J&J Table Gets Crowded With Time Warner Pick

new york Every few years, Madison Avenue is challenged by another interloper: an entity or group that manages to get a creative assignment that, historically, would have gone to an advertising agency. In 1993, the threat was CAA when the Los Angeles-based talent agency was hired to create Coke commercials. Later that decade, strategic consultancies like McKinsey were encroaching on agency turf. More recently, media agencies have gained creative control over branded-entertainment deals. And now, media sellers, who already control the environment in which ad messages appear, are gaining ground in advertising creativity.

Take last week’s news that Johnson & Johnson selected creative ideas from Time Warner for its corporate image campaign, after a review of media companies only. The packaged-goods company circumvented its roster of agencies, which include McCann, Deutsch, DDB and Lowe, when it issued the RFP seeking ideas to “amplify” an existing campaign.

Three years ago, Interpublic Group’s Lowe created the campaign with the theme “having a baby changes everything.” The campaign is ongoing, but for the first time, J&J has recruited a media company, namely Time Warner, to give it a creative and strategic facelift.

J&J executives made clear last week they don’t think traditional ad agencies have a monopoly on the creative process. In the future, said Brian Perkins, J&J’s vp corporate affairs, all of the company’s creative shops will be asked to collaborate with media companies and other third parties in ways they have not before. “I don’t think Madison Avenue should feel threatened,” Perkins said. “The threat is if agencies don’t look at the model and explore new forms of connection and collaboration.” J&J did not seek Lowe’s input on whether or not to hold a competition among media companies, or even who to select, but once that decision was made, J&J instructed TW and Lowe to collaborate on the new initiative. In effect, TW now has a seat at the table previously occupied by just Lowe and its client.

“Time Warner engaged in the creative process with Lowe and the two of them collaborated in great fashion,” said Perkins. “We like that model and we are going to be exploring that model as well as others throughout the corporation.”

And, according to TW Global Marketing president John Partilla, that was a key objective. “The opportunity to bring value to a critical initiative helps the partnership overall,” he said. “Both sides benefit from a less transactional dialog across all kinds of their businesses. These strategic partnerships are what clients are looking for.”

Partilla said TW’s immediate financial pay-off is securing spending for this campaign “for several years.” No additional fees were paid for creative or strategic input. IPG’s Universal McCann, J&J’s media shop, is handling media as it has in the past.

Media companies have been pushing cross-platform ad deals to clients over the last decade as the industry has consolidated and the major players have acquired a variety of distribution outlets covering traditional and newer media forms such as cable and satellite TV, the Internet and wireless services.

But the J&J-Time Warner deal is unusual in that it excluded ad agencies and pitted several media companies in competition with each other for the rights to help shape the creative on the campaign.

Under Lowe, the J&J corporate campaign has included TV spots and print ads featuring everyday folks discussing how having children changed their lives. TW’s winning idea included replacing those people with celebrity-types. The new campaign, which broke two weeks ago, features three new TV spots with Stephen Collins from the WB’s 7th Heaven, Holly Robinson Peete, who stars in UPN’s Love Inc., and writer Nicholas Sparks who is published by Warner Books. New Internet spots created by TW and IPG’s RG/A run up to 20 minutes.

The new TV spots were jointly produced by TW and Lowe, a process that Lowe executives say went more smoothly than it otherwise might have because the key liaisons at Time Warner have extensive ad agency experience. Partilla spent most his career within WPP’s Y&R network before jumping to the media company in June 2004.

Mark D’Arcy, chief creative officer at TW’s global marketing unit, who Partilla recruited from Y&R last year, worked closely with Andy Langer, Lowe’s global creative director on J&J, on producing the spots. “It is very much a 360-degree point of view,” said Langer. “If the idea in the center of the thing is really good, then everybody should be able to work together.”

Other agency executives see the TW-J&J deal as part of a growing trend where clients seek fresh thinking wherever they can find it. “From the agency perspective, if the client wants to do something,” like explore a new idea with a vendor, “that’s fine,” said Charles Rutman, CEO for North American operations at Havas’ MPG. “As long as everybody is at the table it doesn’t immediately signal trouble.”