Five long years of Kevin Bacon

Not all brand spokespeople can last for ever. Will Virgin Media ditch Usain Bolt?

Ten years ago last month, Aleksandr Orlov first burst on to our screens as the anthropomorphic brand icon for, where he remains a welcome presence to this day. In contrast, it’s less than five years since Harvey Keitel reprised his role as Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction for Direct Line, and twice the time since Kevin Bacon was first wheeled out to do his joke for EE. In those last two instances, it feels considerably longer, probably because VCCP has constantly refreshed Orlov and, as a character, he is more versatile and likeable than either Wolf or Bacon.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty has been using Usain Bolt as the frontman for Virgin Media since 2012 to great effect. However, the brand put the account up for review last month and, this week, BBH said that it would decline to take part. Good for them. As well as producing some distinctive campaigns over the past seven years, BBH has picked up gongs for effectiveness – most recently a silver at the 2018 IPA Effectiveness Awards. BBH is probably too polite to say it, so I will: screw you, Virgin Media. Much like when it inexplicably split with Mother, this client doesn’t deserve this agency.

There’s something both heroic and tragic at the number of agencies that decide to participate in pitches when the odds are stacked against them, and the temptation for BBH to do the same to hold on to one of its flagship accounts must have been enormous. This would have been amplified further given that its long-standing Barclays account is also up for review – but perhaps BBH decided to focus its resources on a battle that it can win. For Neil Munn, who only replaced Ben Fennell as chief executive of BBH’s London office at the end of December, it’s probably not the start that he wanted.

Those agencies that have chosen to pitch for the business make for intriguing reading – Adam & Eve/DDB, Havas London, Uncommon Creative Studio and Wonderhood Studios. A&E/DDB split with Sky after a very short relationship and previously worked with Virgin Media in its iteration as DDB London; Havas London is part of the global communications group Vivendi; Uncommon works with ITV; and Wonderhood Studios was set up by former Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham. All seem suitable partners, if different in their own ways.

A&E/DDB could do with some good news to show that it is not dependent on the chemistry between James Murphy and David Golding; Havas London is on an upward trajectory and this win would vindicate that; and Uncommon is the flavour of the month. For Abraham, taking on a client of this size would be a very powerful statement of intent for an agency so young. It might also go some way to define the shop, which has tried to position itself as a hybrid ad agency and production company.

Whichever agency that wins will surely wonder whether Bolt, who retired from athletics in 2017 and from football last month, is still relevant for the brand. Perhaps they’ll also have a word with Saatchi & Saatchi about Wolf and Bacon.

Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign

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