to participate in a capabilities round of a creative review that begins this week.

Ed Hughes, Dunlop/Slazenger’s worldwide vice president of marketing, declined to comment.

Incumbent J. Walter Thompson in Atlanta, which has held the account for the last three years, will most likely defend, sources said

Total account billings amount to about $10 million.

At press time, GSD&M confirmed it would not participate because of time constraints. The chief executive of another invited shop expressed concerns about mounting a costly presentation.

“It’s going to take $100,000 to win that account,” he said. “That’s a lot of money for a speculative shootout.”

Sources close to the review suggested a recent management overhaul, lagging sales against market leaders Titleist (Fortune Brands) and Top Flite (Spalding), and the recent entry of Nike into the golf arena prompted Dunlop/Slazenger, a division of British Tire & Rubber Co., to look for a new ad partner.

Insiders also said that Hughes was unhappy with JWT’s creative work and its compensation structure. Agency sources, for their part, complained about “a difficult client.”

Hughes began researching smaller agencies last month, according to sources.

“Unless you’re Titleist, you’re really scrapping to keep market share,” said one agency head invited to participate in the review.

Both Titleist and Top Flite routinely outspend Dunlop/Slazenger. Titleist’s 1999 ad expenditures were $13.6 million while Top Flite spent $15.7 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

“They want to see golf balls flying off the shelf,” said an agency source. “So they’re looking for a boutique that’s going to charge a lot less in fees so they can put their money into media buys.”

The client also plans to expand its distribution, moving its Slazen-ger golf apparel, now sold in pro shops, into mainstream outlets.