Asda's return to Publicis is no ordinary appointment

Next week will be dominated by Advertising Week Europe and D&AD's festival, where the world's best creative work will be judged and displayed (and we've dedicated more of this week's issue to creativity than usual to mark the occasion).

Both events aim to inspire and challenge our business to be bolder and better, so it’s a shame that the industry will inevitably divide along traditional lines when it comes to deciding where to go and what to see from the goodies on offer. I predict that AWE will be dominated by media agencies and media owners, and that there will be few of either over with D&AD at The Old Truman Brewery. And I predict that marketers will be in too short supply everywhere, which is the biggest shame.

Anyway, Asda has done its bit this week to bring media and creativity closer together, returning to the Publicis Groupe fold by shifting its £95 million media and creative accounts out of Carat and VCCP respectively and into Saatchi & Saatchi and its media sibling Blue 449. 

Asda is a Publicis Groupe client in its bones, working with Publicis from 1990, then its sister creative agency Fallon and then Saatchis, but always staying within the Publicis Groupe fold. The George sub-brand is handled by Fallon, and Saatchis works with the parent company, Walmart, in the US. The fact that Publicis’ global chief operating officer, Rick Bendel, became the chief marketing officer of Asda in 2006 and then the global CMO of Walmart illustrates how entwined the two companies have been. 

The blip came in 2013, when Asda hired Chris McDonough as its CMO. McDonough is clearly a big fan of VCCP, appointing the agency throughout his career, so when he called a creative pitch for the Asda business soon after joining, the smart money was on VCCP from the off. But when McDonough was frozen out of Asda in a management shake-up last year, Publicis Groupe presumably saw its chance to rekindle the UK relationship; the fact that McDonough’s replacement, Andy Murray, is the founder of the shopper marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi X is a neat thread in the story.

But it’s the decision to rip Asda’s media out of Carat after more than two decades and align it into Publicis Groupe too that makes this story really interesting. The media account will be served by Blue 449, which will create a media hub inside Saatchis. Deliciously, Blue 449 used to be called Walker Media and was co-founded by Christine Walker, who was instrumental in removing Saatchis’ media heart by creating Zenith back in 1988. Blue 449 is, of course, now aligned to ZenithOptimedia. 

Now media is (sort of) making a return to Saatchis and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing more of this approach.      

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