Y&R Hustles on BK

A week after being named lead creative agency on Burger King’s $350 million account, Young & Rubicam is already in pre-production on its first campaign, a tagless effort that focuses on the taste of flame-broiled burgers, sources said.

The New York shop has no time for a honeymoon because it is on deadline to produce work in time for BK’s annual franchisee convention, scheduled for May 5-8 in Dallas. The fast-food chain wants the work to be on the air by June.

Marquee directors including Joe Pytka have been hired to direct about eight spots, which Y&R will begin shooting this week in Los Angeles, said sources. The tone of the work is “heartwarming” with a bit of humor, one source said. The agency declined to comment.

Y&R landed lead duties on the national brand and field-marketing assignments—previously at Amoeba and Interpublic’s Deutsch, respectively—after a series of strategic and creative meetings with new BK CEO Brad Blum [Adweek Online, March 27]. But the WPP Group shop has been wooing the Miami client through high-level connections for nearly a year, well before Blum’s arrival in January.

Last week BK also shifted media duties, from IPG’s MediaFirst to WPP’s MindShare, and most direct marketing and promotional duties, from IPG’s DraftWorldwide to WPP’s Wunderman. (Draft retains a portion of its business involving premiums). UniWorld Group, which is 49 percent owned by WPP, was already handling African American ads. WPP shops now control the lion’s share of BK’s business.

Y&R worldwide CEO Mike Dolan called the win a “proud” and “defining” moment for the agency. “It’s an icon brand—in a really tough, fabulous category—that’s kind of like the heart of Americana,” Dolan said.

In a statement, Blum said Y&R “demonstrates a compelling balance between strategy and creative, while capturing the right blend of long-term brand building and the immediate need to drive traffic.”

The nearly half-dozen meetings held recently, in which Dolan pitched a multidisciplinary approach to branding, clinched the deal for Y&R. But sources said what opened the door were connections to board members at BK and its parent, Texas Pacific Group, and a category assessment project Y&R handled for the venture capital firm. That assignment was handled by Y&R’s Brand Asset Valuator group last summer.

A former president of Olive Garden, Blum brought that company’s agency, Grey Global Group, into the process, which also included Deutsch, Amoeba and Campbell-Mithun, another IPG shop, which will continue to handle kids’ marketing.

Y&R, however, had the support of Texas Pacific board member Dick Boyce and BK director Brian Swette, two former PepsiCo executives who know Dolan and Y&R New York CEO Michael Patti, respectively, said sources. Dolan knows Boyce from their days at PepsiCo in the early 1990s. In the end, it appears Y&R’s board connections trumped Grey’s ties to Blum.

Blum, through a representative, declined to comment on the Texas Pacific connections.

Swette, a former chief marketing officer at Pepsi, even attended the first meeting between Y&R and Blum in February. At that gathering, said sources, agency executives underscored the historical problem with most fast-food advertising: an overemphasis on price points and giveaways at the expense of brand identity. To illustrate the point, Patti played a quick-cut video montage of category ads backed by colliding voiceovers, which created the impression of sameness and clutter, according to sources.

The meeting occurred the week after Patti, a former executive creative director at BBDO, joined Y&R as New York CEO and worldwide cd. Patti, who worked on Pepsi at BBDO when Swette was the client, was meeting Blum for the first time. After the win, Patti said, “This is a big window of opportunity for BK and a big window of opportunity for Y&R.” He added, “We really want to make Brad Blum look like a hero on May 8.”